Monday, March 30, 2020

Review - Grandmother School

Grandmother School
by Rina Singh
illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Date: 2020
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Every morning, a young girl walks her grandmother to the Aajibaichi Shala, the school that was built for the grandmothers in her village to have a place to learn to read and write. The narrator beams with pride as she drops her grandmother off with the other aajis to practice the alphabet and learn simple arithmetic. A moving story about family, women and the power of education--when Aaji learns to spell her name you'll want to dance along with her.

Women in countless countries continue to endure the limitations of illiteracy. Unjust laws have suppressed the rights of girls and women and kept many from getting an education and equal standing in society. Based on a true story from the village of Phangane, India, this brilliantly illustrated book tells the story of the grandmothers who got to go to school for the first time in their lives.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Grandmother School is a sweet little book based on real events.

Many grandmothers in India can't read or write. In one village, a teacher sought to change that and created the Aajibaichi Shala, or Grandmother School. Every day, the children walk their grandmothers in their bright pink saris to the school, where they learn reading and basic arithmetic.

Though this story is narrated by a fictional little girl, it's based on what happened in Phangane, India in 2016. So those who are looking for picture books with a non-fiction bent might want to check this one out.

The mixed-media illustrations are charming and colourful, depicting the village, its inhabitants, and the Aajibaichi Shala in vibrant hues. They compliment the story nicely, especially as they incorporate a few words written in the Marathi alphabet.

Overall, this is a lovely book. Kids who don't live in India are liable to find this an eye-opening experience; they might not take their own grandmothers' literacy for granted after reading this story!

Thank you to NetGalley and Orca Book Publishers for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Review - Fancy Nancy: Camp Fancy

Fancy Nancy: Camp Fancy (Fancy Nancy)
by Laurie Israel
illustrated by the Disney Storybook Art Team
Date: 2019
Publisher: HarperFestival
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: library

Nancy is one happy camper when she decides to have a camping trip in the backyard. But when it begins to rain, Nancy will need to bring all the wonders of the great outdoors...indoors!

Disney Junior’s Fancy Nancy is an animated family comedy starring six-year-old Nancy, a girl who is fancy in everything from her advanced vocabulary to her creative, elaborate attire. The show is based on the New York Times bestselling book series Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

One day, Nancy is bored. Her dad suggests she help him clean out the garage. They find a tent, and Nancy has visions of staging a magnificent camping trip, complete with a campfire and s'mores. But rain spoils the plan, and the family is forced indoors.

The message about making the best of things comes through loud and clear. I was also amused by the pictures in this one. The facial expressions are great, and Nancy's fantasy about the perfect camping trip even features some cameos from some familiar Disney characters.

Overall, this is a cute little book perfect for fans of Nancy (and especially the TV-show version of Nancy).

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - Fancy Nancy: Toodle-oo, Miss Moo

Fancy Nancy: Toodle-oo, Miss Moo (Fancy Nancy)
by Victoria Saxon
illustrated by the Disney Storybook Art Team
Date: 2019
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

When the Clancys decide to have a yard sale, will Nancy be able to say good-bye to her oldest, most precious toy, Miss Moo?

Disney Junior’s Fancy Nancy: Toodle-oo, Miss Moo is a Level One I Can Read, perfect for children learning to sound out words and sentences.

Based on the New York Times bestselling book series Fancy Nancy, which includes over 100 titles with more than 30 million books sold, Disney Junior’s Fancy Nancy is an animated family comedy centered on six-year-old Nancy, a girl who likes to be fancy in everything from her advanced vocabulary to her creative, elaborate attire.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a Fancy Nancy book based on the TV series. These books aren't among my favourites, but they're still good, clean fun with cute illustrations and clear, positive messaging.

Nancy and her family are having a yard sale. Nancy's fine with selling all her old baby toys until she spots Miss Moo, a favourite. She doesn't want Miss Moo to be sold, so she tries various things to take her off the market. But when Bree's little brother spots the toy and really wants it, Bree buys it for him as a birthday surprise. Nancy is devastated and convinces Bree to let her have the toy back. But in a sweet show of empathy, Nancy ends up relinquishing the toy when she remembers how much it meant to her when she was three.

The pictures are consistent and tolerably cute, which is about all I can really say about them. I much prefer Robin Preiss Glasser's originals. TV Nancy just doesn't seem fancy enough!

Fans of Nancy (and of the TV show in particular) will probably want to check this one out.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Review - Elle of Portuana

Elle of Portuana
by Samuel Narh
Date: 2019
Publisher: Austin Macauley Publishers LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Elle is from a small town by the beach named Portuana. She loves trees, nature, and saving money. This picture book takes a child into Elle’s world. The child then sees how Elle ties all her passions together.

