Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review - 100 Days of Sunlight

100 Days of Sunlight
by Abbie Emmons
Date: 2019
Publisher: Abbie Emmons
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 310
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

When 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickinson is involved in a car accident and loses her eyesight for 100 days, she feels like her whole world has been turned upside-down.

Terrified that her vision might never return, Tessa feels like she has nothing left to be happy about. But when her grandparents place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a typist to help Tessa continue writing and blogging, an unlikely answer knocks at their door: Weston Ludovico, a boy her age with bright eyes, an optimistic smile…and no legs.

Knowing how angry and afraid Tessa is feeling, Weston thinks he can help her. But he has one condition — no one can tell Tessa about his disability. And because she can’t see him, she treats him with contempt: screaming at him to get out of her house and never come back. But for Weston, it’s the most amazing feeling: to be treated like a normal person, not just a sob story. So he comes back. Again and again and again.

Tessa spurns Weston’s “obnoxious optimism”, convinced that he has no idea what she’s going through. But Weston knows exactly how she feels and reaches into her darkness to show her that there is more than one way to experience the world. As Tessa grows closer to Weston, she finds it harder and harder to imagine life without him — and Weston can’t imagine life without her. But he still hasn’t told her the truth, and when Tessa’s sight returns he’ll have to make the hardest decision of his life: vanish from Tessa’s world…or overcome his fear of being seen.


100 Days of Sunlight is a poignant and heartfelt novel by author Abbie Emmons. If you like sweet contemporary romance and strong family themes then you’ll love this touching story of hope, healing, and getting back up when life knocks you down.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's been over a year and a half since I last read a young adult novel. Maybe it was my one-star experience there that turned me off, or maybe I just got tired of seeing the same old problems in books written for that age group. In any case... it's been a while. So why did I pick this one up?

I was searching for graphic design videos on YouTube when I spotted one of Abbie's videos. I watched it, and then I realized that she's the author who wrote that self-pubbed novel with the gorgeous cover that I'd put on my "want to read" list months ago. As I watched more of her videos, I began to get curious. She seemed to know what she was talking about, so I reasoned that her book was probably pretty decent. So I checked out the preview on Amazon, decided it looked like it might be a worthwhile read, and bought it.

The first thing I want to talk about here is the self-publishing aspect. I've seen other reviewers make assumptions about Abbie getting a publishing deal because she's a YouTuber. Nope. 100 Days of Sunlight is a self-published book (which you can learn more about in some of her videos). Having read quite a few self-published books, I've come to the conclusion that they're often... well, terrible. This book kind of shatters that perception, though. When an author really takes the time to properly organize, plan, write, edit, get feedback, and pay attention to good design, the results can really pay off. 100 Days of Sunlight does not seem self-published. In fact, I would encourage anyone who's thinking of self-publishing their own book to buy a copy of this one to see how it should be done. Everything--the cover, the layout, the editing, the e-book's price point--gives a reader the impression that they're looking at something that's come out of a traditional publishing house. In fact, I can count on my fingers the number of technical mistakes in the writing... which is more than I can say of some books to come out of the big publishers. (Hey, errors happen. The fact that they didn't happen until almost the very end is really impressive; I'm used to seeing them start to creep in after the halfway point.)

Let's talk about the story. It's your standard YA contemporary romance (I'm guessing... since this is not my preferred genre), complete with characters who are about one quip away from bursting into song surrounded by cuddly forest critters. Were it not for the alternative POV and Weston sharing his backstory in flashbacks, we would've had a Manic Pixie Dream Boy on our hands. (I mean, the guy makes waffles and plays a yellow ukulele while trying to help the heroine see the brighter side of life.) The comparisons to Augustus Waters are pretty much inevitable. But Emmons avoids falling into the MPDB trap trope by letting us get inside Weston's head. And, actually, it's really his story. I found that, as I was reading, I was far more invested in his narration than I was in Tessa's, despite her problems being the catalyst for the whole story. I thought Tessa wasn't developed quite as well, and there were things about her that seemed to be obvious attempts to make her character more interesting... when they really didn't. I'm talking about things like her overly nasty attitude at the beginning, her mother (that could've been interesting to work into her character development, but it seemed more like an effort to make her family seem unconventional), and her strange comments about holding Weston's hand being "inappropriate" (I know this is a sweet little YA novel, but... hand-holding?). As for Weston, I liked him for the most part... but he lost me for a bit somewhere in the middle with his attitude about disability. This isn't the first time I've seen this attitude from those with physical disabilities, and maybe Emmons was aware of this when she put the words in Weston's mouth, but as someone with a non-physical disability, it really pissed me off:

"You see, most people would look at me and say that I have every right to be miserable. But I don't. I have no right. I have no right. And neither do you."

