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

Review - Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Moon (Over the Moon #2)
by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Clement Hurd
Date: 1947
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

In a great green room, tucked away in bed, is a little bunny. "Goodnight room, goodnight moon." And to all the familiar things in the softly lit room -- to the picture of the three little bears sitting on chairs, to the clocks and his socks, to the mittens and the kittens, to everything one by one -- the little bunny says goodnight.

In this classic of children's literature, beloved by generations of readers and listeners, the quiet poetry of the words and the gentle, lulling illustrations combine to make a perfect book for the end of the day.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Goodnight Moon was one of my favourite books as a young child. Board books weren't as common back then as they are now, so I had a simple paperback that ended up looking like a dog used it as a chew toy (we didn't have a dog). My copy has long since vanished, and it's been years since I actually read the book, even though I've gifted it a few times to new babies.

This is a charming little classic. The story is very, very simple. If you can even call it a story. It's basically a little bunny saying goodnight to everything in his room, from his mittens and hairbrush to the resident mouse.

The illustrations are garish and plain, and had this book been published today, it probably wouldn't have generated the same following. There are much more aesthetically pleasing books for children out there. However, the gentle rhythm of the little bunny saying goodnight to everything works perfectly for a bedtime read. It's easy to see why this classic has stood the test of time.

Quotable moment:


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 - Chester Chipmunk Will Not Sleep

Chester Chipmunk Will Not Sleep
by Kathleen George
illustrated by Louisa Mae
Date: 2020
Publisher: Belle Isle Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

It's bedtime in the nook of Cherry Hill, but Chester Chipmunk just can't sleep! He's had too much fun playing today, and he isn't ready to stop now. So Mama Chipmunk tells him a whimsical tale of all the journeys he can go on in his dreams. This book will help the littles ones who are feeling restless get excited to take a nap or go to bed so they can discover all the many adventures that await in their dreams!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Chester Chipmunk Will Not Sleep is a picture book aimed at kids that seems subtly manipulative.

Chester doesn't want go to to bed because there are so many things he wants to do, like play a kazoo and build a rocket big enough for a moose. His mother gets him to go to bed by promising him all sorts of even better adventures in his dreams.

While the overall idea is sweet, I can't help but feel that it's a little manipulative. What happens when a kid doesn't experience fantastic dreams about mermaids, juggling hippos, and moonbeams that can be ridden like a bike? Or, worse... what if they have nightmares? The trick that Chester's mom uses on him is liable to only work once. Perhaps, instead of bribing her child with promises of dreams that are unlikely to happen, she should employ some better time management to ensure that Chester gets to do more of the things he wants to do during the day (or, to make it even more simple, teach him some patience by letting him know that he can do his kazoo playing and rocket building tomorrow).

The illustrations are probably my favourite part of this, even if I don't love the story. They're whimsical, charming, and positively luminous in places. The cover illustration doesn't really do the book justice; the interior pictures are far more magical.

Overall, this was just average for me. I'm not a fan of the story, but I'd gladly go back and peruse the illustrations again.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.14 out of 5

Monday, March 30, 2020

Review - Grandmother School

Grandmother School
by Rina Singh
illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Date: 2020
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Every morning, a young girl walks her grandmother to the Aajibaichi Shala, the school that was built for the grandmothers in her village to have a place to learn to read and write. The narrator beams with pride as she drops her grandmother off with the other aajis to practice the alphabet and learn simple arithmetic. A moving story about family, women and the power of education--when Aaji learns to spell her name you'll want to dance along with her.

Women in countless countries continue to endure the limitations of illiteracy. Unjust laws have suppressed the rights of girls and women and kept many from getting an education and equal standing in society. Based on a true story from the village of Phangane, India, this brilliantly illustrated book tells the story of the grandmothers who got to go to school for the first time in their lives.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Grandmother School is a sweet little book based on real events.

Many grandmothers in India can't read or write. In one village, a teacher sought to change that and created the Aajibaichi Shala, or Grandmother School. Every day, the children walk their grandmothers in their bright pink saris to the school, where they learn reading and basic arithmetic.

Though this story is narrated by a fictional little girl, it's based on what happened in Phangane, India in 2016. So those who are looking for picture books with a non-fiction bent might want to check this one out.

The mixed-media illustrations are charming and colourful, depicting the village, its inhabitants, and the Aajibaichi Shala in vibrant hues. They compliment the story nicely, especially as they incorporate a few words written in the Marathi alphabet.

Overall, this is a lovely book. Kids who don't live in India are liable to find this an eye-opening experience; they might not take their own grandmothers' literacy for granted after reading this story!

