Sunday, September 29, 2019

Review - Little Brown

Little Brown
by Marla Frazee
Date: 2018
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A grumpy and lonely little dog at the animal shelter decides to take matters into his own paws in this though-provoking and sublime picture book from the award-winning author and illustrator of The Boss Baby!

Little Brown is one cranky canine because no one ever plays with him at the animal shelter. Or maybe no one ever plays with him because he is cranky. Either way, Little Brown decides today is the day to take action, so he takes all of the toys and sticks and blankets from all of the dogs at the shelter and won’t give them back. But what will happen now?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Little Brown is kind of a jerk. He steals all the other dogs' toys, presumably because he wants to be included. The synopsis asks, "What will happen now?" The answer, unfortunately, is, "Not much."

I don't like open-ended books at the best of times. Even for adults. I like some resolution to the stories I read. If I've put in the time to read the whole story, I want to know how it's going to end. The whole "let's let the reader decide what happens" is a cop-out, as far as I'm concerned. I honestly thought that my e-book copy was glitched and that I was missing a page. But by looking at other reviews on Goodreads, I see that that's not the case. This is simply a story that abruptly ends before the actual ending.

The illustrations are cute. I mean, it's a motley crew of dogs of all shapes and sizes doing what dogs do (play, nap, run in circles, etc.). But even the best illustrations wouldn't make me love this.

I enjoyed The Boss Baby, so I guess I was hoping to have a similar reading experience here. This book might work for some readers... but not ones who like their stories to have a resolution.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Review - The Good Egg

The Good Egg
by Jory John
illustrated by Pete Oswald
Date: 2019
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this follow-up to Jory John and Pete Oswald’s popular picture book The Bad Seed, meet the next best thing: a very good egg, indeed!

The good egg has been good for as long as he can remember. While the other eggs in his carton are kind of rotten, he always does the right, kind, and courteous thing. He is a verrrrrrry good egg indeed! Until one day he decides that enough is enough! He begins to crack (quite literally) from the pressure of always having to be grade-A perfect.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Having read The Bad Seed last year, I was eager to give The Good Egg a try. I actually like this one a little more than its predecessor... mostly because I can really relate to the main character!

The good egg is verrrrrry good. He's a perfectionist... but it doesn't extend just to himself. He gets annoyed by the other eggs in his carton (who have amusing names; I won't spoil that for you) when they don't live up to his standards. So he decides to strike out on his own. After taking some time for himself, though, he realizes he's a bit lonely. When he returns to the carton with his newfound wisdom, he's a lot more mellow. He realizes he doesn't have to be good (i.e., perfect) all the time.

This will probably resonate with perfectionists and/or sticklers for the rules. I really could have used this book when I was a kid. It used to drive me bonkers when other kids wouldn't do what they were supposed to do or if they didn't do it the way I thought it should've been done. The message about just letting some things go--that not everything has to be perfect all the time--is a nice one. Some picture books with similar messages kind of hit you over the head (which I don't like), but The Good Egg is a moral wrapped up in a pun-filled story about a goody-two-shoes egg and his quest for perfection. Oswald's illustrations, simple though they might be, are just icing on the cake.

I would recommend both The Good Egg and The Bad Seed. While they tackle different topics, they're both fun to read (for children and adults alike).

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Review - Cinderella Rex

Cinderella Rex (Once Before Time)
by Christy Webster
illustrated by Holly Hatam
Date: 2019
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Cinderella Rex loves to dance, but will she get to attend the royal ball? From Epic! Originals, Once Before Time is a playful board book series of fairy tales reimagined from a time long ago... with dinosaurs!

In this prehistoric retelling of the classic fairy tale, Cinderella Rex wants to go to the ball, but her stompmother and stompsisters make her clean up after them instead. With some help from her Fairy Triceratops, Cinderella Rex figures out how to dance her way to living happily ever after!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book is seriously cute.

Cinderella Rex lives with her stompmother and two stompsisters. Her defining characteristic is that she loves to dance. So when the family gets an invitation to the ball, Cinderella Rex is excited... until she gets left at home. But not to worry: her Fairy Triceratops has everything covered. With a wave of her magic horns, she provides a dress and shoes (with hilariously separate toes) and magical transportation. At the ball, Cinderella Rex just can't help herself and starts to dance to the music. Everyone stops and stares, because she's the best dancer they've ever seen! The prince is taken with her dancing abilities, but before he has a chance to talk to her, the clock strikes midnight and Cinderella Rex must flee. Because her arms are too short to pick it up, she has to leave her lost shoe behind and escape into the night. The prince uses the shoe to go searching for the amazing dancer he saw at the ball, and... well, most of us know the rest.

The illustrations are adorable, and the clever little plays on words and jokes about tiny T-Rex arms are amusing. But what I really like about this one is that the prince isn't smitten by a pretty face; he's intrigued by Cinderella Rex's skill as a dancer. In fact, there's really no romance here at all. The prince's quest to find the mysterious dancer is more about intrigue and appreciation than it is about trying to find a mate. We need more fairy tale retellings like this.

Cinderella Rex is lots of fun. Those who enjoy fairy tales--especially ones with new and modern twists--will find plenty to enjoy here.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - The Little Fir Tree

The Little Fir Tree
by Christopher Corr & Hans Christian Andersen
illustrated by Christopher Corr
Date: 2019
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Deep in the forest, there lived a beautiful little fir tree who longed to see the world. When the tree is taken to town at Christmas, it feels like all his dreams have come true. But what will happen the day after? Find out in this beautifully illustrated modern retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s festive tale.

When he was surrounded by the splendor of nature, the little fir tree could only think about what he wasn’t and what he didn’t have and couldn’t see. After the initial excitement of venturing out, though, he finds that the world isn’t quite what he expected.

