Friday, August 7, 2020

Review - Good Night, Sleep Tight

Good Night, Sleep Tight
by Esther van den Berg
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Dot is checking in to the Bug Hotel for the night. But before she goes to sleep, she makes sure all the other bugs are ready for bed. Good night, sleep tight!

A funny book about bedtime rituals. For sleepyheads ages 4 and up.

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

Bedtime books can vary in their quality. Good Night, Sleep Tight is a fairly strong one, about a ladybug named Dot (of course) who checks in on all the other bugs in the Bug Hotel to make sure they're ready for bed, completing her nightly routine as she joins them in various tasks like picking out pajamas, brushing teeth, and having a last pee before getting tucked in.

The illustrations are probably my favourite part of this. There's plenty to look at, and the bugs look amusing and friendly rather than creepy. The glow of lights in some of the darker scenes is especially pretty.

Overall, this would be a nice book for little sleepyheads. I'm not sure why it's recommended for those ages 4 and up, though. Dot herself is quite young (too young to read herself a bedtime story, in fact!) so I would probably recommend this to 2- and 3-year-olds as well.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Review - The Old Man and the Penguin

The Old Man and the Penguin: A True Story of Friendship
by Julie Abery
illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Date: 2020
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Told in rhyming verse, this is the touching true story of an oil-soaked penguin, the man who rescues him and an unlikely friendship.

João hears "a sorry screech" as he walks along the shore near his home. It's from a penguin, whose feathers are soaked in oil.

Barely moving on the sand,
too tired to swim, too weak to stand ...
João must save this little guy.
Without his help, he'll surely die.

João takes the penguin home. He cleans him, feeds him and nurses him slowly back to health --- and the pair develop a special bond. When the penguin is fully recovered, João knows it's time to return him to the wild where he belongs. But the penguin has other ideas ...

Told in rhyming verse, this heartwarming picture book tells the true story of João Pereira de Souza of Brazil, who cared for a Magellanic penguin that had been caught in an oil spill. When João tried to release him back to the wild, the penguin returned to João's home and stayed for months. The penguin, named Dindim by João, did eventually leave, but he now returns to visit his friend for five months of every year. A charming read-aloud showcasing a tender relationship between an animal and human, this book also promotes environmental awareness and stewardship, and explains how human activities often threaten wildlife. Author Julie Abery includes information about João and the penguin, how wildlife is affected by oil spills every year, and what to do if you find wildlife in distress. The lively art by award-winning Pierre Pratt brings a touching sweetness and emotional depth to the story. There are character education lessons here on empathy, kindness and caring.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute, true story of a Magellanic penguin who befriends an old man in Brazil after he rescues him from an oil slick. Returning every year, the penguin develops a bond with João.

I enjoy reading true stories like this. The Old Man and the Penguin is written in rhyming verse that's actually quite strong. Colourful pictures depict the growing bond between man and bird. (A woman that appears to be João's wife appears in some of the illustrations. I wonder how she felt about her husband's avian friend!)

This is a good choice for readers who like picture books based on true stories. The environmental message here is subtle, but could provide a good starting point for more in-depth discussions about oil spills and wildlife. (An author's note at the back provides a bit more information about this, too.)

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

Review - Your House, My House

Your House, My House
by Marianne Dubuc
Date: 2020
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

There's no neighborhood like a Marianne Dubuc neighborhood --- this time in an apartment building!

It's a special day at 3 Maple Street. It's Little Rabbit's birthday! His mother makes him his favorite breakfast. His sister has drawn him a picture. And, best of all, he's having a birthday party! His friends are invited, his father is decorating, and his mother is baking a cake. But that's not the only thing going on at 3 Maple Street today. The Cat family is moving in upstairs . . . the Fox family is having a new baby . . . Mr. Owl is trying to sleep . . . there's so much happening inside (and outside) this lively building, it's hard to keep track!

This multilayered picture book from international award-winning Marianne Dubuc allows readers to peer into the homes of all the charming animal families in the building on every spread. Though there is one main story, captured in the text, there are multitudes of other stories-within-the-story, told in visual narratives. Dubuc's winsome one-of-a-kind illustrations include heaps of clever details for children to pore over, promising something new to discover with every look and encouraging visual literacy in readers and prereaders. There are terrific social studies connections here on the concepts of community, inclusiveness and belonging.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Your House, My House doesn't have a strong story, but that's not really the point. The fun of this book is looking at the pictures and seeing the various smaller stories that are going on behind the walls of 3 Maple Street.

Little Rabbit is having a birthday. The Cat family is moving in. The Fox family is having a baby. There are some little fairy tale touches, as well, with a wolf and Little Red Riding Hood... and it looks like Goldilocks has broken into the Fox family's place!

