Friday, August 23, 2019

Review - Little Juniper Makes It BIG

Little Juniper Makes It BIG
by Aidan Cassie
Date: 2019
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Aidan Cassie, the creator of Sterling, Best Dog Ever, employs her pitch-perfect humor and heartwarming illustrations here again to help little ones love themselves at any size in Little Juniper Makes It BIG.

What Juniper lacks in size, she makes up for in heart. And her heart is dead-set on growing up and getting taller. She's tired of having to reach for the cookie jar or use a stepping stool for the toilet. Everything in Juniper's world seems to be made for adults. Ugh!

Juniper is industrious, however, and builds several silly contraptions to help reach her goals. But it isn't until she makes a fun new friend at school, Clove, who is even smaller than Juniper, that she is able to see her world from a new perspective--and appreciate all sizes, big or small.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I absolutely loved Sterling, Best Dog Ever. It's one of my top picture-book reads of 2019. So I went into Little Juniper Makes It BIG with some trepidation, because I wasn't sure if this second book by Cassie would be anywhere near as good. Could it be? To my great relief, the answer is a resounding, "YES!"

Little Juniper Makes It BIG is about an anthropomorphized raccoon child who finds that everything in her world is too big. She falls in the toilet. She can't reach the sink. She can't loot the cookie jar. Her mother assures her that she will grow, but Juniper is impatient. It isn't until she becomes friends with tiny Clove, a squirrel, that she gets a bit of perspective and realizes that being small can have its advantages.

The story is cute enough, but the illustrations just take it over the top. They're adorable, with just the right amount of humour. And I loved seeing the Hudson's Bay point blanket on Juniper's bed! (It's a nice little touch from this Canadian author.)

I really loved this book, and I can't wait to see what Cassie brings us next!

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.83 out of 5

Review - Kind Mr Bear

Kind Mr Bear
by Steve Smallman
Date: 2019
Publisher: QEB Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Kind Mr Bear is very kind. He does everything he can to help people. But the animals in the forest start to take him for granted, and when he gets sick, he finds himself all alone in his cave. Will anyone help him?

This touching story from award-winning author/illustrator Steve Smallman shows that when it comes to true friends, kindness is something to give as well as receive.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a very simple, very short story about a kindly old bear who looks after everyone else in the forest. But when he gets sick, he finds himself all alone. It isn't until the animals realize how much he's done for them that they realize how good of a friend he's been... and how they can be good friends in return.

Like I said, the story is very simple. Where this book shines is in the adorable illustrations. I really don't have any complaint there.

This being an ARC, though, there are a few problems. There's a typo on the back cover, at least one in the dialogue (which is also unnecessarily italicized), and the parents' guide at the back is for another book (which appears to be another of Smallman's titles, The Not-So-Brave Penguin). If these issues are dealt with, this could be a fairly strong picture book for young children about kindness and not taking our friends for granted.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review - There's Room for Everyone

There's Room for Everyone
by Anahita Teymorian
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tiny Owl Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A child grows and discovers the world. As he lies awake at night, he sees there’s enough room in the sky for all the stars and the moon. When he visits the ocean, he sees there is enough room for all the fish, even for the whales. As he grows up, he doesn’t understand why people fight for space. Surely, if we are kinder to one another, there will always be room for everyone? This is a beautiful and profound picture book — a testament of our time and a touching allegory for war and the refugee crisis.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book starts out with a flawed premise that I find difficult to get past. You know how some people argue that overpopulation isn't a problem because you could fit every human being on Earth into the state of Texas? That's basically the idea this book runs with, ignoring the fact that people aren't fighting over space; they're fighting over resources. Otherwise, we'd all be buying up acreage in the Sahara and building our dream homes there.

This flawed premise is taken even further and applied to animals. The book states that there's plenty of room for all the animals, conveniently ignoring the fact that different animals require different habitats. Sure, there's enough space for orangutans in Indonesia, but we keep destroying their habitat. If you destroy an animal's habitat, it might have a difficult (or impossible) time living somewhere else.