The picture book aims at inculcating these essential traits in young children so that they grow up to be environmentally conscious and have a balanced life.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bit of a strange little book that's probably too vague for children to really appreciate.

Elle wants to plant more trees. So she finds seashells, sells them, and makes a few coins.

That's literally the whole plot. Unfortunately, it's kind of weak. The book ends with Elle dreaming about Portuana having more trees, but that thought is not connected to the money. So the reader has to remember that, on the first page she wanted to plant more trees. (Whether children will be able to connect Elle's piggy-bank coins with her desire to plant trees remains to be seen.) I actually forgot about Elle's desire because the way Portuana is depicted might make one wonder why it needs more trees at all. It's already got tons!

The illustrations themselves look like they were done digitally. There's a strange mix of cartoonish shapes and impressionism that don't really seem to blend very well. I'm also not a fan of the rather large boat illustration that holds the page number on every other page; it's distracting and unnecessary.

I can't really recommend this one. It would have had more impact if Elle had been trying to solve a problem (a lack of trees) and the story had made clear how she was going to do that (earning money to buy seedlings to plant).

Thank you to NetGalley and Austin Macauley Publishers LLC for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Review - Olivia

Olivia (Olivia #1)
by Ian Falconer
Date: 2000
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Have fun with Olivia... dressing up, singing songs, building sand castles, napping (maybe), dancing, painting on walls and - whew! - going to sleep at last.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read Olivia the Spy last year, but I wasn't that impressed. Sometimes sequels aren't as good as the originals. That's certainly the case here, and though I didn't love Olivia, I thought it was somewhat charming and entertaining.

I think what I'm grappling with is the way Olivia and her mother say, "I love you anyway." I can't quite put my finger on why that bothers me, but it does.

Overall, it's not bad. It shows a spunky little pig who definitely likes getting her own way. Many parents of young children will likely be able to relate.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - Jumanji

Jumanji
by Chris Van Allsburg
Date: 1981
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

The game under the tree looked like a hundred others Peters and Judy had at home. But they were bored and restless and, looking for something interesting to do, thought they'd give Jumanji a try. Little did they know when they unfolded its ordinary-looking playing board that they were about to be plunged into the most exciting and bizare adventure of their lives.

In his second book for children, Chris Van Allsburg again explores the ever-shifting line between fantasy and reality with this story about a game that comes startingly to life. His marvelous drawings beautifully convey a mix of the everyday and the extraordinary, as a quiet house is taken over by an exotic jungle.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Since this book is almost as old as I am, I thought maybe I might have read it at some point. I know I saw the movie, but I don't remember much. The book is understated, yet kind of magical, and definitely worth taking a look at (especially if you're a fan of Van Allsburg's work).

Judy and Peter are (somewhat conveniently) left at home without a babysitter while their parents go to the opera. They're bored, so they head over to the park, where they find a mysterious box that contains a game called Jumanji. They take it home and play it. But once you start a game of Jumanji, you must finish it. It says so in the instructions. So Judy and Peter face an afternoon of adventures as they attempt to reach the end of the game.

The story is so simple (despite the rather large amount of text) that I'm guessing that the movie was padded quite a bit (I really don't remember!). But what is here is understated and fairly well written. Van Allsburg's monochrome illustrations are lovely, as usual... although they do look a bit dated (given that the book is almost 40 years old, though, that's understandable).

I can see why this has stood the test of time. Younger readers might prefer the movie, as the action in this one is over pretty quickly and the book is rather short. But it's still worth a read.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Friday, March 27, 2020

Review - Fussy Flamingo

Fussy Flamingo
by Shelly Vaughan James
illustrated by Matthew Rivera
Date: 2020
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Lola, a young flamingo, knows that eating shrimp will make her feathers pink, but when her parents look away she tries different foods and turns a series of wild colors.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Aside from some iffy speech tags, this is a cute picture book about a young flamingo who just won't eat the shrimp that will turn her a distinctive pink. Instead, she defies her parents and tries all sorts of other foods, from avocados to melons, with colourful results. Can her parents convince her to try a new food?

The story is amusing and the illustrations are colourful and engaging. There are also a couple of pages at the back with some real-life flamingo facts, which is a nice touch.

This would be a good book for kids who are interested in these fascinating birds and their plumage... or for picky eaters who need a little nudge to try something new.

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Ella Has a Plan

Ella Has a Plan
by Davina Hamilton
illustrated by Elena Reinoso
Date: 2020
Publisher: The Ella Riley Group
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Ella is fed up, but what can she do?

Her quarrelling cousins are making her blue!

It’s Mummy’s big party – the family’s all here.

But two pesky cousins are spoiling the cheer!


Ella just wants them to party and play,

She can’t let their arguing ruin the day!