Readers could spend quite a while poring over the illustrations and spotting little details. It's a fun book that will probably appeal to kids who enjoy seek-and-find picture books.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Rupert's Snowman

Rupert's Snowman

by Phillipa Warden
illustrated by Grace Ward
Date: 2020
Publisher: Purple Butterfly Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 44
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

It's Christmas Eve and a perfect snow day, or so it seems. Sledging, building snowmen, making snow angels and having snowball fights. But wait! What is this? Why is Rupert racing back up the hill? Join him and his mummy as they are forced to embark on a Snowy Adventure Rescue...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Rupert's Snowman is a simple story about a child building a snowman with his mother. I don't know if he's autistic (when we're first introduced to him, he's "flapping" with excitement), but he's obviously fairly young because he cries at the thought of leaving his snowman behind. So he and his mother lug all the snowman parts home and reassemble them in their own yard.

The story is okay, I guess, but kind of boring. The illustrations didn't really excite me, either. The writing is fairly weak, with a few comma splices just to get my inner editor ranting. (There's no excuse for such simple errors, especially when you're dealing such a small amount of text.)

Overall, this is too basic for my taste. Weak writing, lacklustre illustrations, and a boring plot mean that I probably wouldn't pick this one up again. Your mileage may vary, of course.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Review - The Book of Selkie

The Book of Selkie

by Briana Corr Scott
Date: 2020
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Oh to be a Selkie,
And live between two worlds
Half your days spent as a seal,
And the other half, a girl...


Stories about the selkie have been told for hundreds of years by those who live near the North Atlantic and North Sea. Sometimes called "seal folk," the selkie, as humans, are tall and strong with dark hair and eyes. Extremely private, they keep their seal coats hidden away until they get restless and are called to the sea, and take on their seal forms.

In her lyrical follow-up to She Dreams of Sable Island, artist and author Briana Corr Scott explores the Selkie legend in a book of short, whimsical poems. Find out what Selkie likes to eat, where she lives, how she spends her time on land and in the sea, and learn a Selkie lullaby. Lilting and lyrical, with acrylic paintings that recall the ocean's depths, this magical book is ideal for both bedtime and playtime. Features a paper doll, clothes, and seal.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I haven't come across many books about selkies, especially for this age group. (The only other one I can remember reading is Franny Billingsley's wonderful novel The Folk Keeper.) The Book of Selkie is a lovely little book of poems about a selkie girl's life.

The lyrical poetry is accompanied by beautiful acrylic paintings that show the selkie girl shedding her seal skin and going about her day as a human. Of course, the sea always calls her back, and she eventually returns to the waves, but not before having a lovely meal and knitting herself a sweater out of hand-spun fog.

If you enjoyed the film The Secret of Roan Inish, then you will probably find this picture book a treat. It introduces the mythology of selkies in an easy-to-understand way. The poems do a good enough job on their own, but there are also a couple of pages at the back that offer more insight into this legendary creature.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.43 out of 5

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review - Maud and Grand-Maud

Maud and Grand-Maud

by Sara O'Leary
illustrated by Kenard Pak
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Here is a celebration of the unique bond between grandparents and grandchildren. Maud loves the weekends when she stays at her grandma's house. There's always breakfast for supper, matching nightgowns, black-and-white movies, and--best of all--someone to listen to her dreams for her life as a grown-up. But what makes the visits extra special is what Grand-Maud has hidden in an old chest under Maud's bed. She may find a paint set, a toy, homemade cookies, or hand-knit mittens or sweaters. Best of all is when Maud finds something that belonged to Grand-Maud when she was a little girl. In this story of family togetherness, Maud wants to be just like Grand-Maud when she grows up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a book that reinforces gender and family norms, and won't be suitable for kids whose grandparents aren't really in the picture.

Maud loves to spend the weekends at Grand-Maud's house. They watch black-and-white movies, eat breakfast for supper, and wear matching nightgowns. Grand-Maud lets Maud think that everything was black-and-white in the olden days, and encourages her to have a whole herd of children while living on an author's salary. (Okay, so maybe I'm being a little snarky here, but if Maud thinks she's going to be able to support seven children by writing, she might be in for a bit of a surprise.)

While the premise is sort of cute, I can see it being problematic for some kids. I lived on the opposite side of the country from my grandparents, and I think a book like this would've made me ache with longing... and also be jealous of my cousins who lived closer. Also, Maud seems to be an only grandchild; if she were one of seven (like the family she wants to have), she probably wouldn't get the undivided attention (and showering of gifts) from her grandmother.