The pictures really don't work for me. On the very first spread, there's a picture of the child in his mother's womb. He's either holding a doll or an underdeveloped twin (in either case, it's really odd and kind of creepy). The mother is holding a book entitled How Keep Babys. I don't think I'd trust a book that doesn't even have a coherent title. On the same spread, there are two very phallic images. One is a slipper. The other is... Actually, I have no idea what the other one is. Maybe a sock? It looks like a hairy penis. The rest of the illustrations are plagued by unrealistic proportions and weird perspective issues. In one picture, the boy is staring up at the moon. His arms are so long his hands nearly touch his ankles, and his feet are facing in two different directions! Animals wear jewellery and carry handbags, there's a man on the subway who looks like he has no bones (and, again, his arms are so long his hands are dragging on the floor), and for some reason, the library has floating tables (it's also apparently a place where you're supposed to take off your socks).

The synopsis makes the book sound like a profound statement about war and the refugee crisis, but the premise is so flawed that it doesn't work. While there's technically room for everyone, there aren't always enough resources (or enough resources in the right places)... and that's the real issue driving our current problems. 

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.5 out of 5

Review - Wonder Mole's Scent Costume Party

Wonder Mole's Scent Costume Party
by Pato Mena
Date: 2019
Publisher: nubeOcho
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Moles are blind, so their costume parties are a bit different. They wear perfumes of different animals/characters instead of clothing costumes! Weasel sees her opportunity and tries to sneak into Wonder Mole’s party for a mole dinner. She is wearing the most convincing weasel costume, but will she get caught in the act? A fun and quirky tale that tests your senses and imagination.

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

This story has a rather unique premise: when moles have costume parties, they base their costumes largely on scent (since they don't see very well). So when Wonder Mole has a party, all his friends show up wearing various animal scents: giraffe, penguin, frog, horse, etc. A hungry weasel sees an opportunity and sneaks into the party. The moles just think the weasel is another mole in costume, but the weasel has plans to eat a couple of moles for dinner. He joins the celebrations, and even makes it to the final round of the costume competition. But will he be found out before he can satisfy his hunger?

The story is simple and rather silly (how would a mole recognize a rhinoceros costume? Have they been around lots of rhinoceroses?) but the real strength here is the pictures. The weasel is hilarious, and his facial expressions (especially at the end) made me smile. He may have gotten more than he bargained for by sneaking into that party!

While the story is basically just a clever premise wrapped up in a sparse story and some bold illustrations, it kind of works. Kids who are able to just go with the story (and not keep wondering how the moles could recognize all those diverse animal scents, like I was) will probably be amused and entertained. 

Thank you to NetGalley and nubeOcho 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

Review - What Wonders Do You See... When You Dream?

What Wonders Do You See... When You Dream?
by Justine Avery
illustrated by Liuba Syrotiuk
Date: 2019
Publisher: Suteki Creative
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 35
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The day has ended. Hasn't it been splendid? But now, it's time--to be sure--for an entirely different adventure.

This is an invitation to a new nighttime ritual, a going-to-bed book that reminds us all that bedtime can be the most wonderful time of all...

The spellbinding style and alluring rhythm of Justine Avery's writing are brought to life by Liuba Syrotiuk's dreamlike watercolor illustrations to inspire children and adults to set aside the day's excitement and drift into the adventure of sleep itself.

What Wonders Do You See... When You Dream? encourages calm and creativity, relaxation and imagination, and welcomes young and old alike to the blissful, magical time of bedtime.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not sure what to make of this one. It just seems very uneven all around. Some parts of the rhyming text almost work... but others don't. Some of the illustrations are cute and dreamy... but others seem cluttered and chaotic with no real focus.

