Monday, June 17, 2019

Review - The Little Guys

The Little Guys
by Vera Brosgol
Date: 2019
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

An adorable cautionary tale from Caldecott Honoree Vera Brosgol

We are the Little Guys.
Yes, we are small. But there are a lot of us.
Together we are strong, and we can get all we need.


The Little Guys might be small, but they aim to be mighty.

As they head off to find breakfast, they can conquer anything through teamwork―cross deep waters, dig through obstacles, and climb the tallest trees. Nothing can stop them!

But as they begin to amass more than they need, the creatures in the forest ponder―what happens when no one can stop the Little Guys?

This slyly funny and rambunctious read-aloud explores how strength in numbers only works when the whole community unites together.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Sorry, but I don't get it. The Little Guys are a bunch of greedy parasites who destroy the homes of the rest of the woodland creatures in their attempt to amass everything. When they go too far, the rest of the creatures help them. It makes no sense. It would be like someone treating their termites as pets and feeding them their prized rocking chair. When a bunch of tiny, unstoppable creatures threatens your own existence, you don't stop to help them; you call a freaking exterminator.

I don't even know what these Little Guys are supposed to be, anyway. The have the strength and cooperation of ants, but they look like acorns. It's just weird.

The story is so weak that I almost wonder if Brosgol was just doodling, came up with a cute acorn character, and then decided to write a whole book around the sketch. Unfortunately, there's not much here. What could've been a good story about greed and redemption ended up being a glorification of a nuisance. Just because something is small doesn't mean it's desirable. Ask anyone who's been the victim of a virus.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Review - When Molly Drew Dogs

When Molly Drew Dogs
by Deborah Kerbel
illustrated by Lis Xu
Date: 2019
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

On the night before the first day of school, a pack of stray dogs moves into Molly’s head. They are friendly, but a bit wild. They scamper through her thoughts, yap at the door to her dreams, and scratch at her brain, begging to be let out. So Molly starts to draw them.

When Molly draws dogs, she feels better—but not everyone can see the value of her strange habit. Her teacher tells her to focus. A special tutor urges her to concentrate. But Molly can’t erase the dogs, even if she wants to. As her anxiety peaks, Molly runs away. Once she is found, safe and sound, people around Molly realize the protective power of her pack and how the dogs help tame her troubled feelings.

Inspired by the Japanese folktale, "The Boy Who Drew Cats," this story celebrates the healing powers of art and imagination while touching on important issues of anxiety, mental health, and ways to cope with emotions.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've come across a few picture books like this, ones that encourage children to run away when they have strong feelings. Those were older, though, and I assumed that idea was a relic from another time. Apparently not. Here we have a story in which a young girl is unable to concentrate. She's obviously creative, but adults just want to make her conform. When she doesn't, they lose their patience. So she runs away and puts herself in a potentially dangerous situation.

I just can't recommend a book with this kind of message. I hoped there would be something about accepting yourself and your gifts, but instead we got a supernatural twist that doesn't translate to real life at all, and an abrupt happy-ever-after ending that comes out of nowhere. Molly presumably still can't concentrate... but because her magic dogs chased away a robber, she gets a free pass in school? How is that supposed to help kids who might be struggling with ADHD or learning disabilities?

The pictures left me kind of cold. Nearly everyone is androgynous (and I'm not sure if that was a style choice or just from a lack of skill) and the dogs are scribbly. Some pages looked like a toddler was let loose with a pencil. It's just not very pleasing to the eye.

Overall, this was a disappointment. I'm really tired of reading books that are supposedly about dealing with emotions, only to find that the only coping skill offered boils down to "run away".

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.83 out of 5

Review - You're in Good Paws

You're in Good Paws
by Maureen Fergus
illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When Leo arrives at the hospital, he is surprised to find it run by animals! A hilarious story featuring animals in human situations, perfect for fans of Zootopia and A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

Slightly distracted parents accidentally take their son, Leo, to the animal hospital to get his tonsils out.