As the story of the little fir tree unfolds—brought to enchanting life with the colorful, folk art–inspired artwork of acclaimed author/illustrator Christopher Corr—so does a touching lesson on appreciating what we already have and a hopeful message of rebirth.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Hans Christian Anderson was a bit sadistic. Just look at what he did to some of his characters! The Little Fir Tree is a retelling of one of his lesser-known stories about a small tree who longs for what he doesn't have until he realizes he should've been grateful all along. Well... that's the original story. What we get in Christopher Corr's retelling is a bit confusing, since he obviously decided to try to brighten things up a bit. (At the end of the original tale, the spent Christmas tree is chopped up into firewood and burned. In this version, he simply goes brown--as old Christmas trees tend to do--and a new fir tree suddenly starts growing in the middle of the forest.)

The writing is pretty good here, even though it's a bit weird to try to wrap your brain around an anthropomorphized tree. (Why is it male, for one thing? If there were ever a time to use "they/them" pronouns, this is it.) As I was reading about the stupid tree wishing it could get chopped down so it could see the world (seriously, what?!), I had a feeling that things weren't going to end well. And they didn't. They also didn't make a lot of sense. After Christmas (for which the fir tree is chopped down and decorated... which somehow doesn't kill him), he's tossed into a shed for months, after which the children find him and pull him back out into the sunshine. (Would he even be recognizable as a tree at that point?) Instead of getting chopped up into firewood, however, he's decorated with flowers by the children and he gets one last chance to enjoy the sunshine. The tree's demise isn't spelled out in the text, which might be a bit confusing for some readers. The tree is shown yellow and dead, lying on the ground. Then a new fir tree grows, and the way the text is worded, one could be forgiven for thinking that the book is implying that the little dead tree has come back to life.

The illustrations here are very bright and colourful, with sort of a folksy aesthetic. It's not my favourite style, but it works here.

Overall, this was just okay for me. If you're looking for a kinder, gentler retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's story, you might like this. But if, like me, you're bothered by stories that complicate things when they try to "fix" narrative problems or potentially traumatic imagery, your reaction to The Little Fir Tree might be lukewarm as well.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.67 out of 5

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Review - 12 Lucky Animals: A Bilingual Baby Book

12 Lucky Animals: A Bilingual Baby Book
by Vickie Lee
illustrated by Joey Chou
Date: 2018
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 14
Format: e-book
Source: library

Vickie Lee and Joey Chou's illustrated 12 Lucky Animals is a young, dual-language animal concept book introducing Chinese characters and the animals of the Chinese zodiac...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm underwhelmed.

There seem to be a couple of problems with this book. First, it doesn't state anywhere that this is a Chinese/English picture book. Unless you recognize that you're dealing with the characters of the Chinese zodiac, you could be forgiven for not knowing what language was being presented. Second, is this Mandarin or Cantonese? Or are the words for animals the same in both dialects? Third, I thought the Chinese language was a tonal one. I've heard that you need to be careful not to call your mother a horse (because while the basic sound of both words is the same, the tone is not). Tone is not addressed at all here.

The illustrations are colourful and might appeal to kids, but I don't like the style. The book's layout is nice and clear, but without addressing those issues I mentioned, I'm not sure how useful this book is going to be. (Because it's a board book, there's no room for a parents' note. That's a shame, because this book really could've used one!)

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.33 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Frank and Bean

Frank and Bean
by Jamie Michalak
illustrated by Bob Kolar
Date: 2019
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: illustrated chapter book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When the introspective Frank meets the gregarious Bean, can they find a way to make beautiful music together? Dry wit and hilarious illustrations introduce a new unlikely pair.

Frank likes peace and quiet. He likes his tent, his pencil, and writing in his secret notebook. Bean likes noise. He likes his bus, his trumpet -- toot, toot! -- and making music. Loud music. But Bean is missing something: he does not have words. What will happen if Frank shares his words with Bean? With a laugh-out-loud narrative by Jamie Michalak, author of the Joe and Sparky series, and Bob Kolar's bright, graphic, comical illustrations, this fresh and funny story will go down easy for beginning readers and young listeners alike.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a weird one. At first, I didn't like it at all. Bean was annoying. But then... it grew on me. And now I think it's kind of fun.

Frank and Bean is a short, illustrated chapter book for kids about a couple of foodstuffs who are as different as they come. Frank likes peace and quiet so he can write in his secret notebook. Bean is LOUD. And messy. But he's parked his van near Frank's campsite, so Frank has to put up with him. Eventually, it comes out that Bean is looking for words for the songs he's written. Frank just might be able to help.

The silliness of anthropomorphized hot dogs and beans is amped up by the colourful pictures. They're suitably cute and complement the text well. The narrative itself is simple--it reads like it's aimed at the picture-book crowd--but well done and effective in telling the story.

After a rough start, this one kind of grew on me. It's not the best illustrated chapter book I've ever read, but it's a quick, entertaining read that'll leave you with a smile on your face.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - Good News! God Made Me!

Good News! God Made Me!
by Glenys Nellist
illustrated by Lizzie Walkley
Date: 2019
Publisher: Discovery House
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 18
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Good News! God Made Me! is a whimsical introduction to God as our Creator. Written by Glenys Nellist, the best-selling and award-winning author of Love Letters from God, the simple, skilled rhythm of the text makes it an ideal read-aloud experience for both parent and child. With back-and-forth questions and answers of a curious child, this book helps you to show your children how they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is the second book I've read by this duo, the first being Good News! It's Easter! While Christian books aren't really my thing, I wanted to see what this one was like (particularly because I liked the illustrations in the Easter book).

This is fine for very young children who'll accept the answer "God did it" for pretty much every question they throw at you, but I'm afraid it wouldn't really go far enough for older children (unless they've already accepted that God is the answer to everything). In this sense, it's pretty much a "preaching to the choir" book; it's not going to offer much to non-Christians, especially those past the age of 4 or 5.