Can Ella fix things? She’s sure that she can,

She just needs to think up a brilliant plan...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a rather text-heavy picture book about a little girl who wants to keep her cousins from quarrelling at Mummy's party.

The rhyming text is okay with decent meter for the most part (although you may have to read some lines a few times to get the timing down if you're reading it aloud). The story, however, was just so-so for me. Ella is worried about keeping Taye and Jade from arguing. So she talks to her mother, who tells her that Great Grandad Frank once played a prank to get his kids to stop quarrelling. Ella resolves to ask him, and she does. The problem is that Great Grandad Frank never actually tells the story, and the book ends with Ella wanting to come up with another plan to find out about the prank. Perhaps because her own prank (that she came up with herself) was successful at getting Taye and Jade to stop arguing, Great Grandad Frank's story was deemed unnecessary. But I found that omission kind of unsatisfying, and a bit of an unfair tease.

The pictures are cute, especially when Ella plays her prank with all the kids. At the back, there's a spread showing all the characters in the extended family, clearly labelled with their names. Judging by the name of the publishing company on this one, I'm guessing that these characters are based on real people.

Overall, this isn't bad, but it's a bit long for reading aloud. Some readers will probably also be frustrated by not finding out about Great Grandad Frank's prank. I know I was.

Thank you to NetGalley and The Ella Riley Group for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.71 out of 5

Monday, March 23, 2020

Review - Lilah Tov Good Night

Lilah Tov Good Night
by Ben Gundersheimer
illustrated by Noar Lee Naggan
Date: 2020
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A Hebrew lullaby takes on added meaning for a refugee family.

As the moon rises, a family steps into the night on a journey toward a new beginning. Along the way, their little girl delights in the wonders of nature, saying good night--lilah tov--to the creatures and landscapes they pass. Wherever she looks--on land, in the sky above and even, eventually, in the water below her boat--there are marvels to behold. "Lilah tov to the birds in the trees, lilah tov to the fish in the sea." Then, when their travels are finally over, her parents tuck her in tight, safe and ready for dreams in their new home.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This rhyming picture book would make a nice bedtime read. Hopefully, kids will be too sleepy to ask questions about the someone threadbare plot.

The family are obviously refugees, but the reader doesn't know why. In fact, the book starts on a rather idyllic note (at the end of "a long and beautiful day") and then the parents pack up their kids and leave. I went back to try to look for clues as to why they felt compelled to embark upon a risky journey with a young child and an infant, but I couldn't see any. (For the purposes of a picture book, this sort of makes sense. But I'm sure there are going to be kids who ask, "Why are they leaving their home?" Parents will have to get creative and come up with their own answers, because there aren't any here.)

The illustrations are interesting to look at, if a little fanciful. I'm not sure what kind of Jewish refugee journey would be undertaken across the sea in nothing but a rowboat, but that's what happens here. I guess it's supposed to be more symbolic than literal.

Overall, this isn't bad. It has a nice rhythm and would make a good book for winding down at the end of a long and beautiful day.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - A Rainbow of Rocks

A Rainbow of Rocks
by Kate DePalma
Date: 2020
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A rainbow of rocks -- from red to violet and beyond! Eye-popping close-up photos of real, vibrant rocks and minerals in a rainbow of colors are brought to life by lyrical, rhyming text about the many facets of geology. Includes educational notes perfect for STEM learning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a great little rhyming picture book about rocks. I know that doesn't sound very exciting, but this is actually an engaging little volume with beautiful photographs and lots of neat facts.

The main part of the book contains simple rhyming text to accompany photographs of beautiful rocks (which are clearly labelled). Everything from bumpy basalt to shimmering bornite shows up on the pages. At the back, there are a few pages that offer more detailed information about rocks: what they're made of, how they're formed, and their various characteristics.

This would be a great book for kids who are interested in geology. But its aesthetic might also encourage kids who aren't normally interested in this sort of thing to pick it up and give it a try.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.14 out of 5

Review - Ray

Ray
by Marianna Coppo
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A humorous picture book about the adventures of a light bulb who embarks on an enlightening journey, from the acclaimed author-illustrator of Petra.

At the end of the hall, near the staircase, is a closet. In that closet lives Ray, who is a light bulb. Ray spends most of his time in darkness, which is pretty boring if you don't know how to fill it. So boring that Ray usually slips into a dreamless sleep . . .

Everything changes one day when Ray is migrated into a portable lantern and taken on the trip of a lifetime. He wakes up in a much larger closet (the outside), surrounded by incredible things - too many to count! Everything is super big, and Ray has never felt so small. And in the morning, Ray makes an incredible discovery which will change his life forever.

Meet Ray, a charming new character from the imaginative mind of Marianna Coppo, the creator of Petra!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. It's a book about a lightbulb that has an adventure. How do you even begin to process that?