When a reader is struggling with something like depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, it's painful to read something like that. Painful, and incredibly invalidating. When some of these conditions, by their very nature, can make you miserable (as in, you have no control over what emotions are sweeping over you at any given moment, no matter how hard you try to plaster a smile on your face), to have a character--a hot, wish-fulfillment sort of character, at that--basically dismiss you as someone who's choosing to be miserable, who doesn't even have a right to their own feelings, it can be tough. Don't get me wrong: I like Weston. But I do wish authors would be a little more cautious when they try to include messages like this in their work. Someone like Weston can overcome their challenges with a lot of hard physical work. But if your challenge is a mental illness that actually makes you miserable, it's not as easy. In fact, for some, it might be impossible.

Aside from that, the plot is pretty generic, and suffers a little from being somewhat contrived. Some of that could've simply been avoided by setting this, say, twenty years ago. As it is, some readers are going to inevitably wonder why Tessa needs a typist in the first place. She's got Siri on her phone, so we know this world has voice-recognition technology. Why wasn't it used? (For that matter, making Weston sit in the bottom of the tub to take a shower just seemed like an opportunity to show him feeling pathetic. Does this world not have adaptive technologies? His parents bought him running blades, but they couldn't spring for shower legs?) Some of the dialogue is kind of treacly, and doesn't always ring true. The child characters don't sound quite right to me (including 13-year-old Weston and his friends), and the grandparents are likewise a little off. Maybe it's just that most of the book is squeaky clean, and much of the dialogue sounds a bit formal. Nobody I know talks like this, but maybe they do in other parts of North America.

I know all that makes it seem like I didn't like it, but that's not true. I'm not sorry I read it. I just don't think I'm the audience for this sort of thing. However, I would still recommend it to readers who enjoy YA contemporary romance, and I would also recommend it to those who are interested in self-publishing as an example of how to get it right (because goodness knows there are enough examples out there of how to get it wrong).

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, April 27, 2020

Review - Where Lily Isn't

Where Lily Isn't
by Julie Paschkis
illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Date: 2020
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Where Lily Isn't is Julie Paschkis and Margaret Chodos-Irvine's beautiful bereavement picture book celebrating the love of a lost pet.

Lily ran and jumped and barked and whimpered and growled and wiggled and wagged and licked and snuggled.

But not now.


It is hard to lose a pet. There is sadness, but also hope--for a beloved pet lives on in your heart, your memory, and your imagination.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bittersweet picture book that explores the emotions of a young girl after the loss of her dog, Lily.

Lily once used to play and wag and wiggle and snuggle, but now that Lily's gone, there are so many places where she isn't: under the table, waiting for food to fall; barking at the mailman; getting excited to go outside when the girl puts on her coat; and waiting to greet the girl when she comes home. But there is one place where Lily still is, and that's in the hearts of those who loved her.

Where Lily Isn't would be a valuable book for anyone who's lost a pet, especially a dog. It's sweet without being too saccharine, and captures the bittersweet act of remembering in a way that's easily accessible, even for very young readers.

I would definitely recommend this one, especially to those who are at a moment in their lives when they might need to hear its message.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Cone Cat

Cone Cat
by Sarah Howden
illustrated by Carmen Mok
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

One day, Jeremy wakes up at the vet’s with a giant cone around his head. In a momentary existential crisis, he resigns himself to his new role as clumsy, smelly Cone Cat. That is, until the cone becomes instrumental in lapping up the last few bites of cereal on the breakfast table.

Surprisingly, Cone Cat can do a lot of things old Jeremy couldn’t. He can hunt spiders with ease, collect stuffing from the couch, and disguise himself as a bowl to steal a scoop of ice cream at a birthday party. When the cone is removed the next day, Jeremy starts to miss it. Will he ever get another chance to indulge in the tricks he pulled off as Cone Cat? It doesn’t take him too long to find out …

With lively illustrations and plenty of wit, this hilarious picture book about adapting to seemingly im-paw-ssible situations is sure to please kids and cat-lovers alike.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Setting aside the somewhat implausible plot points (who just drops scoops of ice cream without watching where they're going?), this is an amusing story that will likely appeal to cat lovers.

Jeremy the cat wakes up at the vet with a cone around his head. It interferes with all his daily activities: hunting spiders, stealing food, scratching the furniture, and licking his butthole (parents might want to be aware that there are two pictures that feature the cat licking said butthole). But on the day of Ava's birthday party, he realizes that the cone might be good for some things after all, and he grows to love his new accessory.

The story is obviously about making the best of things. The message is fine. The illustrations are okay, too, even if they're not in a style that I really enjoy.

Overall, this is a decent picture book about a predicament that many pets will face at some point. It will probably appeal mostly to cat lovers, though.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.16 out of 5

Review - I Am Goose!

I Am Goose!
by Dorothia Rohner
illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clarion Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A simple, friendly game of Duck, Duck, Goose goes off the rails in giggle-inducing confusion when a silly goose tries to make it all about him.