The illustrations are adorable, though. They're highly appealing and show a nice amount of diversity. (I'm not sure they really have much to do with God, however. They're basically just scenes of a family doing everyday things; the text could easily be swapped out for something else and the pictures would still work.)

So this is a nice book for very young Christian children. I just have to say, though, that I really don't like the part of the synopsis that talks about being "fearfully and wonderfully made". I realize that's a Bible quote, but I don't like the idea that people are teaching children to be afraid of a God that supposedly loves them. (Talk about confusing!) Thankfully, that quote isn't actually used in the book. (The book uses the New Living Translation of Psalm 139:14, which leaves out the part about fear.)

Thank you to NetGalley and Discovery House for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.71 out of 5

Review - Reading Beauty

Reading Beauty
by Deborah Underwood
illustrated by Meg Hunt
Date: 2019
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 44
Format: e-book
Source: library

When a fairy's curse—a deathlike sleep via paper cut—threatens to make her kingdom barren of books, it's up to space princess Lex to break the spell and bring books back to her people. Set in the universe of the acclaimed Interstellar Cinderella, this irrepressible fairy tale retelling will charm young readers with its brave heroine, its star-studded setting, and its hilarious, heartwarming happy ending.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

While Interstellar Cinderella brought a modern, feminist twist to "Cinderella", Reading Beauty does the same with the classic "Sleeping Beauty". Instead of a spindle being the catalyst for the curse, it's a paper cut. What else would it be for a voracious reader like Lex?

The rhyming text tells the story in a fun way, and there is a neat twist near the end that helps explain why the fairy cast the curse in the first place.

Like Interstellar Cinderella, Reading Beauty has nearly impeccable rhyme, which makes it easy to read aloud. Aside from one instance of a character shrugging their speech, the writing itself is pretty strong, too. I don't like the illustrations here quite as much as I did in Interstellar Cinderella; they're highly stylized in both books, but the fairy in this one looks just a bit too chaotic (I had to pause a few times and look at her more closely because her strange proportions and exaggerated features confused my eyes and brain a bit).

Overall, though, Reading Beauty is just as strong as its predecessor. I really hope Underwood and Hunt make more of these clever retellings. I'm sure there are more stories from that planetoid just waiting to be told.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Monday, September 23, 2019

Review - Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby
by Glenda Millard
illustrated by Stephen Michael King
Date: 2017
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

I am the small green pea, you are the tender pod, hold me

Words sing over the pictures in this evocative story: a beautiful lullaby about what we can be for each other.

A mother and baby, a boy and a dog run for their lives. A little boat carries them across the sea. A polar bear, too, has come adrift. When will they find land? Where will they find friends? Who will welcome them in?

The Pea Pod Lullaby is an inspiring and timely story of courage, endurance, and hope... for a world in which we can reach out and embrace one another.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

#pretentious

Don't get me wrong. Poems turned into picture books can be lovely. But I just don't see something like this as a children's book. With lines like I am the windblown husk / you are the jewelled rain / quench me, the book veers squarely into adult territory.

At first, I thought this might have explored the plight of refugees. But that part of the story is so unrealistic as to be useless. After a family and their dog escape from something (presumably a war), they go to sea in a boat, rescue a polar bear from a floating fridge, share snacks with it (while the dog--perhaps the only intelligent creature on that boat--barks and growls), drop the bear off on an iceberg with its family, and finally dock in a new land that welcomes them with open arms. Really? Is that what we're teaching children about the refugee experience now?

I get the whole me/you/we thing that the text is all about, but I don't know if kids will. Especially since they have to decode it from those artsy verses with somewhat advanced vocabulary. (I can just imagine some kids asking for word definitions every few pages.)

The watercolour illustrations themselves are kind of cute, but I probably would've liked them more if the accompanying text had been different.

In the end, I just don't like this. It's too advanced for little kids, and it's too ridiculous for older readers. If you want to make a statement about refugees and the environment, you don't need to couch it in such overblown poetry. Sometimes a straightforward approach works best.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.83 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Hungry Jim

Hungry Jim
by Laurel Snyder
illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Date: 2019
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 56
Format: e-book
Source: library

When Jim wakes up one Tuesday morning, he doesn't feel like eating his pancakes. In fact, Jim doesn't feel like Jim. He feels rather, well, beastly. But he is hungry. Very hungry....This clever and relatable tale of moods from Laurel Snyder and Chuck Groenink offers a lighthearted depiction of the beastliness that lives inside all of us—and the power we have to put it in its place. Surprising yet satisfying, this richly illustrated book brims with humor that readers of all ages will be roaring to devour.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Maybe this is supposed to be about hunger... but I don't like the way it's handled. The child learns nothing, other than to give in to his hunger. Even if that means that others have to be eaten.

I suppose Jim is so hungry that he feels like a beast (so he envisions himself as a lion). His mother offers him pancakes, but Jim is too hungry for those. So he eats his mother instead. (Yikes.) Then he goes on a rampage through town, eating a dog and dog-walker, an old lady, a little girl, and the entire contents of a butcher shop. But he's still hungry. So he runs into the woods to grouse at his still-growling stomach. There, he meets a bear who threatens to eat him. But Jim eats the bear first. Finally sated, he returns home, barfing out the various people he consumed along the way. When he gets back to his room, he pukes up the bear. But the bear's pissed, so Jim has to eat him again. Then he's hungry for pancakes.

I don't even know what to make of this. On the surface, it's silly and kids might like it. But I bet psychologists could have a field day with this one. What's the symbolism behind devouring and then regurgitating one's own mother?

This one just isn't for me. I'm sure it will tickle some readers, but I found it a little disturbing. Jim doesn't even try to control himself. What other types of hunger will he give in to as he grows older?