I guess there's nothing objectively wrong with this. But it's going to appeal most to a very specific audience.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Izzy in the Doghouse

Izzy in the Doghouse
by Caroline Adderson
illustrated by Kelly Collier
Date: 2020
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: illustrated chapter book
Pages: 168
Format: e-book
Source: library

From the author of the Jasper John Dooley series comes a new lovable character: Isabel! The first title in this early chapter book series tells us why Isabel just has, has, has to get a dog!

Isabel and Zoë are favorite friends --- most of the time. They have side-by-side cubbies at school. They never take off their friendship bracelets. And they make each other laugh like nobody else. But some of the time, Isabel isn't Zoë's favorite friend at all. Because some of the time, the fun things they do end in a no-fun way. Like how they've been sent to the principal's office because of Isabel's shenanigans with some kindergartners. Now Zoë is mad at Isabel, and Isabel is miserable. Isabel is trying everything to win her friend back. Will getting a new puppy help Isabel mend her friendship with Zoë?

In this first title of the chapter book series for emerging readers, author Caroline Adderson introduces the inimitable Isabel and how she came to have her lovable dog, Rollo. Short chapters, spot-on humor and engaging illustrations on every spread make this series a perfect pick for both independent reading and read-alouds. Highly entertaining and fun, it also showcases the personal growth and development of the main character, while touching on subjects of interest to elementary-age children: relationships with friends, the responsibilities of having pets and family situations of all kinds, including how Isabel, who lives with her single mother and a nanny, loves the story of her adoption (and its similarities to their adoption of the dog)

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I can sum up this book in one word: boring.

A chapter book should be easy to read. More than that, though, it should be interesting. This one is not. In the very beginning, we're introduced to a strange (and highly annoying) child. Throughout the book, she does odd things like eat dirt, chew on electrical cords, and lick her friend's face. What was probably supposed to come off as quirky came across as pathological.

My main issue with this book is the plot. Isabel and her friend Zoë have a falling-out after Izzy's odd behaviour gets them both in trouble at school. I figured that Isabel trying to mend the friendship would be the main plot of the book. Unfortunately, it's not. The book goes rambling off on a tangent about Isabel's adoption, then veers into dog-adopting territory, all while the kid acts like a bit of a narcissist. As it turns out, everything can be solved by getting a dog, and Isabel and Zoë's friendship is magically mended with the appearance of Rollo (the puppy).

I didn't like the secondary characters any better than Isabel, either. Her mother was kind of awful (ignoring her child most of the time so she could focus on her work, at one point even telling Isabel that "those are the kinds of questions you might wonder about, but not ask." Way to blow off your kid!). Rosa, the nanny, was kind of useless; she was always watching her soaps. (The relationship between the two women was also... strange. Were they a couple? Rosa had apparently been around since Isabel was a baby. Her mother adopted as a single woman, and then hired a live-in nanny right away so she could keep going on business trips? I guess that's possible, but the way Rosa was included in the family unit made me think there was something else going on there. Which would've been fine... had it been addressed.)

It took me forever to finish this, because the story just didn't draw me in. The overly easy resolution to the main conflict (which was the rift between Isabel and Zoë) made for one unsatisfying read. I will say, though, that the illustrations are kind of fun. I wish there had been more of those.

Overall, this was a big miss for me. I don't know if it's really going to hold the interest of kids, either. A book that's almost 200 pages needs to be able to deal with the main plot conflict without resorting to irrelevant padding.

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

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.86 out of 5

Monday, August 3, 2020

Review - Virtual Unicorn Experience

Virtual Unicorn Experience (Heavenly Nostrils #12)
by Dana Simpson
Date: 2020
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: MG
Book type: comic collection
Pages: 176
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is one magical unicorn—and she knows it! But sometimes it’s harder for humans like Phoebe to understand that they can be magical, too. In the latest Phoebe and Her Unicorn adventure, the pair visits the science museum, tests out an extra-special virtual unicorn reality, and performs in the school talent show. With the help of her best friend and an emergency sparkle transfusion, Phoebe learns about confidence, empathy, and resilience—and even how to live without her cellphone. It’s all part of the very real excitement of Virtual Unicorn Experience.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This series has lost the magic for me. This twelfth volume kind of felt like it was phoning it in. Sure, we have the established characters, but how many times can we see Dakota be nasty, Max be wallpaper (he had so much potential when he was first introduced!), and Marigold be vain? It's getting old.

Marigold also slipped up and used a contraction in this book (shocking!) and there was an uncomfortable passage with a glitching computer and Phoebe talking about the world needing a reset. The timing is awfully suspicous. (Look up "The Great Reset". Finding what looks an awful lot like propaganda in a children's book left a bad taste in my mouth.)