“Are you kidding me? I am Goose!” A literal-minded goose derails a favorite childhood game—Duck, Duck, Goose—by objecting when Pig, Fox, Dodo, and other players are tapped as “Goose.” Distraction, squabbling, and asking for snacks threaten to end the game completely. Bossy Rabbit restores calm, but Goose doesn’t understand what the problem is until he gets a taste of his own medicine as several ducks arrive and join in, each insisting, “I am Duck!” Engaging animal characters cavort through this spirited, laugh-aloud romp.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

There's really no reason why this shouldn't have worked for me. But it didn't. Maybe it's because the joke is continued for too long, making the book feel a lot longer than 32 pages.

Some animals are playing Duck, Duck, Goose. An actual goose joins the game, and judging by the commentary of the spectator squirrels, the nonsense that follows is a regular occurrence. Goose just doesn't seem to understand that when someone else is tapped on the head and called "goose", it's not a reference to him. (He's so narcissistic that he doesn't even clue in that none of the rest of the animals are ducks, either.) He hijacks the game, bringing it to a complete stop so he can condescendingly explain to all the others that he is a goose and they're not.

The illustrations are the cutest thing about this. The animals are adorable. But the story is annoying, and parts of the text are actually kind of appalling. At one point, Goose tells Dodo that he shouldn't even exist (which is a nasty, dismissive thing to say to your friend). Another one of the characters is a pig, and Goose and Fox both tell him that everything tastes better with bacon. (Run, Pig! These are not your friends!)

Kids might like the quirky misunderstanding, but Goose got on my nerves. I don't like narcissists.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.67 out of 5

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Review - The Cool Bean

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

Everyone knows the cool beans. They’re sooooo cool.

And then there’s the uncool has-bean . . .

Always on the sidelines, one bean unsuccessfully tries everything he can to fit in with the crowd—until one day the cool beans show him how it’s done.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Having enjoyed The Bad Seed and The Good Egg, I of course wanted to take a look at The Cool Bean, the latest food-based offering from Jory John and Pete Oswald.

It's a cute story about a bean (a garbanzo, if I'm not mistaken) who thinks his friends have grown up and gotten cool, leaving him as little more than a "has-bean". But he soon realizes that his friends haven't changed in the ways that really matter, and maybe there's room in the pod for a bean who's cool in other ways.

I like the sophistication of the idea here. It isn't that the other beans get cool and snooty. It's all about the little chickpea and his perception of what's going on. His self-esteem takes a hit because he thinks he's not cool like the other beans. He isolates himself, rather than being ostracized by the others. So it's up to him to shift the way he looks at things for the story to come to its conclusion.

The illustrations are cute, just as they are in the other books in the series. I particularly like the bean's bowtie.

Overall, this is a fairly strong picture book about being yourself... and that's actually how you become a really cool bean.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Little White Fish Deep Beneath the Sea

Little White Fish Deep Beneath the Sea
by Guido Van Genechten
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 18
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A new book in the Little White Fish series, which has sold over 600,000 copies in twenty countries!

How deep is the sea? Little White Fish is curious. But his friends Little Goldfish, Little Turtle and Octopus warn him: the sea is very deep and very dangerous. Yet Little White Fish wants to know...

An adventurous story about the deep sea for little daredevils ages 2.5 and up

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I know I'm not the audience for this. Still, I expect to find some enjoyment in most of the picture books I read. While this has cute illustrations and decent text, it's really lacking in the plot department, to the point where the whole book seems rather pointless.

Little White Fish wants to know how deep the sea is. So he swims down to find out, ignoring the warnings of his friends. He gets to the bottom, meets a fish, and then goes home. There's no moral or message (except maybe to ignore voices of caution, which doesn't seem like a very good message for a children's picture book).

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Review - I'm Afraid Your Teddy Is in the Principal's Office

I'm Afraid Your Teddy Is in the Principal's Office
by Jancee Dunn
illustrated by Scott Nash
Date: 2020
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

What do your favorite toys get up to when you’re at school? Teddy and friends bring their creative mayhem to the classroom in a gleefully vicarious comic romp.

What would happen if your teddy bear stowed away in your backpack and followed you to school? And what if your teddy convinced all your friends’ stuffed animals to come along for the party? Would you believe they might sneak into the cafeteria to play Pizza Disc, head to the band room to put bubbles in the wind instruments, make a clever glue trap for the art teacher, and roll around in finger paint as well? Luckily, the principal remembers what it was like to be young and may let the rambunctious teddy bear and crew off just this once. Author Jancee Dunn and illustrator Scott Nash bring Teddy and friends back for more mischief in a high-spirited tale of uninhibited fun.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The title of this one got my expectations up a little too high. It's definitely a high-spirited story, but the overall plot is a little too sparse for my taste.

The story is narrated by a principal in the second-person point of view, and they're talking to a young child whose teddy has recruited all of his stuffed animal friends to wreak havoc on the school. They make a mess of the cafeteria, harass the gym teacher, pour bubble solution into all the musical instruments, and roll around in finger paint. When the stuffed animals are finally caught, they're sent to the principal's office... where all is instantly forgiven.