Luckily, taking care of a human doesn't ruffle any feathers among the hospital staff. The chicken at the admissions desk is welcoming, the bear orderly is friendly and wise Dr. Stan inspires tremendous confidence despite being a mouse. Is the plastic cone really necessary, though?

In this sweet and hilarious story, a child discovers that a trip to the hospital can be a positive experience--even when the hospital isn't quite up to code...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is pretty amusing. Leo's parents accidentally take him to the animal hospital to have his tonsils out. Now, this isn't just a hospital for animals... it's also a hospital run by animals! There are lots of cute touches with this premise, including an anesthesiologist sheep, a nurse who gives ear skritches, and a mouse surgeon who doesn't have opposable thumbs. I'm not sure if tonsillectomies are a common part of veterinary medicine, so I don't know how Dr. Stan knew how to do one (let alone one on a human)!

There's plenty of fun stuff to look at in the pictures. The waiting room full of patients awaiting their own surgeries is pretty funny. After surgery, that snake needs some other sort of therapy, because he's clearly got some sort of eating disorder...

I don't know why Leo's parents are so clueless, but it makes for a fun premise. The book does actually show a plausible hospital experience (intake, getting weighed and having vitals taken, what happens before and after surgery, etc.), so it might be a good book for kids who are facing their own surgery.

I quite enjoyed this one. Thank goodness Leo's parents didn't take him to the regular children's hospital, or we wouldn't have had such a neat little story.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Just Helping My Dad

Just Helping My Dad (Little Critter Readers)
by Mercer Mayer
Date: 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Join Mercer Mayer's classic and beloved character, Little Critter, as he spends the whole day with his dad in this My First I Can Read book!

From getting rid of a beehive to working in the yard and going to the store, Little Critter wants to be the world's best helper. Things might not always go as planned, but that doesn't stop Little Critter from trying his hardest!

Little Critter: Just Helping My Dad is a My First I Can Read book, which means it's perfect for shared reading with young children.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Who is the audience for this book? I certainly wouldn't give it to a child. Little Critter spends all day modelling terrible behaviour, from spray-painting the house to trying to whack a beehive with a baseball bat, all under the guise of "helping". Oh, and who left the car windows open before Little Critter decided to wash the car? (Paying better attention could've saved Dad a lot of headaches.) Adults will probably find this book more amusing than kids. There aren't enough consequences shown to make this a decent book for kids; it's more of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink between parents about their rambunctious kids' antics. (Some of those antics are downright dangerous, though. Who lets a preschooler play with a lawnmower that can take off on its own? That's a recipe for severed toes right there.)

The pictures are fine, but I just don't like the story. Little Critter might mean well, but his parents should know him better and stay on top of things. He probably caused hundreds of dollars of damage, and it's played for laughs. I'm not impressed.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Review - Hop on Pop

Hop on Pop
by Dr. Seuss
Date: 1963
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 72
Format: e-book
Source: library

Loved by generations, this “simplest Seuss for youngest use” is a Beginner Book classic. See Red and Ned and Ted and Ed in a bed. And giggle as Pat sits on a hat and on a cat and on a bat . . . but a cactus? Pat must NOT sit on that! This classic Beginner Book makes an ideal gift for Seuss fans and is an especially good way to show Pop some love on Father’s Day!

Originally created by Dr. Seuss, Beginner Books encourage children to read all by themselves, with simple words and illustrations that give clues to their meaning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's books like this that make me glad I don't have children that I'd have to read them to! Hop on Pop is the mental equivalent of listening to fingernails scratch across a blackboard... in a bouncy rhythm.

I guess this book is meant to teach kids how to read simple words. But the way it's laid out is a bit confusing at times, and I suspect that those with dyslexia might have a hard time with it. I'm also not a fan of the simplified--but grammatically incorrect--sentences that are peppered throughout. If we're trying to teach kids language, this isn't the way to go about it.