If you're a die-hard Phoebe and Marigold fan, you might enjoy this. I've loved this duo from the beginning... but I think maybe 12 books is enough.

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

Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 ladybugs

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review - Dragons Love Tacos

Dragons Love Tacos (Dragons Love Tacos #1)
by Adam Rubin
illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Date: 2012
Publisher: Dial Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

This scrumptious New York Times bestseller has a whole lot of kick!

Dragons love tacos. They love chicken tacos, beef tacos, great big tacos, and teeny tiny tacos. So if you want to lure a bunch of dragons to your party, you should definitely serve tacos. Buckets and buckets of tacos. Unfortunately, where there are tacos, there is also salsa. And if a dragon accidentally eats spicy salsa . . . oh, boy. You're in red-hot trouble.

The award-winning team behind Those Darn Squirrels! has created an unforgettable, laugh-until-salsa-comes-out-of-your-nose tale of new friends and the perfect snack.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Did you know that dragons love tacos? That's news to me. It's also the premise of this fun picture book in which a boy hosts a taco party for dragons, only to accidentally feed them spicy salsa... with disastrous results. Oops!

The premise is a bit silly, but so are the dragons. They have great facial expressions (and look friendly more than fearsome). There are lots of cute details to look at in the illustrations.

Overall, this is a book that will probably have wide appeal. After all, most of us can relate to having a favourite food that we could eat "pantloads" of.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - How to Write a Story

How to Write a Story
by Kate Messner
illustrated by Mark Siegel
Date: 2020
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: library

Step 1: Choose an idea for your story. A good one.
Step 2: Decide on a setting. Don't be afraid to mix things up.
Step 3: Create a heroine—or a hero.
Now: Begin.

Storytellers Kate Messner and Mark Siegel chronicle the process of becoming a writer in this follow-up to How to Read a Story, guiding young storytellers through the joys and challenges of the writing process. From choosing an idea, to creating a problem for their character to resolve, to coming to The End, this picture book breaks down the writing process.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute little instruction manual for budding storytellers that offers basic, commonsense tips for writing (and sharing) your story.

I'm not sure what else to really say about this. Kids who are interested in writing will probably enjoy the book and feel inspired. Those who aren't interested in writing will likely give it a pass. Sometimes books have a very specific audience, and that's okay. The important thing is that books like this find their way into the hands of those who will appreciate them.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Review - Water Can Be...

Water Can Be... (Can Be... Books)
by Laura Purdie Salas
illustrated by Violeta Dabija
Date: 2014
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Water can be a
Thirst quencher
Kid drencher
Cloud fluffer
Fire snuffer

Find out about the many roles water plays in this poetic exploration of water throughout the year.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Water Can Be... is a strong rhyming picture book that teaches readers about water, its various states, its cycle, and its uses.

Lovely pictures showcase the rhyming text. On most pages, only one concept is highlighted; there is further information about each of these ideas in a four-page section at the back. There's also a glossary to help younger readers understand some of the more unfamiliar terms.

I would recommend this book to those who are interested in learning about water, as well as to those who enjoy rhyming non-fiction picture books with evocative illustrations.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Monday, July 20, 2020

Review - Kaya's Heart Song

Kaya's Heart Song
by Diwa Tharan Sanders
illustrated by Nerina Canzi
Date: 2018
Publisher: Lantana Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

"Let me tell you a secret--if you have a heart song, anything is possible. Even magic!"

Kaya is looking for her heart song--the song that happy hearts sing. Her search takes her on a journey deep into the jungle where a broken down carousel waits for a very special song to make it turn again.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book combines vibrant, appealing artwork with a strange story about magic to teach children about mindfulness.

While I enjoyed looking at the pictures, and I don't really have a problem with the overall premise, I found the execution strange and a bit lacking. Kaya follows a butterfly into the jungle, where she encounters a man guarding a broken-down elephant carousel. As she concentrates on pulling the vines off and freeing the carousel from its bonds, she starts to get into a meditative state and hear her heart song. Then she starts riding the magical elephants around the jungle, a swarm of butterflies appears with an inexplicably diverse group of children, and everybody gets an elephant ride.

Lantana Publishing's slogan is "Because all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read." Kaya's Heart Song takes that to ridiculous levels, though, and children may be left questioning what a bunch of white and black kids are doing in the Malaysian jungle. There are places where a diverse cast of characters makes sense. This isn't one of them, and I found it distracting.

I also wish the magic aspect had been downplayed a little. As it is, the book seems to imply that being mindful and finding your heart song will make inanimate objects come to life. We don't practice mindfulness so that magical things happen... but that's the message I got from this one.

