Monday, October 21, 2019

Review - Freda and the Blue Beetle

Freda and the Blue Beetle
by Sophie Gilmore
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Freda lives in a town where people are always telling her to be more careful. But Freda loves to explore—which is how, one day, she discovers an injured beetle. She names him Ernest, feeds him, and befriends him. They become inseparable as Ernest grows ever bigger and stronger.

Noticing Ernest’s now-enormous size, the townspeople put him to work. But Ernest is strange, and has a strong appetite, and when a prize ewe goes missing, people start to talk. Freda listens to their appeals and sends her beloved friend away. But when a terrible storm puts the villagers in real danger, Freda knows who can help—and she stands up and says so. After Ernest uses his unique strength to save the day, everyone wants him to stay. But maybe this time, Freda and Ernest choose to listen to their hearts.

Illustrated in watercolor and gouache, this is a fantastical modern fable about the value of listening to your heart, not always listening to others, and making your own voice heard.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bit of a surreal tale about a girl named Freda and her friend, a giant blue beetle named Ernest. Freda is a girl who doesn't listen. She climbs trees and swims in dangerous waters. The townspeople think she's going to come to harm, but she often makes fascinating discoveries as a result of her disobedience. One day, she finds a little blue beetle with a broken wing. She takes him home, nurses him back to health, and gives him a name. But Ernest grows quickly, and when he proves to be strong, the villagers put him to work. That growth and strength relies on being fed, though, and after a prized sheep goes missing (and Ernest is blamed for eating it), he is cast out of the village. It isn't until a calamity befalls the village and Ernest comes to the rescue that the townspeople start to see his value (or, rather, how he can benefit them). The story ends with Freda making an unusual, though completely logical, choice.

I'm not sure about the message in this one. It might be just a bit too nuanced for younger readers. (It's basically: Don't listen to your elders if they're being self-serving bigots.) Learning when not to listen is an important skill, but I'd be concerned that some kids might take that too far. Discernment is key. As an adult, I like the message just fine, as I think it's important; we shouldn't listen to our elders if what they're telling us to do is potentially harmful. I just wonder if that message is clear enough in this particular book.

Overall, though, I think this could be a good picture book for slightly older kids who are starting to learn more about boundaries (and that adults--even if they have good intentions--aren't always right).

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Review - Lali's Feather

Lali's Feather
by Farhana Zia
illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Date: 2020
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

This endearing story of identification and values shows the rewards in looking closely and thinking imaginatively.

Lali finds a little feather in the field. Is it lost? Lali sets out to find feather a home, but one bird after another rejects it. The feather is too small for Rooster, too slow for Crow, and too plain for Peacock. Once Lali decides to keep the little feather and discovers all the things she can do with it, the other birds begin to recognize its value.

Farahan Zia's charming tale employs an inventive circular structure that reveals the importance of looking beyond first impressions. Illustrator Stephanie Fizer Coleman brings this delightful story of imagination and inspiration to life.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Jai Ho! What an adorable book! Comparisons to Cao Wenxuan's Feather are going to be inevitable, though this is, in my opinion, a far better book.

Lali finds a feather in the field. She doesn't know who it belongs to, so she sets out to find its owner. Each bird that she encounters tells her it's not theirs (and why it couldn't be). Having no luck, Lali decides to simply have fun with the feather. She writes with it, sweeps with it, fans the fire, and even torments her family with it. But when the feather is lost, the rest of the birds come to the rescue in a delightful display of empathy and friendship. And after all that, the story ends with the promise of another adventure.

Unlike the aforementioned Feather, this book is far more lighthearted and appealing. The illustrations are fun and colourful. Hindi interjections are sprinkled throughout and, combined with the pictures, they give the book a definite Indian flair. It's likely to be much more engaging to children, with the relatable main character.

Overall, this is a strong picture book showing a little girl searching for a lost feather's home, as well as highlighting the value of seemingly insignificant things, like a dropped feather. I'd definitely recommend this one.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Review - Salsa Lullaby

Salsa Lullaby
by Jen Arena
illustrated by Erika Meza
Date: 2019
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

How to get baby to sleep? Mami and Papi will try anything in this bouncy, loving, bilingual lullaby that gently says good night in both Spanish and English.

Mami starts a salsa song.
Papi keeps the beat.
Baby loves this lullaby,
moves those dancing feet.

Baila, baby, baila!
Dance, dance, dance.


When nighttime falls, it's time for baby to go to sleep. In this household, that means it's also time for mama, papa, and baby to baila/dance, canta/sing, salta/jump, and more all the way to bedtime!

This bouncy bilingual text and gorgeous, inviting illustrations gently wind down to make this a bedtime favorite no matter what language families say "good night" in!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Setting aside the wisdom of winding a baby up with salsa music right before bed, this is actually a really cute book featuring a family of three (four, if you count the dog) as they get ready for the baby's bedtime. Mami puts some music on, and then they go through the process of getting the kid settled down for the night: having a bottle, getting out a favourite toy, the dog lying down beside the crib as a protector. The exuberance and fun of the rituals come across clearly on the pages.

The illustrations, done in a limited colour palette by Erika Meza, are lots of fun. They have a distinctly animated feel to them, which I like. The baby and the dog are super cute.