The problem I'm having here is that the book focusses on the mayhem, not the consequences. When the title puts the teddy in the principal's office, there's already an expectation there that the stuffed animals are going to be punished. But they get off with a hug. I mean... that's sweet, but it's both anticlimactic and not very satisfying.

The pictures are okay. They illustrate the hijinks of the stuffies in a way that's moderately appealing. The text is fairly strong, too, even if the second-person point of view is a little unusual.

Overall, I think young children might like this one, but I don't know if older readers will be satisfied by the weak conclusion to the story that's been built up.

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

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Review - Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story

Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story
by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Jonathan Voss
Date: 2020
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Stunning illustrations and gorgeous haikus lead young readers through the dramatic life cycle of one of America's most beloved wild animals.

Pip. Pip. Pip. Poking
A hole. Cracking. Cracking. Out
Pecks the white owlet.


Watch as a pair of great horned owlets peep and squeak in their feathered nest. Mama and Papa hunt for food and fend off predators while the chicks grow strong enough to hop and flap between the branches of their tree, then leap and fly away, ready to explore the wild world around them.

In this thrilling nonfiction picture book, a combination of haiku and dazzling illustration shows readers the fierce majesty of one of North America's most ubiquitous wild animals.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This picture book follows a family of owls as they make their nest, lay eggs, and raise their family. The text is all done in haiku, which is an interesting choice. The illustrations are lovely, done in detailed watercolours.

There are a couple of pages at the back of the book that offer all sorts of facts about these interesting birds. I'd definitely recommend this one to budding ornithologists, or to anyone who enjoys non-fiction picture books about animals.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - Taking Time

Taking Time
by Jo Loring-Fisher
Date: 2020
Publisher: Lantana Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Taking time to listen to a bird's song on the breeze. Taking time to gather up the blossom dancing free. Taking time to imagine the deep sounds of the sea. Taking time to cherish you . . . and cherish me.

This poem is inspired by principles of mindfulness and invites children around the world to experience the wonders of nature and home.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a sweet, simple book about mindfulness and taking time to notice the everyday things that are all around us.

The poem that serves as the text is fine. It flows nicely, for the most part. I think the strength of this book is the illustrations, though. They're colourful and diverse, showing children from a variety of backgrounds all over the world. Though the pictures are all very different, there's a universality to the text that ties everything (and everyone) together.

Taking Time is a lovely little read. It might make a nice bedtime book with its soothing rhythm.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Review - Plastic Soup

Plastic Soup
by Judith Koppens & Andy Engel
illustrated by Nynke Mare Talsma
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The animal friends are spending the day at the beach. Frog jumps in the water and comes up with a torn plastic bag on his head. Fox thinks Frog looks like a sea monster! But the plastic bag isn’t the only thing that floats in the water. Why is there so much plastic in the sea?

A simple story to introduce children to water pollution and little changes that can make a big difference. For children ages 5 and up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Reading this book right now is kind of depressing. It's a story about a group of friends who go to the beach and find a lot of plastic floating in the water. The moral of the story is to avoid using plastic, reuse it if you can't, and choose less wasteful options.

At the moment, though, all of that has gone out the window. Everyone's so afraid of a virus that plastic use has soared, wiping out all the progress we might have made in that area. Reusable bags are banned at the grocery store; you have to get a new one every time. For this reason, I wouldn't recommend this book right now. It's liable to be confusing to kids, who are going to get one message from the book and the opposite message from the world.

Aside from that, it's not a bad story. The illustrations are okay. The translation is a little clunky, though, and the layout of the words on the page makes it difficult to tell who's speaking at times. (There's also a character nodding their speech, so I took points off for that.)

Overall, this is a decent book... but not one that's suitable for the current moment.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5

Review - A Thousand No's

A Thousand No's
by DJ Corchin
illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Date: 2016
Publisher: SOURCEBOOKS Kids
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

WINNER of the 2017 ERIC HOFFER AWARD for BEST CHILDREN'S BOOK!

Creating something new isn’t easy.

She has a great idea! NO after NO after NO come her way twisting, squishing, and transforming it. By persevering, collaborating, and using a little bit of imagination, the NO’s become building blocks to something better! Even the best ideas are said NO to. In fact, that’s how they become the best ideas!

A Thousand NO’s is a story about perseverance and innovation that illustrates what can happen if we don’t let our expectations of what something should be, get in the way of what it could be.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't even know how to rate this. Is the message great? Yes. Are the illustrations engaging and adorable? Yes. So what's the problem? If you're a grammar nerd like me, you probably spotted it right away... and you wouldn't even have had to read the book.

I'm talking about the title. Actually, I'm talking about that one word in the title, the word that's repeated throughout the book. The word that's the centrepiece of the entire book. In the singular, it's fine. But I simply cannot believe that, in the age of the Internet when a grammar/spelling/punctuation lookup is just a few keystrokes away, this book thought it could get away with using an apostrophe to indicate a possessive. Yes, I get that "nos" looks weird. But the word "no" is capitalized throughout, so I really don't see why the author couldn't have written "NOs" when he was talking about more than one. To make matters worse, this book was originally published in 2016... so this 40-page grammar annoyance has been out for 4 years already.

