Saturday, January 15, 2022

Review - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Who Guards My Sleep?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Who Guards My Sleep?

by Marie Chow
illustrated by Sija Hong
Date: 2021
Publisher: Marvel Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A beautifully illustrated picture book that will explore the fantastical elements of the Marvel Studios film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings while introducing readers to a child-aged Shang-Chi and his family.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The illustrations here are interesting, but the story is confusing and boring. The book is clearly a movie tie-in, and some of it won't make sense unless you've seen the movie. (At least, that's what I'm guessing. Who the heck is Morris? He's not explained here, so I assume he plays a part in the movie.)

Maybe this is great if you've seen the film. But if you're coming to it without knowing anything about the story on screen, you're liable to be as unimpressed as I was.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Review - Duck on a Tractor

Duck on a Tractor

by David Shannon
Date: 2016
Publisher: The Blue Sky Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

David Shannon's wildly popular, award-winning Duck on a Bike left children begging him to tell them another story about Duck after seeing him pictured alongside a shiny red tractor. Now Duck is back and turning the farm upside down!

Flushed with the success of his trailblazing bike ride around the farm, Duck decides he's ready to drive the tractor. As in the bestselling Duck on a Bike, all the barnyard animals share their humorous comments as they watch Duck do the unthinkable. Then, one by one, they join him on the tractor for a ride!

But what happens when Duck drives the big red tractor through town, past the popular diner where all the locals are having lunch? What will those folks really think when they see Duck and all the other animals riding around on Farmer O'Dell's tractor? Filled with entertaining detail and sly jokes, readers will pore over each picture again and again. Perfect for reading aloud!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one. I read another of David Shannon's picture books back in 2018, and pretty much hated it. The pictures creeped me out. Luckily, this book isn't about the demon child named David, but about a duck who, having mastered riding a bicycle, tries his hand at driving a tractor and takes all his barnyard friends along for the ride.

This is apparently the sequel to Duck on a Bike, which I haven't read (although I kind of want to now). The premises of these books are just silly enough to work, and I can see why they appeal to kids. I thought it got a little tiresome by the time we got to town and heard all the thoughts of the people in the diner, but if you don't mind repetition, you might like this a bit more than I did.

The illustrations are detailed and fun, and all the characters are well defined. I wonder what shenanigans Duck will find himself caught up in next...

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Friday, January 14, 2022

Review - Holi Hai!

Holi Hai!

by Chitra Soundar
illustrated by Darshika Varma
Date: 2022
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Gauri is excited to splash colors on everyone for Holi. But when she doesn't get her favorite color, Gauri gets mad. Will she find a way to overcome her anger and join in the festivities?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This a relatable little holiday story about a girl named Gauri. As her family prepares for Holi, each person is assigned a colour and must make a coloured powder. But Gauri doesn't get the colour she wanted, so she sulks all day and doesn't get anything done. Later, Grandpa tells the kids the story of Holika and Prahlada, and Gauri realizes maybe she's been acting with too much anger in her heart. So she works hard all night to try to make things right.

I've read a few Holi picture books. This is one of the stronger ones. The story is engaging, and isn't just about the festival. I enjoyed how Gauri's childhood anger and entitlement was portrayed, and how the issue was eventually resolved. There's a great author's note at the back that explains more about Holi, and there's even some recipes for making coloured waters, just in case you feel like getting joyfully messy.

Overall, this is a nice picture book about Holi with strong themes of family, compromise, and making the best of things when they don't turn out exactly as you wanted.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.33 out of 5

Review - Sharon, Lois & Bram's One Elephant Went Out to Play

Sharon, Lois & Bram's One Elephant Went Out to Play

by Sharon Hampson, Lois Lilienstein, Bram Morrison & Randi Hampson
illustrated by Qin Leng
Date: 2022
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

From the creators of Skinnamarink comes another picture book based on the classic counting song made famous by this beloved trio of children's entertainers.

One elephant went out to play upon a spider's web one day.
She had such enormous fun, that she called for her baby elephant to come.