Thank you to NetGalley and Orca Book Publishers for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Review - Fancy Nancy: Camp Fancy

Fancy Nancy: Camp Fancy (Fancy Nancy)
by Laurie Israel
illustrated by the Disney Storybook Art Team
Date: 2019
Publisher: HarperFestival
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: library

Nancy is one happy camper when she decides to have a camping trip in the backyard. But when it begins to rain, Nancy will need to bring all the wonders of the great outdoors...indoors!

Disney Junior’s Fancy Nancy is an animated family comedy starring six-year-old Nancy, a girl who is fancy in everything from her advanced vocabulary to her creative, elaborate attire. The show is based on the New York Times bestselling book series Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

One day, Nancy is bored. Her dad suggests she help him clean out the garage. They find a tent, and Nancy has visions of staging a magnificent camping trip, complete with a campfire and s'mores. But rain spoils the plan, and the family is forced indoors.

The message about making the best of things comes through loud and clear. I was also amused by the pictures in this one. The facial expressions are great, and Nancy's fantasy about the perfect camping trip even features some cameos from some familiar Disney characters.

Overall, this is a cute little book perfect for fans of Nancy (and especially the TV-show version of Nancy).

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - Fancy Nancy: Toodle-oo, Miss Moo

Fancy Nancy: Toodle-oo, Miss Moo (Fancy Nancy)
by Victoria Saxon
illustrated by the Disney Storybook Art Team
Date: 2019
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

When the Clancys decide to have a yard sale, will Nancy be able to say good-bye to her oldest, most precious toy, Miss Moo?

Disney Junior’s Fancy Nancy: Toodle-oo, Miss Moo is a Level One I Can Read, perfect for children learning to sound out words and sentences.

Based on the New York Times bestselling book series Fancy Nancy, which includes over 100 titles with more than 30 million books sold, Disney Junior’s Fancy Nancy is an animated family comedy centered on six-year-old Nancy, a girl who likes to be fancy in everything from her advanced vocabulary to her creative, elaborate attire.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a Fancy Nancy book based on the TV series. These books aren't among my favourites, but they're still good, clean fun with cute illustrations and clear, positive messaging.

Nancy and her family are having a yard sale. Nancy's fine with selling all her old baby toys until she spots Miss Moo, a favourite. She doesn't want Miss Moo to be sold, so she tries various things to take her off the market. But when Bree's little brother spots the toy and really wants it, Bree buys it for him as a birthday surprise. Nancy is devastated and convinces Bree to let her have the toy back. But in a sweet show of empathy, Nancy ends up relinquishing the toy when she remembers how much it meant to her when she was three.

The pictures are consistent and tolerably cute, which is about all I can really say about them. I much prefer Robin Preiss Glasser's originals. TV Nancy just doesn't seem fancy enough!

Fans of Nancy (and of the TV show in particular) will probably want to check this one out.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Review - Elle of Portuana

Elle of Portuana
by Samuel Narh
Date: 2019
Publisher: Austin Macauley Publishers LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Elle is from a small town by the beach named Portuana. She loves trees, nature, and saving money. This picture book takes a child into Elle’s world. The child then sees how Elle ties all her passions together.

The picture book aims at inculcating these essential traits in young children so that they grow up to be environmentally conscious and have a balanced life.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bit of a strange little book that's probably too vague for children to really appreciate.

Elle wants to plant more trees. So she finds seashells, sells them, and makes a few coins.

That's literally the whole plot. Unfortunately, it's kind of weak. The book ends with Elle dreaming about Portuana having more trees, but that thought is not connected to the money. So the reader has to remember that, on the first page she wanted to plant more trees. (Whether children will be able to connect Elle's piggy-bank coins with her desire to plant trees remains to be seen.) I actually forgot about Elle's desire because the way Portuana is depicted might make one wonder why it needs more trees at all. It's already got tons!

The illustrations themselves look like they were done digitally. There's a strange mix of cartoonish shapes and impressionism that don't really seem to blend very well. I'm also not a fan of the rather large boat illustration that holds the page number on every other page; it's distracting and unnecessary.

I can't really recommend this one. It would have had more impact if Elle had been trying to solve a problem (a lack of trees) and the story had made clear how she was going to do that (earning money to buy seedlings to plant).

Thank you to NetGalley and Austin Macauley Publishers LLC for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Review - Olivia

Olivia (Olivia #1)
by Ian Falconer
Date: 2000
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Have fun with Olivia... dressing up, singing songs, building sand castles, napping (maybe), dancing, painting on walls and - whew! - going to sleep at last.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read Olivia the Spy last year, but I wasn't that impressed. Sometimes sequels aren't as good as the originals. That's certainly the case here, and though I didn't love Olivia, I thought it was somewhat charming and entertaining.