Ray lives in the closet. He's been in other places in the house, too, like the living room (which was good) and the bathroom (which was a little less pleasant). Now he's in the closet, which is pretty boring. He counts all the things in there with him, and watches things change a little in the outside world, but mostly, he just hangs there. One day, though, his people unscrew him and take him on a camping trip. He sees more things than he can count, and in the morning, he has a spiritual awakening of sorts.

If you can get past the question of why someone would take the incandescent lightbulb from the hall closet on a camping trip, then the rest of the story is kind of charming. Ray is a sympathetic character; I think a lot of us can relate (especially right now) to the feeling of being cooped-up and bored. The illustrations are simple, but effective.

Overall, this is kind of cute. Anthropomorphized lightbulbs. Now I've seen it all.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Review - Same Way Ben

Same Way Ben
by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Date: 2019
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Ben likes things the same way every day at school—he sits at the same table, eats the same lunch, and likes the daily class routine. But when his teacher leaves to have her baby and a substitute teacher comes and changes everything, Ben gets upset. He liked everything the way it was before! But soon Ben starts to think differently about change and realizes that doing things another way can be fun.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute story about change and a little boy who thinks he's not quite ready to face it.

When Ben's teacher, Mrs. Garcia, goes on maternity leave, there are lots of changes in the classroom. Ben, who has always done things the same way every day, doesn't like it. He feels lost and confused and just wants things to go back to the way they were before. It takes a visit from his favourite teacher to help him see that change can be good. It's an adventure!

While I enjoyed this one, I think it has the potential to be a mismatch with certain audiences. Inability to handle change is a common trait among those on the autism spectrum, and I thought at first that perhaps Ben was autistic. The way he's treated by the teachers, however, kind of suggests that he's not. (Mr. Elliot, the substitute teacher, simply rams through his changes without any sort of concern for the kids' feelings. If Ben were actually autistic, Mr. Elliot would have--hopefully--been informed of this and been a little more accommodating.) Ben eventually embraces change--without being prompted to--so he's obviously just a kid who's gotten stuck in a bit of a rut. That's the audience... not kids on the spectrum whose parents are trying to find a weaselly way to get them to break out of their routines.

The pictures are pretty cute, and the story is simple but well-written. I enjoyed it, once I realized this wasn't a book about a kid who was going to be pushed beyond his limits.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Review - Magnificent Homespun Brown

Magnificent Homespun Brown
by Samara Cole Doyon
illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

If Walt Whitman were reborn as a vibrant young woman of color, this is the book he might write. America, we hear you singing! With vivid illustrations by Kaylani Juanita, Samara Cole Doyon sings a carol for the plenitude that surrounds us and the self each of us is meant to inhabit.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Amber brown.
Like honey harvested from the hive in Auntie's yard.
A sacred, healing elixir, a balm for beleaguered
voices and aching throats,
born from the billowing bustle of industrious
bees, stretching into a soft, squiggly line as it
slips from the spigot to the bottle.

This is yet another picture book for adults disguised as one for children.

Were I to have viewed it as something aimed at adults, I probably would've liked it better. The words are evocative, and I like the way each flowery description of a shade of brown is tied back to the little girl narrating the story. But the vocabulary is just too much, and I don't know how many kids would sit through something that's so wordy.

The pictures are cute and really highlight the text nicely. But, again, there's that mismatch with the audience. Kids might enjoy looking at the illustrations, but are they really going to want to sit and listen to what is, essentially, a really long free-verse poem?

If this were aimed at adults, I might've given it a higher rating. But I just can't see this appealing to children.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tilbury House Publishers 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

Review - I Am Brown

I Am Brown
by Ashok Banker
illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
Date: 2020
Publisher: Lantana Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

I am brown. I am beautiful. I am perfect. I designed this computer. I ran this race. I won this prize. I wrote this book. A joyful celebration of the skin you're in--of being brown, of being amazing, of being you.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a vibrant book that shows a diverse array of non-white kids doing and being a variety of different things. It almost works for me... except for two things.

I find the emphasis on skin colour off-putting. The rest of the book (the vast majority of it, anyway... more on that in a second) in great. Kids are shown doing activities, eating food, speaking languages, worshipping, accomplishing goals... and that's all great. But it's all prefaced by, "I am brown. I am beautiful. I am perfect." There's nothing wrong with that statement by itself. But books like this are inevitably going to be read by white kids, and that's going to bring up some complicated conversations (such as why it's not okay for them to say, "I am white. I am beautiful. I am perfect"). Because of the strength of the pictures, I don't even know if the skin colour needed to be mentioned in the text. It's pretty obvious that we're talking about brown kids here.