Sharon, Lois and Bram invite readers to join them in a musical story about a magical spider web. Jungle animals and kids in costume join in the fun on the web, including a glamorous giraffe, a cranky crocodile, a silly, smiley snake and five monkeys. After the 10th animal is invited onto the web, EVERYONE is invited to the party -- but is the web strong enough?

Through Qin Leng's wonderfully whimsical illustrations, this delightful picture book tells the story of a diverse group of children coming together in play and song.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Ah, the nostalgia. Growing up in the '80s in Canada, we got our fill of Sharon, Lois & Bram. I remember this particular song well. So well, in fact, that I kept remembering the original words as I was reading the book. No matter. This is a lovely picture-book adaptation of one of the trio's famous songs, charmingly illustrated by Qin Leng. Sharon, Lois, Bram, and a diverse group of friends (including an elephant) take a walk through a jungle. They meet a friendly spider who spins a curiously strong web and then invites all her new friends to play in it. Things are going great, and the spider dutifully counts each new playmate as they're added (five monkeys get added at once, so the book isn't too long), but then... there's just one new friend too many. But it's all good; even failure is fun here, and there's a promise of more play to come.

The illustrations are really cute, and show a great variety of kids. There's even a child in a wheelchair who somehow manages to join everyone else in the web (hey, it's fiction). The sense of fun and play is really on display here.

Adult fans of Sharon, Lois & Bram will probably love this, especially since it's a potentially great introduction to the trio for their own kids (or grandkids). Also be sure to check out Sharon, Lois & Bram's Skinnamarink, which came out in 2019; it's based on another of their songs, expanded for the purposes of the picture book, and also completely adorable.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.71 out of 5

Monday, January 10, 2022

Review - Little Birds

Little Birds

by Hannah Lee Kidder
Date: 2018
Publisher: Hannah Lee Kidder
Reading level: A
Book type: short stories
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

“Little Birds” is a collection of glimpses into some of the darkest corners of our lives–the lies we tell ourselves, the ways we hurt others, the painful truths we pretend to face. Each story is a raw, unflinchingly human experience.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read Kidder's Starlight last year, and enjoyed it more than I enjoy most short-story collections. Little Birds went on sale, so I snapped up a copy.

Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:

"Dear Emma"

Well, that's a dark way to start off a collection. Interesting flash fiction, though.


"What Remains"

Another depressing sort of story, this time about a woman who likes to bury dead things in her yard. There's a reason, of course.


"By the Window"

Two sentences. They say a lot.


"Qui Vive"

Eh... okay. Ew. Whatever.


"He Wrote Me a Song"

Unnecessarily sad. Sometimes I'm not sure whether people write these sorts of stories just for shock value, or what.


"An Envelope"

That was anticlimactic. And now I don't like the main character.


"Crop Stet"

This "story" is one awkwardly worded sentence. I have no idea what the title means.


"Winnow"

This feels both too long and incomplete. We get the overall idea of what's going on pretty early, but then nothing ever really comes of it; the basic premise is just reinforced.


"Ignorance"

Deep. Short. What more is there to say? (This review is four words longer than the story.)


"Wolverine Frogs"

Dark and disturbing. Well written, though.


"Little Birds"

I don't know if this is from the point of view of a stalker or an ex (who's just acting like a stalker). But it makes me wonder all sorts of things that I'm not sure if I'm supposed to wonder about. Am I overthinking it? I never know with literary fiction.


"Green"

Another boring snippet. To be honest, I don't think I'd call some of these "stories"; they don't have a beginning, middle, and end. Many of them have a theme of leaving... and this is no exception.


"Cane Sprouts"

By far the longest story in the book, "Cane Sprouts" is a snapshot of a family living on the edge of the bayou. The grandfather is sick, and two grandchildren have come back to visit. They go fishing. That's about it. I was a bit distracted in this one with some of the grammar slip-ups and continuity problems (at one point, it's implied that the narrator somehow peels an orange with one hand; either that, or she's got three hands).