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2.17 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Sammy in the Winter

Sammy in the Winter
by Anita Bijsterbosch
Date: 2019
Publisher: Clavis
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Yippee! It's snowing. Sammy and Hob are going to play outside. They will have lots of fun together.

A book with half pages that hide and reveal how Sammy and his little horse Hob enjoy winter. For toddlers ages 30 months and up, with a focus on the child's world.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Sammy in the Winter is a simple picture book aimed at toddlers. It's one of those books that's really only enjoyable for its target audience.

One day, it snows. So Sammy gets dressed up in his warm clothes, takes his toy horse, and goes outside to play. He sleds, skates, skis, and builds a snowman. I read an e-book version, but I think the idea is that each spread has a little flap that flips forward and back, revealing different scenes. It works fairly well... although I'm not sure why the window in the first spread moves across the page between the two scenes!

It's a decent depiction of a young child's day in the snow. It's nothing special, but it will probably keep toddlers entertained for a few minutes.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Review - Macie's Mirror

Macie's Mirror
by Adam Ciccio
illustrated by Gertie Jaquet
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Everyone at school loves Macie. But when a new girl comes to the class, Macie suddenly feels less special. At home, she asks her mirror what's wrong with her. The more she looks in the mirror, the sadder Macie gets.

A sensitive story about insecurities, jealousy and loving loved. For ages 5 years and up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Macie is popular at school. She's a perfectionist, and everyone seems to like her. But then a new girl shows up and Macie is sort of forgotten. She thinks maybe she's not that great. As she sadly looks in the mirror, the mirror tells her (yeah, the mirror talks) that when she wakes up the next day, she'll be perfect. In the morning, Macie rushes to check out her new and improved self, only to notice a green spot on her face. As the day goes on, she gets more and more spots in various colours. When she questions the mirror, it tells her that it's only showing her what she sees. Her dad comes to check on her, gives her self-esteem a boost, and tells her the most important thing is that she loves herself. She goes back to school, where things are okay, and then she throws away the mirror.

I don't get it. If she expected to see a perfect version of herself, why did she see spots? What does that have to do with the new girl getting all the attention? I mean, maybe I'm overthinking something that's so obvious that I can't see it, but it just doesn't make a lot of sense. And I feel like the new girl is really underutilized; sure, we see her and Macie sitting together at lunch on the last page, but we don't really see much resolution to the conflict. (That last page is weird, anyway. The book suddenly decides it wants to rhyme.)

The illustrations are quite cute, and could have really worked had the story been better. But there's just so little to it, and what is there doesn't make a ton of sense. Yes, Macie was projecting her fears onto herself and seeing ugly spots where there weren't any. But are five-year-olds going to understand that her subconscious was creating visual hallucinations because of the way she was projecting onto her classmates? (I mean, the other kids didn't even say anything! All of Macie's insecurities were based on her own perception of events.) This book might work for a college-level psychology course, but I think it's going to be a bit much for kindergartners.

Thank you to NetGalley and Clavis 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

Review - My Mommy, My Mama, My Brother & Me

My Mommy, My Mama, My Brother & Me
by Natalie Meisner
illustrated by Mathilde Cinq-Mars
Date: 2019
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

And these are the things we find by the sea
My mommy, my mama, my brother, and me.


With this gentle refrain, the debut picture book from celebrated author and playwright Natalie Meisner (Double Pregnant) reflects on her own two-mom, two-son family's early days growing up in Lockeport, Nova Scotia.

Living by the sea offers myriad charms for the two young brothers in this poetic ode to beachcombing. When the fog disappears, the path to the beach beckons, with all the treasures it leaves behind: lobster traps, buoys, fused glass, urchins, a note in a bottle. But best of all is all the neighbours they meet along the way. An unforgettable instant classic for families of all shapes and sizes. Featuring glorious watercolours by Mathilde Cinq-Mars, which capture the warmth and magic of time spent with family by the sea.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was a bit of a disappointment. The premise is lovely and the illustrations help bring the Nova Scotia setting to life. But the rhyming text is all over the place (to the point where it's a distraction) and the writing style is annoying.

My Mommy, My Mama, My Brother & Me is a rhyming story about a family's day at the beach. The treasures they discover are rendered in soft watercolours. Some of the pictures worked better for me than others (I'm not really a fan of the way the human characters are drawn here, for example, but that's just me). When the kids find something, there's usually a helpful neighbour around to explain what it is or how it can be used.

Now, I have no problem with that basic premise. But I was a little taken aback when one neighbour casually suggested that the kids could take a mermaid's purse home. A mermaid's purse is a sort of egg sac. How advisable is it to tell children that they can remove something like that from its natural habitat? It might be fine in that particular instance, but what if it leads to kids thinking they can take home anything they find on the beach (like, for example, endangered sea turtle eggs)? I felt this part of the story was a bit irresponsible.

And the writing just... well, it bugged me. The rhymes start out fairly strong, but then they fall apart. Meter is thrown out the window. By the end, I can't even tell if certain lines are supposed to rhyme or not. And the punctuation is nearly non-existent. This leads to the whole book looking like unpunctuated sentence fragments. And whenever dialogue shows up, it's thrown into the same paragraphs as the regular text--without quotation marks--so the whole thing comes across as a weird stream-of-consciousness ramble. (That's fine in books for adults. But I've just about had it with picture books for children that can't be bothered to use proper grammar and punctuation.)