My second issue, though, really took me aback. The illustrations depict children. Sometimes, they appear to be talking about things they're going to do one day (be a doctor, a president, etc.); they're drawn as children acting out these jobs. But on the spread about clothes, there's a little girl wearing an actual wedding dress. The first thought that sprang to my mind was "child bride". Unfortunately, that's still a thing in some countries, and I was kind of shocked to see this in a picture book. While the implication might have been that she would wear a wedding dress one day, the fact is that there was a child drawn wearing a child-sized wedding gown. I just found that deeply off-putting.

It's a shame, because the overall premise of the book is good and it depicts so many possibilities, opportunities, and variations of human children within its pages. So... this one kind of got a mixed reaction from me. I'm not even sure whether I'd recommend it. I guess parents need to use their own discretion when deciding if this is something they want their kids to read.

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 - Brown Baby Lullaby

Brown Baby Lullaby
by Tameka Fryer Brown
illustrated by AG Ford
Date: 2020
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

From sunset to bedtime, two brown-skinned parents lovingly care for their beautiful brown baby: first, they play outside, then it is time for dinner and a bath, and finally a warm snuggle before bed.

With Spanish words sprinkled throughout and featuring warm art by New York Times-bestselling and NAACP-Award-winning illustrator AG Ford, Brown Baby Lullaby is the perfect new baby or baby shower gift.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This "lullaby" seems to be more aimed at the parents than the baby. The synopsis suggests that it would make a good baby shower gift, and I think that's probably the case. It reads a bit like a book for first-time parents, letting them know what they can expect (like the kid throwing food everywhere; hey, they're just "learning"!).

The pictures are kind of cute and show a loving little family. The inclusion of some Spanish words is nice, but I think it unfortunately further limits the audience for the book. The number of parents this would be appropriate for is a minority. Still, if you fall into that minority, it's a nice little book.

While this personally wasn't for me, I can see it having appeal for the right demographic.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.57 out of 5

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Review - The Invisible Bear

The Invisible Bear
by Cécile Metzger
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A simple act of kindness brings two unlikely friends together in this profound picture book about the transformative power of friendship.

A bear sits in his quiet, colorless home in a forgotten place. He feels invisible; no one comes to see him, and he spends his days alone.

Then someone moves in next door. Madame Odette is sound and sunshine, and at first, the bear isn't sure about this colorful new neighbor.

But through an act of kindness, the bear and the Madame Odette meet, and as time goes by, they become friends. And in the end, they are both forever changed by the gifts they bring each other.

The first book from author-illustrator Cécile Metzger, The Invisible Bear is a powerful and beautiful meditation on the beauty of friendship and how two people can save each other just by being themselves.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What the...?!

I'm just sitting here laughing because I don't get it. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to get it. (Okay, to clarify, I get it. But I'm trying to read this as a child would, and I keep coming up confused.) It's not that the illustrations aren't charming (because they are) or that the overall message isn't sweet (because it is), but there's obviously a lot of symbolism and metaphor here that's likely to go over readers' heads. Like when the bear is illustrated in a sequence of filling up with grey and then a raincloud appearing over his head. (I'm still not sure if that's how he saved Madame Odette's flowers. Is this magical realism? Or is it some sort of statement about using negative emotions constructively?) The book ends with Madame Odette dying (she loves her dragonflies so much that she flies off with them) and leaving the bear a gift. And the gift represents... not feeling invisible?

Honestly, I'm just confused. Maybe I didn't get it after all. (And I really don't get why this was thought to be a good story for kids. Aside from the cute bear, there's really not much here that seems like it's going to appeal to younger readers.)

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Review - It Happened on Sweet Street

It Happened on Sweet Street
by Caroline Adderson
illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 44
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Cakes, cookies or pie? A rivalry among local bakers is the basis for this deliciously sweet, off-the-wall picture book.

Monsieur Oliphant's cake shop, the only bakery game in town, has long had customers lining up outside its door for Oliphant's delicious jelly rolls and marvelous wedding cakes . . . until the day cookie concocter Mademoiselle Fée takes over the old shoemaker's shop. And it isn't long before the divine piemaker Madame Clotilde soon moves into the old bric-a-brac shop. Three different bakers all trying to outclass one another means their little cul-de-sac is packed with customers every day and night, so, one morning, when everyone is bumpling and jostling each other with their cakes, cookies and pies, a food disaster -- a massacre of cream, a devastation of crumbs -- is inevitable! Only one little girl has the drive (or appetite?) to find a solution, but can it last? This madcap tale of frenzied cooks and zany eats (and one very lucky town) will delight readers with a sweet tooth of any age!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is... unhygienic. Seriously. Don't read it if you have contamination-based OCD.