This is a charming bedtime book that shows a loving family. As long as you don't actually put salsa music on when you read it to your kids at bedtime, you should be fine.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

Review - Little Red Rhyming Hood

Little Red Rhyming Hood
by Sue Fliess
illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis
Date: 2019
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Because Little Red only speaks in verse, it's tough for her to make friends. The schoolyard bully, Big Brad Wolf, is always picking on her. One day, her grandma shows her a flyer for a poetry contest, and Little Red thinks it could be her big chance to make a friend. But on the day of the contest, Big Brad Wolf sneaks up on Little Red and scares the rhyme right out of her—and into him! How will they rhyme their way out of this dilemma?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute take on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, featuring a little girl in a red hoodie who can't stop rhyming and a bully named Big Brad Wolf. Brad torments Little Red every day, but she tries to ignore him... until one day, he scares the rhymes right out of her and into him! It's the day of the big poetry contest, too. Brad is freaked out by speaking in rhyme, so Little Red agrees to try to help him.

I quite liked this book, except for one line that sort of implies that boys are mean to girls because they like them. It's time we get rid of that dangerous idea. Other than that, though, the story is cute and the illustrations are pleasant. I enjoyed the twists on the classic story (especially with the grandmother and her red hoodie). The rhymes and prose are pretty solid, too. So, overall, I would recommend this one, with just slight reservations. (Yes, Brad does eventually learn he doesn't have to scare a girl to be close to her, but the fact that the book gets a little close to the old "boys will be boys" stereotype makes me a little uncomfortable.)

Quotable moment:


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 - Druscilla's Halloween

Druscilla's Halloween
by Sally M. Walker
illustrated by Lee White
Date: 2009
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Did witches always ride brooms? No! In fact, long, long ago, witches crept about on tiptoe. On Halloween, they would scare children and cast spells... but always from the ground. No witch ever thought of flying--no witch until Druscilla. Druscilla was an old witch with the loudest, creakiest knees anyone had ever heard. But she was determined not to let anything spoil her element of surprise. One Halloween, after many failed attempts at sneaking up on unsuspecting villagers, Druscilla made a discovery that changed the course of witch history.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is sort of an origin story regarding why witches fly on broomsticks. It's not historically accurate, but it is rather fun.

Long ago, witches didn't fly on broomsticks. They tiptoed and snuck up on people to scare them. But Druscilla was old, and her knees creaked. A lot. Their audible pops and snaps meant that she couldn't sneak up on anybody. But Halloween was coming, and she was a witch, so she had to figure out a way to join in the hijinks. Various methods failed her... and then she stumbled across a solution where she was least expecting it.

It's a fun little story with cute illustrations that are fun to look at. I liked seeing how the witches prepared for Halloween (it involves styling products and cats), and it was amusing to see how Druscilla's knees acted as a warning to everyone about her approach. (I don't really agree with some other reviewers that this book makes fun of the disabled. Noisy knees on their own aren't exactly a disability; they're just a nuisance. Druscilla says it herself when she talks to them: "Hush, you treacherous old knees. You're robbing me of the element of surprise." She gets around just fine. She's just... loud.)

This is a fun Halloween book that offers a different spin on why witches fly on broomsticks. It's cute and clever, and kids will probably enjoy it. (It's also nice to see a Halloween story that isn't focused on candy.)

Quotable moment:


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 - The Unicorn Whisperer

The Unicorn Whisperer (Heavenly Nostrils #10)
by Dana Simpson
Date: 2019
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: MG
Book type: comic collection
Pages: 176
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Welcome back to the hilarious and heartwarming world of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, where readers of all ages can always find a friend to lend a magical helping hand — or hoof.

For 9-year-old Phoebe Howell and her sparkling companion, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, every day is an adventure. In this latest installation of Dana Simpson's award-winning Phoebe and Her Unicorn series, Phoebe navigates the challenges of school life with a little help from her unicorn friend, who is always ready with the perfect spell for the occasion. But as the magic spells mount up, both Phoebe and Marigold find themselves wondering if sometimes they might be taking things just a little too far...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Here's yet another enjoyable collection of comics about Phoebe and Marigold. All the things that make the previous collections are so enjoyable are here: the cultural references, the humour, the stories, the secondary characters... (I love Todd! Rar.)

I've read most of the series this year, and I think it's one of my favourite comics. Keep 'em coming, Dana Simpson!

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

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

Enjoyment: 34/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Review - Cinderella

Cinderella
by Kinuko Y. Craft
Date: 2000
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

This brilliant edition of a timeless story is sure to become the favorite of a generation. Readers young and old will be enchanted by the vision and mastery of Kinuko Y. Craft's luminous paintings, inspired by the lavish artwork of late seventeenth-century France and embellished with extraordinary borders and ornamentation. Rich with radiant color and astonishing detail, here is a dream come true for anyone who has ever believed in living happily ever after.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The stunning cover of this book is what drew me in. Cinderella, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft, is a lovely, classic take on the familiar fairy tale. It's fairly heavy on the text for a picture book, but it reads like a bedtime story and doesn't tax the reader at all. The illustrations are intricately detailed, and though the highlight is probably the cover image, there is still plenty to look at and enjoy within. The pictures have an old-fashioned look to them, which perfectly complements the classic story.

I'd definitely recommend this one to those looking for good fairy tale retellings, especially those who like versions that stay close to the original.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5