The text starts out seeming to want to rhyme, but there are points in the story where the rhymes are dubious at best, and other times when a rhyming scheme is abandoned completely. It almost sounds like beat poetry in a few places, and I'm not sure if kids really like that sort of thing. Also, I can't quite tell what the point of the story is supposed to be. That you go to bed and then have adventures? First of all, I'm not sure that's the best idea when you're trying to wind kids down to get them to sleep. Second, the book implies that only children dream, which is just weird (either that, or children are the only ones who have imaginations, which is also weird). To be honest, I couldn't quite tell if this book was advocating sleep and dreaming or encouraging children to come up with imaginary adventures right at bedtime. I think that could've been clearer.

There's also one page that could have some parents doing a double take if their vocabulary isn't very large, as there are a number of words that sound close to a particular racial slur:

Give the niggles a good wriggle, and stifle every sniggle.

The pictures themselves are kind of pretty at first glance. They're really colourful, the kids' pajamas are adorable (especially the girl's), and there are lots of things to look at. Perhaps too many. I was also thrown a bit by the random words on a couple of the pages, like "SLEEP" and "TOYS". Are they placeholders? Or are they supposed to be part of the illustrations? There's also a page that features creepy eyes under the bed, which could be a bit scary for some readers (it's not really explained what they are, so kids' imaginations might run wild).

Overall, this is a book that has potential, but I don't think it's quite ready just yet. The text (especially the rhyme and meter) needs to be cleaned up a bit, and the overall tone needs to be a little calmer. I don't know how many parents are going to appreciate a book that gets their kids all hyped up about going to bed. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Suteki Creative for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.43 out of 5

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Review - If Pluto Was a Pea

If Pluto Was a Pea
by Gabrielle Prendergast
illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings
Date: 2019
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Join two curious kids as they explore their backyard, and contemplate their place within our vast universe in this adorable picture book that’s full of comparisons to help kids understand cosmic size.

If Pluto was a pea…
the Sun would be like a tent,
Mercury would be a marble,
and Earth would be a golf ball.


Pluto is the smallest planet in our solar system, but how small is small? As it turns out, it only takes the contents of a lunchbox and a backyard to find out.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

All right, kids. Repeat after me:

If Pluto were a pea.
If Pluto were a pea.
If Pluto were a pea.

Got it? Good.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the book itself. The premise is actually kind of neat. It's all about comparative sizes. If Pluto were the size of a pea, then the Earth would be the size of a golf ball, Mars would be the size of an acorn, Jupiter would be the size of a beach ball, etc. This is all framed by two kids and their camping trip; each of the objects mentioned is encountered and pictured, along with measurements.

I like the idea. I sort of like the illustrations. But I just can't get past that grammar. It's on pretty much every spread of the book, teaching a new generation of children to avoid the subjunctive verb tense. Pluto can never literally be a pea... and so the correct word here should be "were". If the text simply changed that one word, then this is one book I could wholeheartedly recommend.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Gaia Blues

Gaia Blues
by Gud
Date: 2011
Publisher: Europe Comics
Reading level: A
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Gaia is the ancient name of our Earth, a place now endangered by growing human pollution. A family of polar bears is about to discover what are the effects of this situation, in a story told entirely with no words.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is depressing and fatalistic. The blurb on the back cover reads: "Will Gaia save herself from the nefarious effects of Mankind? Perhaps there is a solution..." What's Gaia's solution? Melt all the ice and flood the planet. There's just one problem with that: there's not enough ice in the world to do what this book shows.

Yes, humans suck. We've treated this planet like a garbage can. We've polluted the atmosphere. We've mucked up the oceans. We've decimated the forests. We've polluted the land, and then seem surprised when we get sick living in a toxic environment. But what good does a book like this do? There are no suggestions, no solutions. According to this, we just have to get used to living on solar-powered boats. Or maybe on an island of floating garbage.

This just didn't impress me. It didn't shock me, or tell me anything I didn't already know. The fact that it's aimed at adults is even worse; viewed as such, it seems condescending. It's also defeatist, but at the same time judgmental, almost as if the book is scolding the reader for wrecking the planet.

But if you're going to offer just condemnation rather than helpful solutions, you're kind of part of the problem.

Thank you to NetGalley and Europe Comics for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: n/a
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.29 out of 5 ladybugs