Overall, I'd probably only recommend this one to children whose parents are willing to sit down and talk about the author's note. The pictures are lovely, but the message is a bit muddy.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog

Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog
by Lisa Papp
Date: 2020
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Madeline Finn and Star are back--and now Star is old enough to become a therapy dog. Will our beloved team be able to pass the test?

Madeline Finn and Star are off to Walker Oaks, a retirement community where Star will take his tests to become a therapy dog. Accompanied by Mom, Mrs. Dimple, and Bonnie, she and Star make their way through a variety of challenges and meet several new friends. But Madeline Finn can't stop thinking about an elderly man in a wheelchair who never smiles. Is there something she and Star can do to help?

A companion to the Lisa Papp's best-selling books Madeline Finn and the Library Dog and Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog, this heartwarming story explores the therapy dog training process and provides a realistic and appealing example of a young person making a difference in her community.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I absolutely love the illustrations in these books! Madeline Finn and the dogs are so adorable. I come away from reading wanting a dog of my own to hug.

In this book, Star (the dog) is old enough to become a therapy dog. So Madeline Finn and her mother take Star to Walker Oaks, a retirement community, to take the requisite tests. Star does well... but Madeline Finn notices an old man who seems to need a bit of love. Will she and Star be able to break through his defences?

This is a lovely story with strong writing and gorgeous illustrations. I noticed one missing quotation mark, but as this is an ARC, hopefully that will be sorted out in the final version. Other than that, I really enjoyed this one. Readers who fell in love with Madeline Finn in her previous books will probably find plenty to love here as well.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Review - Cat Dog Dog

Cat Dog Dog
by Nelly Buchet
illustrated by Andrea Zuill
Date: 2020
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Here is the oh-so-hilarious and adorable story of a blended family-- using just a few words in various configurations-- from the pets' point-of-view!

Cat and Dog live with their human in a suburban house with a big backyard. Sure, they fight like.... well, cats and dogs, but they're used to one another. Dog-- a different dog-- lives a happy only child life in the city with his dad. He has the bed to himself, he never has to share his toys, and that's the way he likes it. So what happens when the Dog's dad and Cat and Dog's mom move in together? Well, it's chaotic. There's not enough room on the bed, for starters. But as the seasons pass, the three animals become a trio and learn to (mostly) love one another. Just as they're settling into a cozy life as a threesome, along comes..... a baby! This laugh-out-loud picture book, which cleverly uses two repeating words, is sure to strike a chord with kids dealing with the ups-and-downs of settling into a blended family of their own.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is an almost-wordless picture book about a blended family. A guy and his dog move in with a gal and her dog and cat. Hijinks ensue.

There's really no story to read; the dogs and cat (and a few other things) are labelled, but that's about it. The story--which is basically just a slice of life--is conveyed through the illustrations. It's cute, I guess... but I don't think it's really one of those books that you'd want to read again and again (unless you're a little kid who's just learning to read words on their own).

Overall, this is amusing, but it lacks re-read potential.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 2.8 out of 5

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Review - Schnitzel

Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts
by Stephanie Shaw
illustrated by Kevin M. Barry
Date: 2016
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Apprenticed to a famous wizard, young Schnitzel is not known for his hard work. In fact, it's just the opposite. He's lazy and lacks motivation. So late one night, when a door-to-door salesman selling vacuum cleaners offers to help, Schnitzel sees an answer to his housecleaning woes. Little does he know, however, that this is no ordinary salesman and the vacuum is no ordinary dust-buster. In this retelling of the classic tale The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Schnitzel is about to find out why it's never a good idea to invite a cape-wearing, fang-toothed stranger in after dark. Fortunately for him, there's magical help ready to lend a hand.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What a strange book! Schnitzel is a retelling of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"... with vampires. Yeah, I don't really get that part; it seems really random. Basically, Schnitzel (the apprentice) is lazy and doesn't want to vacuum with the crotchety old appliance (that's the bug-like thing on the cover, apparently). So when a door-to-door vacuum salesman--who happens to be a vampire--shows up with the promise of a more efficient suck, Schnitzel takes him up on the offer... only to see the whole house disappear into the vacuum bag and the vampire make a claim on his neck. If you're familiar with the original story, you can guess how this one ends.

The story is told in rhyme, which does flow pretty well. The illustrations are quirky and fun. But I just don't see what a vampire has to do with anything. Okay, a vampire and a vacuum both suck, but... it still seems random.