Little Birds is an okay collection, but I can really see the growth between what's included here and what's included in Starlight. Some of these stories are super short, and while there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, it kind of makes for an imbalanced collection when the final story takes up a full 40% of the book. I'm really not a fan of adult contemporary/literary fiction; it's not escapist enough for me. So, overall, I enjoyed Starlight, with its fantasy and horror vibes, far more.

That said, I would still recommend Little Birds to the right audience. If you like adult contemporary short fiction with heavy themes, try Little Birds. If you prefer fantasy and/or horror short fiction with heavy themes, you might enjoy Starlight more.

Overall: 2.77  out of 5

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Review - Clayton Parker Really Really REALLY Has to Pee

Clayton Parker Really Really REALLY Has to Pee

by Cinco Paul
illustrated by Gladys Jose
Date: 2021
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

From the screenwriter behind family favorites like Despicable Me and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax comes a hilarious, rhyming picture book romp about knowing when to GO

Clayton Parker can’t wait for his field trip to the zoo. When his teacher encourages the class to go before they go . . . Clayton rushes onto the bus and doesn’t give it a second thought.

Little does he know . . . Clayton Parker really really REALLY has to pee. He discovers this as soon as he gets to the zoo. And he panics! Clayton needs a bathroom, and he needs one now! The first one he finds is broken. The next one isn’t much of a bathroom at all. What will Clayton do?

A cautionary tale for the procrastinator in us all, this hilarious picture book romp will have readers vowing alongside Clayton Parker: “Before I go out anywhere, I’ll always try to pee.”

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When a children's book makes me snort or laugh out loud, I can't help but like it... even if it is silly.

This is the story of Clayton Parker, who thinks (as many kids do) that he doesn't need to pee before he gets on the bus. But, by the time his class arrives at the zoo, Clayton is busting, and he needs to find a bathroom fast, lest he end up like that kid who peed his pants in front of the whole school. Hijinks ensue. Will Clayton make it to the bathroom in time? And, more importantly, will he have learned his lesson?

Some parts of this are rather silly and unrealistic, but they're juxtaposed by the very real struggle with the human bladder. Sometimes you just gotta go, and no amount of planning or prevention can mitigate that. The whole thing is rendered in verse with nearly impeccable metre (which is so rare in children's books that I have to give props for that) and illustrated with charm.

A fun book for kids (and their parents, who are sure to nod their heads and roll their eyes when they see the mess Clayton gets himself into).

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.14 out of 5

Review - SkySisters

SkySisters

by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
illustrated by Brian Deines
Date: 2000
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Two Ojibway sisters set off across the frozen north country to see the SkySpirits' midnight dance. It isn't easy for the younger sister to be silent, but gradually she begins to treasure the stillness and the wonderful experiences it brings. After an exhilarating walk and patient waiting, the girls are rewarded by the arrival of the SkySpirits --- the northern lights --- dancing and shimmering in the night sky. This powerful story, with its stunning illustrations, captures the chill of a northern night, the warmth of the family circle and the radiance of a child's wonder.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I saw this book in a batch of new e-books that our library got, and picked it up because of that cover. Sadly, while the illustrations didn't disappoint, the story very much did.

This is a story narrated by Alex, the younger of two sisters. They bundle up in their parkas, scarves, and hats, and are released into the night by their mother. They want to see the SkySpirits, so they head up to Coyote Hill. In the dark. By themselves. Where they encounter wild animals and try to engage with coyotes.

Now, I don't have kids, but this set off all sorts of alarm bells for me. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Maybe it's just that this book is over 20 years old. But it just doesn't seem right that two little girls would be allowed out by themselves into the freezing cold darkness like this. I get that it's supposed to be about the sisters, but I would've felt a lot better about the whole storyline if there had been an adult present.

That said, the illustrations are gorgeous. They're charming, luminous, and beautiful, bringing to life the beauty of the northern night.

So... I'm about conflicted about recommending this. The story is kind of problematic from a child-welfare point of view. But the illustrations are not to be missed. Perhaps this could work with some sort of discussion about the potential danger the girls were in. Otherwise, it might be best to just peruse it for the visuals and skip the story.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5