This might work better as a read-aloud title for younger kids, but it's still going to be tricky with that random meter. It's a shame, because the themes of discovery and friendship are nice. It's the execution of the text itself that lets this book down.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.57 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - A Plan for Pops

A Plan for Pops
by Heather Smith
illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
Date: 2019
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Lou spends every Saturday with Grandad and Pops. They walk to the library hand in  hand, like a chain of paper dolls. Grandad reads books about science and design, Pops listens to rock and roll, and Lou bounces from lap to lap. But everything changes one Saturday. Pops has a fall. That night there is terrible news: Pops will need to use a wheelchair, not just for now, but for always. Unable to cope with his new circumstances, he becomes withdrawn and shuts himself in his room. Hearing Grandad trying to cheer up Pops inspires Lou to make a plan. Using skills learned from Grandad, and with a little help from their neighbors, Lou comes up with a plan for Pops.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

A Plan for Pops is a sweet story about a little boy and his two grandfathers. The themes of perseverance, persistence, and patience are great, as is the way Lou helps Pops come to terms with his new disability. However, I have to take a few marks off because the writing is somewhat uneven (and even confusing) in places and makes the book seem like a mediocre translation.

It looks like the book was published simultaneously in English and French, but there are a few things that make me think the French came first. Near the beginning, Lou and Grandad are discussing how umbrellas have ribs, and then they examine a paper umbrella and can't find any. (It makes me wonder if they were originally taking about something else, because ribs on a paper umbrella are not hard to see, by any means.) Then, the exclamation of "oh dear, oh dear, oh dear" is repeated both for negative and positive things. (So I'm wondering if the original text used an expression that could apply to both; "oh dear" is nearly always a negative in English.) And the third thing is the illustration of Pops in his bed next to a sign that the English text tells us reads "PULL ME!" The illustration has the words in French and says "TIRE SURE LA FICELLE" ("pull on the string"). This could be a potential source of confusion for young readers, unless they also speak French. (This is starting to become a pet peeve of mine. I've noticed that translated picture books don't always translate the text that's part of the illustrations, even when it's an integral part of the story.)

As a premise, this is really cute. Lou's relationship with his grandfathers is sweet. The men each have their own distinct personality. Lou's thoughtfulness after Pops's accident is lovely to see; all he wants to do is help Pops feel better.

Overall, this is an okay book. I like the premise and the illustrations, but the text is uneven and could be confusing. I have a feeling this book might end up being better received in Canada where most of us have at least a basic understanding of French; that sign beside Pops's bed won't necessarily send us running for an online translator.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.33 out of 5 ladybugs

Friday, September 20, 2019

Review - Harriet the Invincible

Harriet the Invincible (Hamster Princess #1)
by Ursula Vernon
Date: 2015
Publisher: Dial Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: illustrated chapter book
Pages: 256
Format: e-book
Source: library

Sleeping Beauty gets a feisty, furry twist in this hilarious new comic series from the creator of Dragonbreath

Harriet Hamsterbone is not your typical princess. She may be quite stunning in the rodent realm (you'll have to trust her on this one), but she is not so great at trailing around the palace looking ethereal or sighing a lot. She finds the royal life rather... dull. One day, though, Harriet's parents tell her of the curse that a rat placed on her at birth, dooming her to prick her finger on a hamster wheel when she's twelve and fall into a deep sleep. For Harriet, this is most wonderful news: It means she's invincible until she's twelve! After all, no good curse goes to waste. And so begins a grand life of adventure with her trusty riding quail, Mumfrey... until her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse manifests in a most unexpected way.

Perfect for fans of Babymouse and Chris Colfer's Land of Stories, this laugh-out-loud new comic hybrid series will turn everything you thought you knew about princesses on its head.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wasn't sure what to expect from this one. The synopsis says it's perfect for fans of Babymouse, but I'm definitely not one of those. Still, I came across one of Vernon's stories in an anthology and thought it was hilarious, so I decided to give this book a try. Harriet the Invincible is actually a highly enjoyable illustrated chapter book. I even want to keep going with the series (which doesn't always happen)!

Based on the story of Sleeping Beauty, Harriet the Invincible begins with a curse. On her twelfth birthday, Harriet will injure herself on a hamster wheel and fall into a deep sleep. Wanting to get ahead of the curse, her parents search out princes they can have on standby for when the curse hits. Harriet is rather unimpressed with the idea. After discovering that the curse will happen no matter what--and that she is therefore invincible--she goes questing and has lots of adventures, getting in all the fun she can before the curse hits.

But Harriet is not an ordinary princess, and when it's time to be cursed, she fights back... and accidentally puts everyone else in the kingdom to sleep! Despite her misgivings, she goes in search of a prince to help wake up her parents and subjects, with her riding quail, Mumfrey, as her loyal companion.

This is a really cute take on a fairy tale. It has a feminist bent, and Harriet is no shrinking violet of a princess. She's strong and smart and capable. The supporting characters are just as good, from the evil fairy Ratshade to the reluctant prince Wilbur.

The illustrations are simple, but necessary, as they often take the place of the text (you can't just skim over them, or you'll miss important bits of the story). Mumfrey is particularly fun to look at... but, then again, he's just a fun thing to think about. He's a riding quail, complete with saddle. What's not to love?

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. Vernon tells a good story here, turning the Sleeping Beauty tale on its ear and giving us a much more proactive princess than the passive sleeper we see in the original. I'd recommend this one to middle graders and up (it's smart and funny enough to entertain older readers, as well) and to anyone who likes fairy tale retellings with a bit of a twist.

Quotable moment:

Harriet gripped her sword more tightly and took a step forward.

Ratshade sneered at her. "Still playing with swords? You should learn how to act like a princess!" She twitched her claws, and the sword shot out of Harriet's hands and buried itself in the wall next to Wilbur's head. Wilbur yelped and jumped sideways.

"I am acting like a princess!" yelled Harriet. "I'm a princess, and therefore any way that I act--oh, never mind!" She lunged for the sword.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.75 out of 5

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review - Sir Tim Is a Little Jealous

Sir Tim Is a Little Jealous
by Judith Koppens
illustrated by Eline van Lindenhuizen
Date: 2019
Publisher: Clavis
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Sir Tim and Sara go to the park together. Sara spends time playing with her friend Max. How does that make Tim feel?