Overall, this is kind of amusing. I don't think it'll ever be a favourite retelling of mine, but it's fun to see less well-known stories retold once in a while.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.29 out of 5

Monday, July 13, 2020

Review - The Amber Anthem

The Amber Anthem (5 Worlds #4)
by Mark Siegel & Alexis Siegel
illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller & Boya Sun
Date: 2020
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 240
Format: e-book
Source: library

In book 4, Oona Lee arrives on Salassandra determined to light the yellow beacon and continue her quest to save the Five Worlds from the evil Mimic's influence. But the beacon is encased in amber! An ancient clue says that Oona and her friends must seek out the Amber Anthem to succeed. Meanwhile, Stan Moon sends an evil Jax robot to assassinate Oona and hunts down An Tzu himself. Turns out, as An Tzu fades away from his Vanishing Illness, he's becoming someone else--someone who could tip the scales in the battle for the Five Worlds!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not sure what happened here. I've been loving this series up until now. Whether it's the reading slump I've been in, or whether it's the book itself, I can't really say for sure. All I know is that this is my least favourite installment so far.

The story is still building to its ultimate conclusion. Oona Lee is working her way through the Five Worlds, lighting the beacons as she goes. Her friends, Jax and An Tzu, are still at her side. I do like that we finally got some backstory for An Tzu here, and his character is now a lot more fleshed out (which is somewhat ironic, considering his vanishing illness is still progressing).

The illustrations are still lovely and detailed, and the whole look of the book is great. I did, however, feel like there were some parts that were a bit rushed. And yet, one sequence near the end was so drawn out as to seem like filler. This made the pacing seem a bit uneven for me.

I'm hoping that the next book (which will be the last in the series) will seem a lot more substantial. After all, there will be loose plot ends to tie up and character arcs to finish. Though I didn't love this book as much as the others, I'm still looking forward to seeing how the story ends.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Review - The Mosquito

The Mosquito (Disgusting Critters)
by Elise Gravel
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Hilarious illustrated nonfiction about mosquitos perfect for beginning readers. Conversational text and silly illustrations will have you up all night reading about the most annoying bug on Earth!

Fast mosquito facts:
- Distinctive trait: Leaving annoying itchy bites
- Diet: Your blood (and nectar and plant juice)
- Special talent: Making a terrible whining sound in your ear

The Mosquito covers habitat (mosquitos live everywhere except Antarctica and Iceland!), species (over 3,500!), history (the oldest recorded mosquito was 79 million years ago!) and much more. Although silly and off-the-wall, The Mosquito contains factual information that will both amuse and teach at the same time.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a nice addition to the Disgusting Critters series by Elise Gravel. It features neat facts about mosquitoes and cute pictures that help easily convey the information to the reader.

For some reason, I didn't like this title as much as some of the others in the series. I didn't feel I learned a whole lot, and the ending seemed kind of abrupt; I even wondered if I was missing some pages.

But this book does fit in well with the rest of the series, and if you're looking for children's books about pesky critters, this might be a good one to start with.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - The Egg

The Egg
by Geraldo Valério
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The Egg is an imaginative and unusual story about a bird and a child, and how they become a family. The wordless story opens with a crane caring lovingly for an egg. During a storm, a gust of wind blows the egg from its nest. Despite searching far and wide, the crane can’t find the lost egg anywhere. Heartbroken, the crane spots something―an egg! Not its own, but since this egg is also alone, the crane rescues it to safety.

When the egg hatches, the little one inside is―unexpectedly―a human baby. No matter their differences, the crane loves and cares for the child, adopting it into an avian life. When they take flight together, this unusual duo encounters other birds with their young ones―the babies all a diverse array of creatures, showing that families come in all shapes and sizes.

This whimsical story is open to interpretation and imagination, but above all imparts the message that a loving family can be whatever we make it.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is one of those books that leaves you scratching your head. Not because it's difficult to understand... but because you're just not quite sure what to make of it.

In wordless paper collage, The Egg tells the story of a large bird who loses an egg during a storm. While searching, they find something that looks like their egg... but which actually turns out to be a swaddled baby. Undeterred, the bird raises the human baby as their own.

That's all weird enough, but in the final pages, we see all kinds of birds with their adopted children: a toucan with a rabbit (or maybe it's an aardvark); a flamingo with a little girl; a parrot with a pig; and, rather hilariously, a pelican with a goldfish (in a bowl). I'm not sure what the reader is supposed to take from this. Birds are kidnappers? The "families come in all shapes and sizes" message is almost obscured by the absurdity of the pairings.

No matter. This is probably one of those books that you'll either love or roll your eyes at. It does manage to tell the story clearly without any words at all, which I admire. And the cut-paper illustrations are fun to look at. Overall, this is a strange little book... but one that I'm sure has an audience somewhere.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 2.8 out of 5

Review - Bears and Boos

Bears and Boos
by Shirley Parenteau
illustrated by David Walker
Date: 2020
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The adorable bears are excited to dress up for Halloween — but are there enough costumes for everyone?