Monsieur Oliphant (who, inexplicably, appears to be the sole elephant in a world of humans) bakes cakes in a shop on Sweet Street. He's got a monopoly as the sole vendor of baked goods. But then a cookie-maker moves in next door. And then a pie-maker. Tensions rise, everyone has a food fight, and the conflict is resolved when a child picks smashed baked goods up off the street and serves them to the crowd.

This grossed me out so badly. Right from the start, things got disgusting. We're shown Monsieur Oliphant making a jelly roll. The cake is dangling onto the floor as he's spreading the jelly on it. Then Mademoiselle Fée cuts out cookies with her shoes. Then Madame Clotilde closes the oven door with her foot on the handle. Where is the freaking health department?! The whole thing comes to a gag-inducing conclusion during the food fight when a child picks up broken cakes, cookies, and pies, smushes them all together, and presents them to the crowd... to a chorus of, "Délicieuse!!!" (More like, "Dégoûtant!!!")

The pictures are strange. They're trying to be whimsical, but they just look cluttered. And I really don't like what they're depicting.

This is a definite miss from me. Maybe if you don't mind watching people bake really filthy cakes, cookies, and pies you'll enjoy this more than I did.

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.67 out of 5

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Review - Marcy's Having All the Feels

Marcy's Having All the Feels
by Allison Edwards
illustrated by Valeria Docampo
Date: 2020
Publisher: National Center for Youth Issues
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

What do you do with all your feelings?

In Marcy’s Having All the Feels, counselor and therapist Allison Edwards explores how sometimes feeling so many feelings doesn’t feel so good at all.

Marcy wanted to be happy. Happy is all she wanted to be. But all her other feelings kept showing up—and at the worst times! There was Frustrated and Angry, Sad and Embarrassed, and even Worried and Jealous. Her feelings were there as soon as she opened her eyes each morning, and they followed her around throughout the day. Some days all these feelings just felt like a little too much and she wanted to hide!

Marcy didn’t want to feel angry or jealous. And she didn’t like feeling sad or embarrassed. Why couldn’t she be happy all the time? Then one day when Marcy’s feelings disappear, she learns that her feelings don’t have to control her, and they might even have a function.

Maybe having all the feels might not be such a bad thing. And that one discovery? Well, it changes everything!

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

This is a rather didactic picture book about feelings that will inevitably be compared to the much stronger movie, Inside Out.

Marcy's feelings are personified by little coloured creatures. Unlike in Inside Out, though, she's aware of them. Happy is her favourite, but she doesn't show up nearly often enough. After a rough day, Marcy wishes all her feelings away. But that kind of backfires because Happy disappears as well. After a day without feelings, Marcy welcomes them all back into her life with the understanding that she must take the not-so-great emotions along with the nice ones.

This might have worked had the feelings been developed better as characters. But when they're depicted as separate beings like they are here (and not merely aspects of Marcy's psyche), things can get a little confusing. You'd think Happy would be... well, happy. But she's kind of judgy, and laments early on about how she's tired of being needed. (That's not exactly a happy emotion she's displaying.)

The book is obviously intended to teach, and it pretty much hits the reader over the head with the message. It's a bit boring, and there's a bit too much text. Also, the "Tips for Teachers and Parents" at the back are weird. The way they're worded, they're obviously directed at kids... unless adults need to know how to rate their feelings on a scale of 1 to 10 and walk away to cool off so they don't make bad choices. (Yes, adults need those skills. But they're presented here as new information directed at them... not as something to teach the kids.)

Overall, this seems a bit weak. Inside Out gets the message across better in a much more entertaining way.

Thank you to NetGalley and National Center for Youth Issues for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.83 out of 5

Review - How Selfish!

How Selfish!
by Clare Helen Welsh
illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Date: 2020
Publisher: words & pictures
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The hilarious follow-up title to How Rude! which introduced us to the wonderful duo, Dot and Duck. They're back to share even more giggles in this sweet story about sharing, manners, and friendship.

One day Dot and Duck find a stick, only Dot thinks it's a sword and Duck thinks it's a flag. When Dot refuses to share the new toy, she goes to any lengths to make sure Duck doesn't try to take it. How will Duck react to such selfish behavior?

Simple, funny, and ultimately touching, this book will appeal to any child who is learning what it means to share and, more importantly, what it is to be a true friend.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This seems like it should work, but it fell a little flat for me. While it probably accurately shows young children's behaviour (selfishness, being grabby, only relenting with the threat of tattling), it's a bit grating. The selfishness goes on for a bit too long, and while the duo do eventually learn that it's not much fun to have all the toys when you're stuck playing by yourself, that message seems to come a little late. Dot and Duck have already modelled some pretty nasty behaviour for the first 20 pages of the book; I would've liked to see more emphasis on the resolution, since that's what's really important here.