This just irks me. The story is kind of cute. A little girl has an idea. But then she gets a NO. Then another... and another. Soon, all those NOs are altering the shape of her idea. She calls in friends to help. Eventually, her idea is transformed, but not in spite of the NOs; it's transformed because of them. The illustrations are sweet and show a nice amount of diversity, especially when the girl's friends get involved. They're black and white in the beginning, but slowly start to accumulate some colour as the idea progresses. I thought that was a nice touch.

As it is, I can't recommend this. There are already too many people who throw apostrophes around willy-nilly. Without this repeating error, I probably would've given this around 4 stars. With it, though, I can't really go any higher than 3.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Friday, April 17, 2020

Review - Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem (Tales from Deckawoo Drive #5)
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Date: 2020
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: illustrated chapter book
Pages: 96
Format: e-book
Source: library

Metaphor alert! An ode to a certain pig kicks off one wild school day in Kate DiCamillo’s latest stop on Deckawoo Drive.

Stella Endicott loves her teacher, Miss Liliana, and she is thrilled when the class is assigned to write a poem. Stella crafts a beautiful poem about Mercy Watson, the pig who lives next door — a poem complete with a metaphor and full of curiosity and courage. But Horace Broom, Stella's irritating classmate, insists that Stella’s poem is full of lies and that pigs do not live in houses. And when Stella and Horace get into a shouting match in the classroom, Miss Liliana banishes them to the principal’s office. Will the two of them find a way to turn this opposite-of-a-poem day around? In the newest spirited outing in the Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo, anything is possible — even a friendship with a boy deemed to be (metaphorically speaking) an overblown balloon.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've really enjoyed most of the rest of the books in this series (and in the original Mercy Watson series). Kate DiCamillo's challenging-yet-accessible writing plays a large part in what makes these books a little bit different. While I enjoyed this one (being a fan of both series), I can't say that it was my favourite. I found the story a little on the weak side, and I wasn't a fan of the characters.

After Stella ends up in a shouting match with a classmate over whether or not pigs sit on couches, they're both sent to the principal's office. But when Horace chickens out and runs away, Stella goes after him, leading to both children getting locked in the supply closet where they face their fears and become friends.

There is plenty of challenging vocabulary in this book (which isn't unusual for a DiCamillo title), but here I found it a little off-putting in the way it was presented. I don't remember the hard words being explained by the characters in the other books (although, it's been a while since I read them, so maybe they were). I got a definite Fancy Nancy vibe here, especially when Horace kept spouting word definitions like an overzealous dictionary.

I'm not going to comment on the artwork, since I read an ARC and most of the pictures were roughly sketched placeholders. I can't foresee them being anything other than adorable, though, given Van Dusen's work on the other books in the series.

Overall, while this is a nice addition to the series, it's definitely not my favourite set in this world. I'd recommend it mostly to fans of Mercy Watson and her neighbours on Deckawoo Drive.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Review - Mabel: A Mermaid Fable

Mabel: A Mermaid Fable
by Rowboat Watkins
Date: 2020
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Mabel isn't like the other mermaids. Lucky isn't like the other octopuses. But when they find each other, they discover that true friendship isn't about how you look, and that sometimes what we are searching for is right under our noses.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's official: Rowboat Watkins' books just aren't for me. Am I missing something? I always feel like I am. I don't find his work particularly funny or interesting. Often, it just seems like an absurd concept taken to an illogical conclusion.

In this case, we have Mabel, a mermaid who's embarrassed because she doesn't have a moustache. (All mermaids have moustaches, apparently. Even the babies.) So she spends a lot of time wearing fake ones and hiding out in various caves to get away from the creatures who call her a nudibranch. She meets a seven-legged octopus, and they become friends. Then she finds out what a nudibranch is, and the book ends.

I. Don't. Get. It.

Sure, Mabel makes a friend. Sure, Lucky realizes that he can do pretty much anything, even with only seven legs. But the resolution--when Mabel realizes that everything she ever needed was right under her nose--is too vague to be meaningful. She finds out that nudibranchs are sea slugs, and this suddenly makes her lack of moustache okay. I'm afraid I'm not following that line of thought.

Kids might like the absurdity of moustachioed mermaids, but I'm not a fan. The pictures are cute. They don't really make up for the rest of the nonsense, though.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Review - Raj's Rule (for the Bathroom at School)

Raj's Rule (for the Bathroom at School)
by Lana Button
illustrated by Hatem Aly
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Raj has one rule: he never uses the bathroom at school. It’s just not the same as the one at home. All day, he avoids bathroom trips. Easy enough, since he lives by these tips: Don’t linger at the sink. Stay away from anyone who makes you laugh. Watch out for distractions, especially schoolwork. And sit still: no running, jumping, cartwheels, or sneezing. Until one day―achoo!―Raj has to break his own rule.