Big Brown Bear and the four little bears can’t wait to dress up for Halloween. Everyone grabs their costumes from the costume box, but — oops! — in the rush, Floppy is knocked on her furry behind, and now there are no costumes left for her! Fuzzy says she’s sorry and offers Floppy a golden gown. Then each of the other bears shares an item with Floppy, and soon she’s dressed like a queen — just in time for the parade! Shirley Parenteau and David Walker combine cheerful read-aloud rhyme and irresistibly charming art in another story for the youngest cubs and their big bears.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Bears and Boos is a Halloween-themed story about five bears who want to dress up. But in the melee, one of the bears misses out and doesn't manage to grab a costume. Luckily, she has kind friends, and they offer up parts of their costumes so she can dress up and join in the fun.

The rhythm of the verse is a bit off in spots, but it isn't too bad overall. The story is simple and sweet. Adorable illustrations of the bears highlight the message of caring and kindness.

Overall, this would be a nice addition to the Halloween shelf. I'd recommend it to very young children, however, due to the simplicity of the story.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Review - Sometimes a Wall

Sometimes a Wall
by Dianne White
illustrated by Barroux
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

An afternoon in the playground introduces different kinds of walls: a brick wall to draw on with chalk, a water wall, and a climbing wall. What follows is a playful yet profound exploration of the many ways walls can divide us or bring us together. When one child is excluded from a game, another builds a castle to leave him out. When the builder declares the castle MINE, other kids feel alienated―but the builder becomes lonely, too, when the others have fun without him. The book ends with the optimism of a new start: friendship, forgiveness, and imagination give the wall new meaning.

Told with short, simple lines of playful, rhyming text and loose line illustrations by internationally known artist Barroux, this book sparks questions with empathy, insight, and charm. It’s a timely tool for inquiry-based and social-emotional learning, sharing the important message that walls can unite or divide, depending on the choices we make.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The story here is a bit difficult to follow, perhaps because the text is so sparse. It took me a couple of readings to figure out what was going on. Basically, a kid builds walls and ends up alone and sad. And then... walls are apparently a good thing? I'm still not sure.

I really don't like this one. With a title like Sometimes a Wall, I would expect to see both sides of the issue. But the walls in the story are pretty much all negative (at least metaphorically). Sure, a climbing wall is fun, but that's not what we're really talking about here, is it?

I wouldn't recommend this. The message is too muddled.

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.71 out of 5

Review - The Paper Boat

The Paper Boat
by Thao Lam
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

In The Paper Boat, Thao’s signature collage art tells the wordless story of one family’s escape from Vietnam―a journey intertwined with an ant colony’s parallel narrative.

At her home in Vietnam, a girl rescues ants from the sugar water set out to trap them. Later, when the girl’s family flees war-torn Vietnam, ants lead them through the moonlit jungle to the boat that will take them to safety. Before boarding, the girl folds a paper boat from a bun wrapper and drops it into the water, and the ants climb on. Their perilous journey, besieged by punishing weather, predatory birds, and dehydration, before reaching a new beginning, mirrors the family’s own.

Impressionistic collages and a moving, Own Voices narrative make this a one-of-a-kind tale of courage, resilience, and hope.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I thought I would like this one more than I did. I think I was thrown by the narrative with the ants; you really only get the significance of that after you read the author's note.

This is a wordless picture book, illustrated with cut-paper collage, that details the escape and journey of a family of refugees fleeing Vietnam in the 1970s. The story is easy enough to follow... up to a point. After the little girl drops a piece of paper, the ants climb on and go on their own journey... which involves vicious seagulls and a lot of drowning. I guess the idea was to use the ants instead of people for the more graphic aspects of the story. But it's still pretty dark.

The book doesn't really work without a reading of the author's note at the end, which I'm not crazy about; I think picture books should be able to get their message across without too much explanation.

The collages are okay, but I'm not really a fan of the spare style. The bleakness of some of the panels works, given the subject matter, but I didn't think there was enough of a contrast (at least colour-wise) between the panels that depicted the refugees' flight and the ones that showed them safe in their new home.

Overall, this is a decent refugee story, and would probably work best in a classroom setting where more discussion about the topic can follow. I'm not sure if kids would get a lot out of it if they just flipped through it on their own (especially if they didn't bother reading the author's note at the end).

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.6 out of 5

Review - Ollie and Augustus

Ollie and Augustus
by Gabriel Evans
Date: 2020
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

In a sweet story full of visual humor, first-day-of-school worries take on a new weight when Ollie’s best (and furriest) friend must stay at home.