I think what I'm grappling with is the way Olivia and her mother say, "I love you anyway." I can't quite put my finger on why that bothers me, but it does.

Overall, it's not bad. It shows a spunky little pig who definitely likes getting her own way. Many parents of young children will likely be able to relate.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - Jumanji

Jumanji
by Chris Van Allsburg
Date: 1981
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

The game under the tree looked like a hundred others Peters and Judy had at home. But they were bored and restless and, looking for something interesting to do, thought they'd give Jumanji a try. Little did they know when they unfolded its ordinary-looking playing board that they were about to be plunged into the most exciting and bizare adventure of their lives.

In his second book for children, Chris Van Allsburg again explores the ever-shifting line between fantasy and reality with this story about a game that comes startingly to life. His marvelous drawings beautifully convey a mix of the everyday and the extraordinary, as a quiet house is taken over by an exotic jungle.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Since this book is almost as old as I am, I thought maybe I might have read it at some point. I know I saw the movie, but I don't remember much. The book is understated, yet kind of magical, and definitely worth taking a look at (especially if you're a fan of Van Allsburg's work).

Judy and Peter are (somewhat conveniently) left at home without a babysitter while their parents go to the opera. They're bored, so they head over to the park, where they find a mysterious box that contains a game called Jumanji. They take it home and play it. But once you start a game of Jumanji, you must finish it. It says so in the instructions. So Judy and Peter face an afternoon of adventures as they attempt to reach the end of the game.

The story is so simple (despite the rather large amount of text) that I'm guessing that the movie was padded quite a bit (I really don't remember!). But what is here is understated and fairly well written. Van Allsburg's monochrome illustrations are lovely, as usual... although they do look a bit dated (given that the book is almost 40 years old, though, that's understandable).

I can see why this has stood the test of time. Younger readers might prefer the movie, as the action in this one is over pretty quickly and the book is rather short. But it's still worth a read.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Friday, March 27, 2020

Review - Fussy Flamingo

Fussy Flamingo
by Shelly Vaughan James
illustrated by Matthew Rivera
Date: 2020
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Lola, a young flamingo, knows that eating shrimp will make her feathers pink, but when her parents look away she tries different foods and turns a series of wild colors.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Aside from some iffy speech tags, this is a cute picture book about a young flamingo who just won't eat the shrimp that will turn her a distinctive pink. Instead, she defies her parents and tries all sorts of other foods, from avocados to melons, with colourful results. Can her parents convince her to try a new food?

The story is amusing and the illustrations are colourful and engaging. There are also a couple of pages at the back with some real-life flamingo facts, which is a nice touch.

This would be a good book for kids who are interested in these fascinating birds and their plumage... or for picky eaters who need a little nudge to try something new.

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Ella Has a Plan

Ella Has a Plan
by Davina Hamilton
illustrated by Elena Reinoso
Date: 2020
Publisher: The Ella Riley Group
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Ella is fed up, but what can she do?

Her quarrelling cousins are making her blue!

It’s Mummy’s big party – the family’s all here.

But two pesky cousins are spoiling the cheer!


Ella just wants them to party and play,

She can’t let their arguing ruin the day!

Can Ella fix things? She’s sure that she can,

She just needs to think up a brilliant plan...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a rather text-heavy picture book about a little girl who wants to keep her cousins from quarrelling at Mummy's party.

The rhyming text is okay with decent meter for the most part (although you may have to read some lines a few times to get the timing down if you're reading it aloud). The story, however, was just so-so for me. Ella is worried about keeping Taye and Jade from arguing. So she talks to her mother, who tells her that Great Grandad Frank once played a prank to get his kids to stop quarrelling. Ella resolves to ask him, and she does. The problem is that Great Grandad Frank never actually tells the story, and the book ends with Ella wanting to come up with another plan to find out about the prank. Perhaps because her own prank (that she came up with herself) was successful at getting Taye and Jade to stop arguing, Great Grandad Frank's story was deemed unnecessary. But I found that omission kind of unsatisfying, and a bit of an unfair tease.

The pictures are cute, especially when Ella plays her prank with all the kids. At the back, there's a spread showing all the characters in the extended family, clearly labelled with their names. Judging by the name of the publishing company on this one, I'm guessing that these characters are based on real people.

Overall, this isn't bad, but it's a bit long for reading aloud. Some readers will probably also be frustrated by not finding out about Great Grandad Frank's prank. I know I was.