After he faces his fear and uses the bathroom at school, Raj feels different. He doesn’t have to rush! He can try new things, laugh, explore … even enjoy his work. He can stay awhile and play. Raj discovers things are better if you just go when you need to.

Told in speech bubbles with bright, lively art showing a diverse group of kids, this is a riotous rhyming read-aloud with an empathetic take on facing a common fear.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Confession time: I did not pee in high school. At least, not in the school bathrooms. So I can relate to little Raj, who avoids the bathrooms at school with all his might. To accomplish this, he has lots of rules. He doesn't drink liquids. He stays away from water play. He doesn't engage in rough-and-tumble play on the playground. And he definitely stays away from Kyle, who makes everyone laugh. But, one day, Raj just can't hold it and finds himself using the bathroom. To his great surprise (and relief, I'm sure) he realizes just what he's been missing when he's been expending so much energy trying to hold it all day.

The story is funny and relatable, and it's told in rather decent rhyme. (The only part that tripped me up was right near the beginning when a missing line break threw me right off the beat.) The illustrations are cute, and the kids have great facial expressions. The style of some of the characters reminds me of the work of Tony Fucile.

Overall, this is a fun story about a kid who just can't hold it anymore... and what happens when he finally lets himself use that school bathroom.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Review - Natsumi's Song of Summer

Natsumi's Song of Summer
by Robert Paul Weston
illustrated by Misa Saburi
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

This sweet and gentle picture book celebrates summer in Japan, as one little girl shares her love for bugs with her cousin who is visiting from America.

Two young cousins who are separated by language, continent and culture meet for the first time when Jill's family travels from America to Japan to stay with Natsumi's family during the summer holidays. Natsumi's nervousness about meeting her cousin from across the sea quickly disappears when she discovers that her cousin is a lot like her: they both love summertime's hot sandy beaches, cool refreshing watermelon, festivals and fireworks. Then Jill asks Natsumi about the strange buzzing sound that comes from the nearby trees, and Natsumi is nervous once again. What if Jill is frightened of Natsumi's cherished cicadas, the insects that sing the music of summertime?

This is a tender, evocative story that celebrates the special pleasures of summertime and of reunions with faraway family and friends.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is kind of an interesting picture book. I noticed as I was reading it that the lines were arranged in specific groupings. I figured it was some sort of poetry, and it is. A note at the back explains that the whole book is written in a series of tanka poems, which are similar to haiku but have two more lines of seven syllables each. This doesn't really affect the story one way or the other; it's just kind of a neat way of doing things.

The story is about a little girl named Natsumi who loves insects, especially the cicadas that sing in the summer. One year, her cousin Jill comes to visit from across the sea. Natsumi is worried that Jill won't like the cicadas, or that she might fear them. But Jill surprises her by embracing the insects and even offering to teach Natsumi about an insect from her own home country.

The illustrations are cute, but they're a little simple for my taste. There's a sort of flatness about them that doesn't seem to capture the magical way that Natsumi sees the insect kingdom. The pictures aren't terrible by any means, but they didn't really make me feel anything one way or the other.

Overall, this is kind of a cute book about family, passions, and insects. The unique poetic format and the supplemental information about cicadas at the back add a little more interest.

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: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - Camping with Unicorns

Camping with Unicorns (Heavenly Nostrils #11)
by Dana Simpson
Date: 2020
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: MG
Book type: comic collection
Pages: 176
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Life is never boring when your best friend is a unicorn! The latest installment in this bestselling series is full of mischief, magic and adventure — as well as an important reminder to always stay true to yourself.

School’s out, so Phoebe and her unicorn best friend, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, have the entire summer to play games, visit the pool, and even go camping. Unicorn horns are excellent utensils for roasting things over the campfire, too, even if Marigold prefers toasted apples to s’mores. While exploring in the woods, Phoebe and friends meet a unicorn named Alabaster, who uses a special video game console that’s powered by plants. Throughout her summer adventures, Phoebe learns that being cool isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that it’s much better to be your true self. It’s all part of the unforgettable experience of Camping with Unicorns.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Here's yet another collection of comics featuring Phoebe and her unicorn friend, Marigold. Much of this book is focussed on the summer holidays (unlike many of the others, which feature the school months more heavily).

While this isn't my favourite, it's still entertaining. Fans of the series are sure to be engaged.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.6 out of 5 ladybugs

Friday, April 10, 2020

Review - Mara the Space Traveler

Mara the Space Traveler
by An Leysen
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 56
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Mara’s biggest wish is to become an astronaut — to discover new planets. Sometimes dreams and wishes come true . . . She lands on the most beautiful planet she has ever seen. But the planet is in trouble and only Mara can help.

A wonderful space adventure about a small girl with big dreams and a big heart. For astronauts and explorers ages 6 and up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've seen this premise done a number of times (wherein a child envisions themselves as an astronaut and visits faraway worlds), so at this point, a book of this nature really needs to wow me. Unfortunately, this one didn't. While it has lovely illustrations, it misses the opportunity to impart an environmental message, instead resorting to mythology that has no relation to the real world.