A sweet and recognizable story about being a little jealous. For friends and knights ages 4 years and up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The premise of this book is decent, but the way the topic is ultimately handled didn't impress me.

When Sir Tim goes to the park with his friend Sara, he ends up jealous and engages in attention-seeking behaviours that escalate to the point of peril. The moral of the story seems to be to put your life in danger to get your friends to pay attention to you (at least, I wouldn't be surprised if that's the takeaway for some readers).

Yes, Sir Tim is jealous. But that's his own fault. At the very beginning, when they arrive at the playground, Sara actually says: "There's Max. Let's go and play with him!" Now, to me, that sounds like an invitation. Sara's not leaving Sir Tim out of anything. She didn't say: "There's Max. I'm going to go play with him!" But you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, the way Sir Tim interprets it. His stomach starts to feel funny and he begins to try to draw Sara's attention away from Max. She doesn't seem to notice his attempts (although she does wave at him at one point, so she's not intentionally snubbing him). Eventually, Sir Tim decides to climb a tree. When the branch breaks and he falls, Sara comes running over and asks if he's hurt. He confesses that he thinks she doesn't like him anymore, and she tells him that he's silly (he is) and that just because she plays with other kids sometimes doesn't mean they're not still best friends. Then she tells him that the next time they come to the playground, they can all play together (which seems unnecessary, because she basically invited him to play with her and Max at the beginning).

All of this seems to add up to a little kid who feels like he should be able to own his friends. The fact that Sir Tim is a boy and Sara is a girl makes it even worse. If Sir Tim doesn't get a handle on this little problem, it's going to turn into a great big one later on. I can just see him turning out to be one of those guys who throws a tantrum if his girlfriend so much as looks at another guy.

The knight bit is cute (Sir Tim always wears his helmet and his dog's name is Dragon), but that's not enough to save this one for me. Sir Tim didn't learn enough of a lesson about jealousy. And since that's what this book is all about, it kind of fails.

Thank you to NetGalley and Clavis 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 - The Circus Comes to the Village

The Circus Comes to the Village
by Yutaka Kobayashi
Date: 2009
Publisher: Museyon
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 41
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When fall arrives, the circus comes to Paghman village, one of the few pleasures for the villagers. Yamo and his friend Mirado are very excited. Yamo misses his brother, who has gone off to war. Mirado’s father is also away at war. At the circus, the boys browse the vendors, ride the swings and enjoy the shows. Mirado plays his father’s flute with the circus band and his music moves the people’s hearts. When the circus moves on the next day, Mirado leaves with it. As the villagers prepare for the severe winter ahead, Yamo thinks about his friend Mirado and wonders how he is doing. Finally, snow falls. The villagers are happy, since the snow leads to the next year’s harvest. Kobayashi's illustrations portray the beautiful village life that fall. Then, on the final page we are stunned to learn: "This winter, my village was destroyed by the war, and people escaped to other villages.” But the reader is ultimately left with hope, as the springtime announces the villagers' return.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't seem to have much luck with books translated from the Japanese. I don't know if it's a translation issue or a cultural thing or what. But I've found that many of them have disjointed narratives and some don't seem all that suitable for their target audience.

This is a story set in Afghanistan, although without the illustrations (and the fact that the setting is mentioned), you wouldn't necessarily know it. No effort was made to include any words from the local language, and this extends to the main character calling his mother "Mom". It's difficult to pinpoint what time this takes place in, too; I'm guessing it's present day (or, at the very least, within the last 50 years or so) given the presence of trucks.

There really isn't a lot of plot, other than the circus coming to town. Yamo and his friend Mirado (are those Afghan names? They almost sound Japanese to me...) are excited when they get to go. They ride the rickety wooden rides, look at ice cream (which is apparently only to be looked at, not eaten), and watch a show. Mirado plays his flute, gets applause, and decides to leave town with the circus (his grandma said it was okay). Snow comes to the village, and everyone is excited because it's good for the crops.

And then the book hits the reader with this weird gut-punch that seems to come out of nowhere. The village is destroyed by war that winter and the survivors abandon it. The village then sits empty as it waits for people to come back.

What the heck does that have to do with anything? If the synopsis didn't give all that away, it would've been a terrible shock. I went into this knowing that the village would be destroyed, but I thought maybe there would be some nuance or sign of hope. And I expected that it would tie in with Yamo's story somehow. But... no. The destruction of the village doesn't have anything to do with the circus or the plot of the book. It's almost like the author thought, "Well, I set this thing in Afghanistan. I guess I have to blow something up to show the horrors of war." But it doesn't work, and it just seems like a cheap trick to add some shock value. (It might've been too much for a picture book, but if Yamo had been killed or injured in the destruction of the village, it would've made more sense and tied the whole thing together. As it is, it seems like this book contains two disjointed narratives: one about the circus coming to town, and one about the war.)

So... I didn't like this one. The illustrations are nothing special, the writing doesn't evoke a sense of time and place, and the story is disjointed and relies on a shocking twist that barely relates to the rest of the plot. I've read better children's books set in Afghanistan. Try The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel for a better look at a child's experience in the war-torn country.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review - Ping

Ping
by Ani Castillo
Date: 2019
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

With the visual ingenuity of Press Here and the emotional resonance of What Do You Do with a Problem?, this wise and timely book about the fragile art of personal connection will strike a chord with children and adults alike.

In the era of social media, communication feels both more anxiety-producing, and more inescapable, than ever before. This clever, comforting picture book debut explores the challenges and joys of self-expression and social connection.

Using an imaginative visual metaphor to bring to life how we send out (ping!) and receive (pong!) communications, Ani Castillo's words and pictures will empower and inspire anyone who has experienced the fear of sharing themselves with the world.