Like many picture books from this era, this is also way too long. My mom has mentioned to me that she always dreaded reading books like Are You My Mother? to us because they just went on and on. For whatever reason, books from the 1960s and 1970s are about twice the length of today's average picture book. Perhaps they hadn't yet figured out that kids often have a fairly short attention span.

Dr. Seuss books can be fun, but I think I prefer the ones that have an actual story. There's no story here. It's just a bunch of words and illustrations.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

Review - My Papi Has a Motorcycle

My Papi Has a Motorcycle
by Isabel Quintero
illustrated by Zeke Peña
Date: 2019
Publisher: Kokila
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A celebration of the love between a father and daughter, and of a vibrant immigrant neighborhood, by an award-winning author and illustrator duo.

When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with her papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she's always known. She also sees a community that is rapidly changing around her.

But as the sun sets purple-blue-gold behind Daisy Ramona and her papi, she knows that the love she feels will always be there.

With vivid illustrations and text bursting with heart, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a young girl's love letter to her hardworking dad and to memories of home that we hold close in the midst of change.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This picture book has the feel of a graphic novel in places, with the illustrations and onomatopoeia (sometimes in Spanish!) and the general flow of the story. It's a sweet little slice of life featuring a girl and her father and their daily motorcycle ride.

The text really brings the story to life, and although some of the words and imagery might be a little flowery and poetic for the youngest readers, the illustrations are fun to look at and will keep kids engaged. I personally really enjoy books with a feeling of nostalgia like this, even if it's a nostalgia that I can't relate to; when I'm hankering for shaved ice and the smell of sawdust and the whisper of the leaves of the lemon trees, then I know the author and illustrator have done their job.

Ultimately, this is a book about family, memories, and change. The story might be a little gentle and simple for some, but it's well worth reading. (The author's note at the end about the real city depicted in the book is a great addition and an interesting read.)

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Review - Alma and the Beast

Alma and the Beast
by Esmé Shapiro
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 44
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Alma's beautiful, hairy world is turned upside down by the arrival of a stranger. From the utterly original imagination of the author-illustrator of Ooko comes a story about celebrating differences and making new friends. For fans of Where the Wild Things Are and Wild.

Alma lives happily in her hairy world, where she can braid the trees, comb the grass, pet the roof and feed her plumpooshkie butterfly. Until one day . . . a hairless, button-nosed beast appears in the garden! At first Alma is scared but when she realizes the beast is lost and misses her hairless home, Alma offers to help her find her way back. As the two take a fantastical journey through the red-headed woods and the bearded mushroom glen to the beast's bald abode, they discover that they are much more alike than different.

This quirky and charming story about friendship, tolerance and perspective invites readers into a surreal, fantastical world that evokes Alice in Wonderland, Where the Wild Things Are and The Lorax.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is definitely an imaginative book, set in parallel worlds that are both like and unlike our own.

Despite what you might expect from the title and cover illustration, Alma is, in fact, the "beast" (at least, from a human point of view). This is where I ran into a bit of trouble. The little girl is the beast from Alma's point of view, and since that's the point of view where the book starts, the little girl is continually referred to as "the beast". Now, maybe it's just me, but every time I saw that terminology, I thought of Alma... so I had to continually correct myself as I was reading the story. I get that the beastliness is a matter of perspective, but my brain just didn't want to cooperate.

I really like Alma's world, though, where everything is hairy. In fact, that's how she spends her days: braiding the trees, combing the grass, and petting the roof ("as one does when the days grow chilly and pink"). The parallels between the worlds are cute, too, showing that even though we have differences, we also have similarities.

I think the artwork in this one is going to be hit or miss for a lot of people. The colour palette is interesting, and there are plenty of things to look at, but the style is very distinct and I wonder if some kids might find it a bit creepy (I think I would have as a young reader).

But I do like the message about differences and similarities and perspective. It's a cute book, if you find you're a fan of the illustrations.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5