Ollie was small — like a pickling jar or a shoe box.
Augustus was big — like a fridge or a table.


Ollie and his dog, Augustus, do almost everything together: painting, riding bikes, digging (Ollie’s favorite), and collecting sticks (Augustus’s favorite). So as Ollie is getting ready to start school, he’s a little worried. Won’t Augustus be lonely during the day? Ollie has just the idea: a sign that reads Wanted: Friend for Augustus. But good friends, as it turns out, are hard to find. Luckily, Ollie and Augustus aren’t just any kind of friends — they’re best friends, and nothing will ever change that. Endearingly illustrated with scratch-scratchy appeal, this is a tale for animal lovers and new school-goers alike.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Ollie and Augustus is the story of a pet who gets left behind when his owner goes to school. It's a story I've seen done before... and better. Still, it's not without its charm.

Ollie is a small boy. Augustus is a huge dog. When Ollie has to start school, he worries that Augustus will be lonely. So he puts out an ad for a new friend for Augustus. Unfortunately, all the dogs who answer the ad are... well, dogs. And nobody can replace Ollie in Augustus's mind.

Jean Reidy's Truman tells a very similar story about a child going to school and leaving their pet behind. I think I preferred that one a bit more. While Ollie and Augustus is slightly more reassuring to kids who are worried about their pets, I almost felt like it went a bit too far. Ollie spends the day worrying, while Augustus has a fun day playing and relaxing without even seeming to realize his boy is gone. (Is anybody going to tell the poor kid that he doesn't need to give himself an ulcer worrying about his dog?)

The illustrations are kind of cute. I have no idea why Augustus is the size of a small car, but it kind of adds to the quirkiness of the book.

Overall, this is an okay story. It would be good for kids who are worried about leaving their pets behind when they go to school. I might pair it with Truman for a bit of extra reassurance.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.67 out of 5

Monday, July 6, 2020

Review - Monkey With a Tool Belt Blasts Off!

Monkey With a Tool Belt Blasts Off!
by Chris Monroe
Date: 2020
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Come along on an out-of-this-world journey with Chico Bon Bon in this rollicking new adventure from author and illustrator Chris Monroe.

Oh no, the Moon Malt machine at the Superstar Space Station and Snack Bar is broken! The ever-resourceful Chico Bon Bon and his trusty sidekick Clark the elephant ZOOM to the rescue. While working on the malfunctioning Moon Malt machine, they discover myriad other things in need of fixing, including a hatch and a latch and a droid's underwear. And then--FWHOOSH! KA-BOING!--what was that? It's the cutest alien in the universe, and she's stranded at the space station due to a broken down spaceship!

Thanks to Chico's know-how and his extensive tool collection there's a fix for every problem under the sun--and beyond!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm really not the audience for this. I'm sure some kids will enjoy it, but the story--about a technically minded monkey who helps rescue an alien--didn't interest me all that much. It's obviously intended for very young children, and doesn't offer much for older readers (or the parents who'll end up reading this to their kids).

There's nothing really wrong with the story, other than it being a little predictable. The choice to rhyme some parts but not others is a strange one; I'm not a fan of books that do this. I'm also having trouble with the illustrations. This book really needs to be read in a fairly large format, because there are lots of tiny details in the pictures that could easily be missed. (I have a feeling the e-book doesn't really do it justice.)

The book is fine for what it is, and if kids are a fan of the character, they'll probably enjoy it. I didn't find it particularly memorable, however, and I would probably only recommend it to very young children.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Review - Sir Tim Has a Secret

Sir Tim Has a Secret
by Judith Koppens
illustrated by Eline van Lindenhuizen
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Real knights are always honest. But when Sir Tim accidentally rips his cape, he tries to blame his friend Max. And when Mom leaves a strawberry shortcake on the table, he sneaks a bite. Keeping all these secrets begins to give Sir Tim a bellyache...

A sweet and recognizable book about keeping secrets. For honest knights ages 4 and up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is the second Sir Tim book I've read. I'm still not impressed.

The premise of this one is okay, but the writing is all over the place. You cannot nod your words! And having Sir Tim think things out loud is just silly. (Use the word "said" and be done with it.)

The kids' playground gave me the willies. (Sharp nails sticking out of the play structure to snag kids' clothing as they're going down the slide? Sounds like a recipe for a lawsuit.) The story is relatable, with Tim getting carried away with his lies--only to be given away by his dirty cheeks. But I think the text itself needs more work.

Overall, I don't think I'd recommend this. I prefer to see stronger writing in picture books.

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5