One night, Mara imagines herself going into space in her ship. She lands in a garden on a distant planet, where she encounters a group of chameleon-like aliens who tell her that the Sun King--a god-like creature--has turned the rest of the planet into a desert by getting too close and burning everything up. The little aliens are powerless against the Sun King, so Mara goes to confront him. In the process, she gets knocked into a big lake that's filled with a different type of alien. These ones churn up the water, create a giant wave, and chase off the Sun King. Mara is then, for some reason, hailed as a hero (even though it was the water creatures that actually did all the work).

The illustrations are this book's strongest part. I recall enjoying Leysen's work in another book of hers (one where I also wasn't enamoured with the story). It's a shame that the writing side of these books isn't as strong as the aesthetic side; if the two could come together, the books would really be something special.

I'd probably recommend this one to fans of the artist. As a book about imagination and encouraging girls to pursue STEM activities, it doesn't quite work.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Monday, April 6, 2020

Review - Window

Window
by Marion Arbona
Date: 2020
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

In this wordless picture book, extraordinary things are happening behind the windows of the city.

A young girl is walking home from school in a big city. As she gazes up at window after window in the buildings on her route - each one a different shape and size - she imagines what might be going on behind them. By opening the gatefold, readers will get to see inside her imagination. An indoor jungle. A whale in a bathtub. Vampires playing badminton.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a nice little wordless picture book that shows a little girl imagining what's going on behind all the windows she sees as she walks home.

The black-and-white illustrations are detailed and interesting, and tell a story fairly well without using any words at all. I read this as an e-book, however, and it definitely doesn't work as well as it probably does as a paper book. Each spread really needs to be viewed in its entirety, and it looks like there are flaps to lift to reveal the different scenes hiding behind each window. (There are just some features that e-books can't replicate.)

If you can find a paper copy of this, I'd recommend taking a look. As wordless picture books go, it's fairly strong, and kids will have fun seeing the imaginative scenes lurking behind each of the varied windows.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.4 out of 5

Review - I Go Quiet

I Go Quiet
by David Ouimet
Date: 2020
Publisher: Norton Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

How do you find your voice, when no one seems to be listening? A young girl struggles to make herself heard, believing she is too insignificant and misunderstood to communicate with the people in her life.

Anxious about how she thinks she should look and speak, the girl stays silent, turning to books to transport her to a place where she is connected to the world, and where her words hold power. As she soon discovers, her imagination is not far from reality, and the girl realizes that when she is ready to be heard, her voice will ring loud and true.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I Go Quiet is a bit of a trippy picture book that's more suitable for older readers. While there's nothing inappropriate in it, the sentiments are complex and the largely monochrome illustrations might not be that appealing to young children.

This is a book about finding your unique voice in a world of conformity. It's also an homage to reading and expression through words. It's eerily dystopian, and one gets the impression of an oppressed populace (the children all wear mouse masks and large black birds hover ominously around the periphery).

I enjoyed this, even though I don't generally like picture books that seem to be aimed at older readers (and then shelved in the kids' section). But I think this could be a comforting and inspiring book for older kids (middle school and up) who are starting to discover their own uniqueness and are perhaps feeling different or misunderstood.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Friday, April 3, 2020

Review - Alice & Gert: An Ant and Grasshopper Story

Alice & Gert: An Ant and Grasshopper Story
by Helaine Becker
illustrated by Dena Seiferling
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

It’s high summer in the meadow where Alice the ant and Gert the grasshopper live. Alice is hard at work preparing for winter, harvesting heavy loads of seeds. Meanwhile, Gert prefers to play, since winter is ages away. Gert dances through the long days of summer, singing, performing, and creating art out of flowers and leaves. Alice tries to convince Gert to work, but Gert wants to have fun—and to entertain Alice, too! She hates to see Alice work so hard.

When winter arrives, Gert’s nest is cold and her food supplies are low. But rather than refusing to share, Alice acknowledges the value of Gert’s work and the beauty of the art that lightened her load. Alice repays Gert’s kindness by sharing her hard-won food.

Based on the classic story of the ant and grasshopper, this is a modern fable with a heartwarming twist that values diverse contributions and honors friendship and the power of art.

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

This is a variation on the story of "The Ant and the Grasshopper"... but with a bit of a twist.

Alice the ant works hard every day to prepare for winter. Gert the grasshopper, on the other hand, prefers to sing, play make-believe, and create art. When winter comes at last, Gert finds that she doesn't have any food saved up. But instead of turning her away to starve, Alice offers to share with her friend; after all, Gert's amusements helped make Alice's work easier, and the ant feels it's only right to share the bounty.

I'm not a fan of the original story in which the grasshopper is punished for being itself. (And let's not forget the fact that a grasshopper doesn't live long enough to experience a summer and a winter.) I wasn't quite sure where the author was going with this, as I saw Gert doing such nice things for Alice while she was working, and I was afraid Alice was going to turn around and be nasty (like in the original story). I'm glad that wasn't what happened.