With an artful, accessible package, an eloquent message, and a lot of heart, here is a new classic to bring courage and comfort to humans of all ages.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book is one big metaphor, with ping pong standing in for personal connection. As an adult, I can appreciate the message. I have my doubts, however, as to whether kids (especially younger ones) are going to "get it".

The simple text likens life to a game of ping pong. What you put out there are "pings" and what comes back to you are "pongs". You can only control the pings, not the pongs. The book basically acts like a simple instruction manual for connecting with others and with the world at large. It's fine, as a premise.

The illustrations leave me a bit cold. They're too simple for my taste. They clearly convey their message, but they're not especially fun to look at.

This is a book that will probably be overlooked because it's a picture book. But I can see it actually having more value to older readers (middle grade and up, probably). Younger children might like the bright colours and the funny-looking characters, but the message will likely go over their heads (especially since they're too young to have withdrawn into the world of virtual connection yet).

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.33 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - The Pirate Tree

The Pirate Tree
by Brigita Orel
illustrated by Jennie Poh
Date: 2019
Publisher: Lantana Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

The gnarled tree on the hill sometimes turns into a pirate ship. A rope serves as an anchor, a sheet as a sail, and Sam is its fearless captain. But one day another sailor approaches, and he's not from Sam's street. Can they find something more precious than diamonds and gold? Can they find... friendship?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book made me a little uncomfortable. It supposedly depicts a new friendship, but I was distracted by the obvious power imbalance.

Sam has a tree that she imagines is a pirate ship. One day, a boy named Agu shows up. He's new in town and wants to play. But Sam isn't interested... until she finds out that Agu is from Nigeria and knows lots of stuff she doesn't.

The problem is, at the end, rather than being equals, the book refers to Agu as Sam's "new crew member". She's still the captain. She's still in charge... even though Agu obviously knows more about ships and sailing. It comes across as white privilege.

The illustrations don't really excite me, either. They're a little rough for my taste, and for pictures that are supposed to show two children's imaginations, they don't seem quite fanciful enough. Aside from the accessorized birds and fish, there's not much that really struck me as being that imaginative.

I didn't like this as much as I hoped I would. What tries to be a book about new friendships and inclusion seems to inadvertently reinforce old societal mores (the white kid is in charge, despite being less qualified than the black kid, and almost seems to be using his expertise for her own gain). This could've worked better had the ethnicities been swapped, or if it had simply been about a more generic new kid in town rather than an immigrant. As it is, though, it opens up a few cans of worms that distract from what the book was trying to do: tell a story about friendship, acceptance, and imagination.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.33 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Rowdy Randy

Rowdy Randy
by Casey Day Rislov
illustrated by Zachary Pullen
Date: 2019
Publisher: Casey Rislov Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

"Yeehaw!" Rowdy Randy shouted to the wind. "I was born to buck!" Rowdy Randy is the toughest cowgirl around. Never mind that this broncobuster is a horsefly. She acts taller than any tall tale. She might be easy to overlook, but Rowdy Randy definitely can t be ignored. She spends her days buzzing and biting all the creatures in her path, all the while stirring up a whole heap of trouble. Saddle up and hold on tight for a story that ll jangle your spurs and blow your cowboy hat clean off.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wanted to like this one more than I did. It sounds like a fun premise. The problem is... there's no story.

Rowdy Randy is a horsefly. She wears chaps and cowboy boots and glittery green eyeshadow (the picture that was chosen for the cover isn't the best; it's relatively unappealing, compared to the rest of Zachary Pullen's fun illustrations within). Each day, Rowdy Randy looks for critters to annoy. I think. I had to go back and reread the beginning to try to figure out what the setup was. As far as I can tell, that's all the story this book has going for it: the horsefly encounters a bunch of different animals and... well, maybe she tries to annoy them, but in a lot of cases she's trying to engage with them. So I'm not entirely sure what the point of the book is. To show that horseflies are annoying? What a waste of the cute illustrations!

This could've really been something special with a better story. To make matters worse, the book ends abruptly with what appears to be a cliffhanger. The last words are literally, "Is this how it ends?" Well, we have no idea! The next page has a picture of Rowdy Randy riding a jackalope, as if nothing happened. I... don't get it.

The pictures are lovely and fun, and the writing is surprisingly good for a self-published work. There's just the little matter of there not being a story. For a reader, that's kind of difficult to overlook.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Review - Stormy

Stormy
by Guojing
Date: 2019
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

From the creator of the New York Times best-illustrated children's book award winner The Only Child, comes a gorgeous and moving wordless picture book that's perfect for dog lovers.

In this heartwarming, wordless picture book that's perfect for dog lovers, a woman visits a park and discovers a pup hiding under a bench--scruffy, scared, and alone. With gentle coaxing, the woman tries to befriend the animal, but the dog is too scared to let her near. Day after day, the woman tries--and day after day, the dog runs away. With perseverance and patience--and help from an enticing tennis ball--a tentative friendship begins. But it's not until a raging storm forces the two together that a joyous and satisfying friendship takes hold. Guojing poignantly explores how trust doesn't always come easily, but how, over time, and with kindness and determination, forever love can grow.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Stormy should warm even the coldest heart. Dog lovers are going to be hit particularly hard by this one, though. It's hard not to love this sweet story about a lonely little dog and a girl who has a lot of love to give.

Like The Only Child (which I read earlier this year), Stormy is told entirely without words. Guojing's illustrations are such that no words are necessary. The story unfolds at a natural pace, and the illustrated panels show the hesitant development of a relationship. The little dog is skittish and won't let anyone come near. But the girl is persistent. She brings a ball to the park and tries to engage the dog in a game of fetch. It doesn't exactly work, and the girl has to leave yet again. One night, the dog follows her home and gets caught in a storm. She doesn't realize this, and goes looking for it at the park. Will their paths cross? (I'm sure you can guess the answer, based on the book's subtitle. Still, watching the two grow closer is delightful to watch.)