The pictures are okay, but nothing special. If Duck didn't have that name, I wouldn't necessarily have known that's what he was (he actually reminds me a bit of Woodstock from the Peanuts comic strip, in that his beak looks more like some sort of fleshy nose).

Overall, I don't know if I'd recommend this one. It's okay, but it seems to dwell on the bad behaviour for a little too long.

Thank you to NetGalley and words & pictures 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

Friday, March 13, 2020

Review - If I Couldn't Be Anne

If I Couldn't Be Anne
by Kallie George
illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A beautiful read-aloud picture book about the power of the imagination, inspired by the best-selling Anne of Green Gables.

In this whimsical and magical picture book, Anne's boundless imagination takes flight! She imagines being all the things she loves so dearly. If I Couldn't Be Anne, Anne with an e, what would I be . . . Anne wonders what it would be like to be the wind dancing round the treetops. A tightrope walker, breathless and brave. A princess in a palace made of apple blossoms. A magical frost fairy or a plain little wood elf. . . . But even as Anne's imagination soars far and wide, she comes back down to earth, recognizing that some things - like friendship! - are even better than the imagination.

With adorable illustrations, and a heartfelt message, this picture book is a perfect read-aloud introduction to L.M. Montgomery's beloved Anne and will delight her brand-new fans and lifelong readers alike.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

From the team that brought us Goodnight, Anne comes this sweet little book that perfectly captures the spirit of Anne Shirley with evocative text and dreamy pictures.

Anne muses on what she would be if she weren't herself. For those familiar with the character, it's easy to see how her ideas are in perfect sync with Montgomery's original themes. Even Anne's dislike of her red hair is mentioned (although it's emphasized that red is far better than green, a nod to an incident in Anne of Green Gables).

The illustrations by Geneviève Godbout are soft and magical, yet somehow still manage to capture Anne's somewhat (often unintentionally) mischievous spirit. They're in the same style as those in Goodnight, Anne, and they're simply lovely.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of Anne, as well as to those looking for books about imagination and self-esteem.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tundra Books (NY) 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

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Review - A Ride to Remember

A Ride to Remember
by Sharon Langley & Amy Nathan
illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Date: 2020
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

The true story of how a ride on a carousel made a powerful Civil Rights statement

A Ride to Remember tells how a community came together—both black and white—to make a change. When Sharon Langley was born in the early 1960s, many amusement parks were segregated, and African-American families were not allowed entry. This book reveals how in the summer of 1963, due to demonstrations and public protests, the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland became desegregated and opened to all for the first time. Co-author Sharon Langley was the first African-American child to ride the carousel. This was on the same day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Langley’s ride to remember demonstrated the possibilities of King’s dream. This book includes photos of Sharon on the carousel, authors’ notes, a timeline, and a bibliography.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

A Ride to Remember is a lovely picture-book memoir recounting the story of the first African American child to ride a previously segregated carousel in Baltimore.

The main narrative features strong writing. While there is a lot of text, it's uncomplicated and tells the story clearly, in such a way that even young listeners will understand what's going on. The soft illustrations are a beautiful complement to the story. At the back are some pages with facts, a timeline, and a bibliography.

Overall, this is quite strong. I would definitely recommend it to those interested in the Civil Rights movement, as well as those who enjoy historical picture books about real events.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.67 out of 5

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Review - Finding Om

Finding Om
by Rashmi Bismark
illustrated by Morgan Huff
Date: 2020
Publisher: Mango and Marigold Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Finding Om is an illustrated children's book that shares the story of Anu, an Indian African girl who explores the mantra Om with her beloved grandfather, Appuppa. Through this story, she begins to uncover techniques of mindfulness that readers can explore along with her. This wonderful multicultural, intergenerational story is sure to become a staple in classrooms and homes across the world.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Sometimes I wonder if picture-book authors really understand children at all...

Finding Om is a simple explanation of mindfulness and meditation using the Om mantra. Anu learns about Om from her grandfather, Appuppa. Then she goes on to practice, eventually finding peace within herself.

What I'm struggling with are two things. First, Anu is depicted fairly unrealistically. After learning about Om, she struggles to maintain focus... until she obsessively starts chanting while letting the world go on around her. Do children really need to be that mindful? (There's one illustration that I found particularly disturbing, in which she's sitting and meditating while the rest of her family are simply enjoying their lives. What's the message? Kids are supposed to give up joy in favour of enlightenment? Her family are unenlightened boors who need to be taught a lesson? In fact, the book ends with Appuppa suggesting they teach the even-younger sister about meditating. I'm not sure how well that's going to work, given the girls' apparent ages.)