Alice & Gert is a sweet story about friendship, kindness, sharing, and placing value on non-material things. Fans of fables and animal characters will likely enjoy this one.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Review - Elmore and Pinky

Elmore and Pinky (Elmore #2)
by Holly Hobbie
Date: 2020
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A prickly porcupine searches for a best friend in this sequel to Elmore from Toot & Puddle author Holly Hobbie.

Elmore the porcupine feels warm and comfortable in his neighborhood, and has many friends. But lately he has been feeling that he is missing someone, someone who will always be there -- a best friend. His uncle assures him that those kinds of friendships just happen over time, but determined Elmore goes out in search of one anyway. Then Elmore meets Pinky, a skunk who has a similar problem. Likely companions for Pinky are deterred because...well, he stinks! As the two commiserate and spend time together, they accept each other's shortcomings and develop what each of them wants most: a real friendship with a best friend.

Holly Hobbie tenderly renders these sweet and relatable characters in exquisite watercolor, and has us rooting for them to the end.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

On the surface, this is pretty cute. It's a simple story about a porcupine who's searching for a best friend. He finally finds one in Pinky, a skunk.

There are parts that I liked (like when Pinky's lamenting the fact that he stinks, and Elmore says, "Only in emergencies.") but also parts I didn't. Elmore's uncle tells him that there's a best friend for everyone. I can see that having unintended consequences when lonely children get their hopes up.

The illustrations are pretty cute. The animals are somewhat anthropomorphized, but are still very clearly animals (e.g., the mother bear wears her sunhat to go blueberry-picking, but she's still protective when it comes to her cub).

Overall, I'd probably recommend this to children who already have a best friend. It's a sweet celebration of friendship. Giving a book like this to kids who desperately want a best friend but don't have one, on the other hand, would be kind of cruel.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - Milton & Odie and the Bigger-than-Bigmouth Bass

Milton & Odie and the Bigger-than-Bigmouth Bass
by Mary Ann Fraser
Date: 2019
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

It's ice-fishing season for two very opposite otters. Pessimism, prepare to meet optimism!

On one side of a frozen lake, Odie imagines all the fish he'll catch today. On the other side of the lake, Milton is doubtful he'll catch anything at all. As each otter imagines what lurks--or doesn't lurk--under the ice, opposites attract, attitudes change, and a friendship is formed.

(synopsis from Amazon.ca; see it on Goodreads)

Milton and Odie are a couple of otters who go ice fishing. While Milton is pessimistic and grumpy, Odie is optimistic and cheerful. Milton's failures to catch anything reinforce his belief that there's nothing good under the ice. Odie's failures, on the other hand, simply convince him to keep trying. Eventually, the two otters' paths cross, and they share their skills and viewpoints with each other, collaborating to achieve their goals.

The illustrations of the critters here are really adorable, and the writing is strong. I also like the way the otters' opposite perspectives are portrayed. However, there are some folks for whom this book just isn't going to work. Vegetarian and vegan parents might want to check this one out first before giving it to their children, as the anthropomorphizing of the fish--and the subsequent catching and killing--make for a bit of a disturbing theme. (Yes, I know otters eat fish. But when the fish are portrayed as smiling, playing dress-up, and blowing bubbles with bubblegum, it's rather sad to see the carcass of one illustrated on one of the last pages.)

I'd recommend this, but with reservations. Vegetarians and vegans (or anyone who hates seeing animals harmed) might find it a bit disturbing. Those who enjoy fishing and who aren't bothered by knowing where their food comes from will probably find it more appropriate.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Review - I Do Not Like Stories

I Do Not Like Stories
by Andrew Larsen
illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Here is a boy who is sure of one thing: he does NOT like stories. Not stories about waking up in the morning, or people in space, or fish in the sea, or planes, or trains, or boring old buildings.

We see the boy’s experiences play out over the course of his day. The one thing this contrarian boy loves is his cat—whose day is depicted through graphic panels in a funny, parallel side narrative. The cheerful cat searches for the boy all day, chasing anything yellow, the colour of the boy’s bright backpack, and causing mess and mayhem throughout the city. In the end, the boy concedes he might like a story—if it’s the right one (do you know any stories about a cat?).

Art in a muted palette is accented with pops of yellow in this charming book about how the stories we tell ourselves have the power to shape our days. The visual details support literacy skills, add humor, and are sure to engage young readers—even those who are sure they don’t like stories.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I Do Not Like Stories is basically a boy complaining that he doesn't like stories about... well, everything. The more interesting part of the book is watching the boy's cat, who takes a trip around the city while the boy is in school. At the end of the day, the boy says he might like a story... if it's about a cat.

I found this rather underwhelming. The boy's insistence that he didn't like stories became grating after a while. The pictures seemed uninspiring.

This might appeal to cat lovers, and those who enjoy stories within stories. Quite frankly, though, I think this could've worked just as well without the words; at least then, we wouldn't have had to hear the boy be so negative.

Thank you to NetGalley and Owlkids 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