The pictures are breathtaking. The little dog is charming, and Guojing has perfectly captured its emotions in the soft-looking illustrations. Unlike the pictures in The Only Child, these ones are in full colour. I had a hard time choosing which one I wanted to include in my review; there are so many beautiful ones that highlight this relationship of patience, perseverance, and love.

It's amazing how so much emotion and story can be conveyed without any words at all. I can't wait to see what Guojing does next.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.6 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, September 16, 2019

Review - The Remember Balloons

The Remember Balloons
by Jessie Oliveros
illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Date: 2018
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

What’s Happening to Grandpa meets Up in this tender, sensitive picture book that gently explains the memory loss associated with aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!

Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, there's a depressing picture book. Don't get me wrong: it's pretty good. It's just so sad.

Despite what the synopsis says, this isn't a book about simply getting a little forgetful as you age. Grandpa has full-blown, rip-roaring Alzheimer's, to the point where he loses all of his memories. The point at which he loses the silver balloon--representing a shared experience with his grandson--is gut-wrenching. However, there's a little bit of hope at the end, and about as much of a happy-ever-after as a story like this is going to get.

I really like the metaphor that's used here. Balloons represent memories. It's not explicitly stated, but as the boy explains that he has more than his baby brother, and his parents have more than him, and his grandfather has more than all of them combined... well, it's easy to see what the balloons represent. (It gets even easier when the boy explains what's in those balloons.) The fact that even the dog has a balloon made me smile (and wonder what that one precious memory is all about... although I'm guessing it probably has something to do with food). As Grandpa's Alzheimer's takes hold, he starts to lose his balloons. The boy tries to chase them, but because they're not his, he can't really catch them. He has to just watch them float away. Eventually, though, because Grandpa told him the stories of what was in those balloons, the boy ends up with a few new ones in his own bunch... which he can then share with his grandfather.

The illustrations are simple, but effective. Pretty much everything is black and white, except for the balloons and the scenes depicted inside them. It really helps highlight what the reader is supposed to focus on.

Overall, this is a sad book, but it's a nice metaphor about memories and it could help children who are trying to understand what's happening to a family member who might be suffering from Alzheimer's.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.67 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - One More Time

One More Time
by Nancy Loewen
illustrated by Hazel Michelle Quintanilla
Date: 2019
Publisher: words & pictures
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 22
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Whee! Whoa! Whoops! Ready to try again? One More Time introduces and develops the idea of perseverance for children aged 1–3.

A boy gets a beautiful, blue scooter for his birthday. At first he falls, but after about “a bazillion” tries, he learns the benefits of perseverance.

With simple stories and engaging illustrations, the Bright Start series of board books opens conversations about emotions and mental well-being, providing you with the tools and language needed to develop and nurture emotional intelligence in your child. Bright Start responds to recent research showing that emotional development begins in infancy, when children first bond with their caregivers. Early development of emotional intelligence helps children to form healthy and long-lasting relationships, builds the foundations for stable mental health and lays the groundwork for academic achievement. Give your child a Bright Start for a healthier and happier life.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a book for very young children about perseverance. As an adult, I found it a little bit boring, but I can see its value for teaching about the concept of never giving up. It might be a good book to bring out when a child is having trouble doing something and wants to give up. Then they can see how the child in the story keeps practicing until they're able to ride their scooter without falling off.

The grandfather makes a good point in the story about how the child used to be unable to tie their shoelaces. But they eventually learned because they didn't give up. The same thing will apply to riding the scooter (or to any activity). The book even shows the child feeling pride for finally accomplishing their goal.

The illustrations here are kind of simple, and a little bit boring. But they do the job well enough.

This isn't a picture book that's going to have broad appeal (it isn't one of those ones that'll keep adults entertained, for example), but for its intended toddler audience, it will probably work quite well.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - Bear in Love

Bear in Love
by Sam Loman
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Bear loves Squirrel. He brings her all kinds of presents, but he's too shy to knock on her door. Will Squirrel ever know how Bear feels?

Perfect for Valentine's Day! A sweet story about being in love and not having the courage to speak up. For honey-buns ages 4 and up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm a little conflicted about this one. On the one hand, it's really quite cute and sweet. On the other, it seems weird to be talking about courtship rituals in a book for 4-year-olds.

I think part of the problem is that the synopsis/back blurb made me expect something a bit different. This really isn't a book about being in love. It's simply a story about a bear who wants to show his love for his friend. (The fact that he's shy about it is perhaps the only thing that turns it into a story about a romantic relationship. It's not really explained why he's so shy, though, so I don't know if little kids will really think much of it.)

The story and illustrations are rather cute, if you can ignore the really odd size relationships. (We have a squirrel the size of a bear... which would make the ladybug the size of an actual squirrel. Yikes!) A bear wants to show his love to a squirrel. So he picks some flowers and, too shy to actually give them to her, leaves them on her doorstep with an unsigned card. Squirrel is delighted... but doesn't know where the flowers came from. Meanwhile, Bear hasn't heard from Squirrel, so he wonders if she liked the flowers. He decides to make her some cookies instead. Again, he leaves them by her door and runs away. And so it goes until there's a mishap with a kite and the identity of Squirrel's secret admirer is finally revealed. It's all very innocent. There aren't even any kisses (although there is a hug).

The illustrations (aside from the size issue I mentioned before) are quite cute. There's lots to look at in each illustration, even though the backgrounds are sparse and white. All the bear-themed toys in Bear's room are rather adorable.

I think this book might actually be a bit more appropriate for children if the blurb were changed. As it is, it implies too mature of a theme (i.e., romantic love). The story itself is sweet, though, and a nice example of friends doing sweet things to show their love for one another.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5