The second thing that's bothering me is the way the book is written. It's difficult to understand, even for adults! The main narrative itself isn't so bad, but check out one of the definitions provided for clarity:

Meditation: an introspective practice for becoming more familiar with ourselves in relationship with internal and external life experience; depending on the style of practice, may cultivate certain modes of paying attention, like focus and/or receptivity; may also reinforce connections to various attitudes and intentions for attending with presence, awareness, wisdom, and care

Got that, kids?

The pictures are cute, and the overall premise is commendable, but I think this is aimed at the wrong age group. Do young children really need to be reminded to notice things around them? I don't think so. These are valuable lessons for older readers who may have forgotten how to be mindful, but I question whether encouraging kids to get obsessed with chanting and trying to be mindful 24/7 is that healthy.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Review - The Murders of Molly Southbourne (DNF)

The Murders of Molly Southbourne
by Tade Thompson
Date: 2010
Publisher: Tor.com
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

Every time she bleeds a murderer is born. Experience the horror of Tade Thompson's The Murders of Molly Southbourne.

The rule is simple: don't bleed.

For as long as Molly Southbourne can remember, she's been watching herself die. Whenever she bleeds, another molly is born, identical to her in every way and intent on her destruction.

Molly knows every way to kill herself, but she also knows that as long as she survives she'll be hunted. No matter how well she follows the rules, eventually the mollys will find her. Can Molly find a way to stop the tide of blood, or will she meet her end at the hand of a girl who looks just like her?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

DNF @ 27%

I want to emphasize that not finishing this has nothing to do with the quality of the book. I simply got sidetracked, and then my computer crashed. Since this book was a free download from Tor.com (and I hadn't backed it up), I lost it.

What I did read was quite intriguing. If I can find a copy at the library sometime, I might finish it. As it stands now, though, it's going to be a DNF.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Review - Catkwondo

Catkwondo
by Lisl F. Detlefsen
illustrated by Erin Hunting
Date: 2020
Publisher: Capstone Editions
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Kitten wants to a break a board, and she wants to do it now. But Tae Kwon Do is not easy. Kitten must focus. She must practice. And above all, she must be patient. Will Kitten's determination and dedication pay off when it's finally time to break a board? Author Lisl Detlefsen delivers a turbo-charged story filled with action, fun, and encouragement. Korean phrases are intermixed throughout Catkwondo, and the Tae Kwon Do Oath and a Tae Kwon Do glossary complete this energetic picture book.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical going into this one. But it's actually really cute and teaches some basic terms about taekwondo while it's telling a simple story about a kitten with a goal.

Kitten really wants to break a board. But first, she has to learn the basics. She eventually earns her yellow belt. But she's still not quite ready to break that board. More practice (and patience) is necessary. But when it finally comes time to give that board-breaking a try, will Kitten be able to do it?

The illustrations are a little too cutesy for my taste, but they are amusing. The story is populated by anthropomorphized cats. There's a great glossary at the back (with a pronunciation guide) that explains the Korean words used throughout the story.

This might find the best audience in kids who are just starting out in taekwondo themselves, but it offers a great introduction to readers who don't know much about taekwondo at all. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. I'd definitely recommend checking this one out.

Thank you to NetGalley and Capstone Editions for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Alya and the Three Cats

Alya and the Three Cats
by Amina Hachimi Alaoui
illustrated by Maya Fidawi
Date: 2020
Publisher: CrackBoom! Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The arrival of a new baby seen by three adorable cats

Maryam and Sami have three cats: Pasha the black angora cat―proud as a pasha really!―Minouche the grey tabby cat found in the street and Amir the playful Siamese. One day Maryam’s belly starts to get bigger and something starts to stir in it. Maryam disappears for a few days and comes back home with something that screams and demands a lot of attention. Their three cats are very confused. What’s going on?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a strange picture book that suffers from a weak translation and a confusing title.

Do you have cats who are upset about the impending arrival of a human baby? If so, then this is the book for you. Get it and read it to your cats.

In all seriousness, I get that this is supposed to be for older siblings, but it reads more like something for the cats rather than something about them. As for the translation, there are a few areas that could use some work. At one point, it's stated that the cats are treated like princes... so you'd assume they're all male. Nope. Minouche is female. (The word "royalty" probably would've worked better there.) Pasha is described as looking "like a real pasha". I'm sorry, but that's not an English word, and I have no idea what it means! Also, the title is pretty misleading. Alya is the baby, and she barely even makes an appearance. It would've made more sense to call the book Myriam and the Three Cats since Myriam is the one the cats have all bonded with and whose growing belly is freaking the cats out.

The pictures are cute, I guess. The book obviously takes places somewhere other than North America (North Africa or the Middle East would be my guess), and this is reflected in the illustrations. It's always nice to see different cultures reflected in the pictures.

Overall, though, I found this one really underwhelming. But cat lovers might enjoy it more than I did.

Thank you to NetGalley and CrackBoom! 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