Thank you to NetGalley and The Ella Riley Group for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.71 out of 5

Monday, March 23, 2020

Review - Lilah Tov Good Night

Lilah Tov Good Night
by Ben Gundersheimer
illustrated by Noar Lee Naggan
Date: 2020
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A Hebrew lullaby takes on added meaning for a refugee family.

As the moon rises, a family steps into the night on a journey toward a new beginning. Along the way, their little girl delights in the wonders of nature, saying good night--lilah tov--to the creatures and landscapes they pass. Wherever she looks--on land, in the sky above and even, eventually, in the water below her boat--there are marvels to behold. "Lilah tov to the birds in the trees, lilah tov to the fish in the sea." Then, when their travels are finally over, her parents tuck her in tight, safe and ready for dreams in their new home.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This rhyming picture book would make a nice bedtime read. Hopefully, kids will be too sleepy to ask questions about the someone threadbare plot.

The family are obviously refugees, but the reader doesn't know why. In fact, the book starts on a rather idyllic note (at the end of "a long and beautiful day") and then the parents pack up their kids and leave. I went back to try to look for clues as to why they felt compelled to embark upon a risky journey with a young child and an infant, but I couldn't see any. (For the purposes of a picture book, this sort of makes sense. But I'm sure there are going to be kids who ask, "Why are they leaving their home?" Parents will have to get creative and come up with their own answers, because there aren't any here.)

The illustrations are interesting to look at, if a little fanciful. I'm not sure what kind of Jewish refugee journey would be undertaken across the sea in nothing but a rowboat, but that's what happens here. I guess it's supposed to be more symbolic than literal.

Overall, this isn't bad. It has a nice rhythm and would make a good book for winding down at the end of a long and beautiful day.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - A Rainbow of Rocks

A Rainbow of Rocks
by Kate DePalma
Date: 2020
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A rainbow of rocks -- from red to violet and beyond! Eye-popping close-up photos of real, vibrant rocks and minerals in a rainbow of colors are brought to life by lyrical, rhyming text about the many facets of geology. Includes educational notes perfect for STEM learning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a great little rhyming picture book about rocks. I know that doesn't sound very exciting, but this is actually an engaging little volume with beautiful photographs and lots of neat facts.

The main part of the book contains simple rhyming text to accompany photographs of beautiful rocks (which are clearly labelled). Everything from bumpy basalt to shimmering bornite shows up on the pages. At the back, there are a few pages that offer more detailed information about rocks: what they're made of, how they're formed, and their various characteristics.

This would be a great book for kids who are interested in geology. But its aesthetic might also encourage kids who aren't normally interested in this sort of thing to pick it up and give it a try.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.14 out of 5

Review - Ray

Ray
by Marianna Coppo
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A humorous picture book about the adventures of a light bulb who embarks on an enlightening journey, from the acclaimed author-illustrator of Petra.

At the end of the hall, near the staircase, is a closet. In that closet lives Ray, who is a light bulb. Ray spends most of his time in darkness, which is pretty boring if you don't know how to fill it. So boring that Ray usually slips into a dreamless sleep . . .

Everything changes one day when Ray is migrated into a portable lantern and taken on the trip of a lifetime. He wakes up in a much larger closet (the outside), surrounded by incredible things - too many to count! Everything is super big, and Ray has never felt so small. And in the morning, Ray makes an incredible discovery which will change his life forever.

Meet Ray, a charming new character from the imaginative mind of Marianna Coppo, the creator of Petra!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. It's a book about a lightbulb that has an adventure. How do you even begin to process that?

Ray lives in the closet. He's been in other places in the house, too, like the living room (which was good) and the bathroom (which was a little less pleasant). Now he's in the closet, which is pretty boring. He counts all the things in there with him, and watches things change a little in the outside world, but mostly, he just hangs there. One day, though, his people unscrew him and take him on a camping trip. He sees more things than he can count, and in the morning, he has a spiritual awakening of sorts.

If you can get past the question of why someone would take the incandescent lightbulb from the hall closet on a camping trip, then the rest of the story is kind of charming. Ray is a sympathetic character; I think a lot of us can relate (especially right now) to the feeling of being cooped-up and bored. The illustrations are simple, but effective.

Overall, this is kind of cute. Anthropomorphized lightbulbs. Now I've seen it all.

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: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Review - Same Way Ben

Same Way Ben
by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Date: 2019
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Ben likes things the same way every day at school—he sits at the same table, eats the same lunch, and likes the daily class routine. But when his teacher leaves to have her baby and a substitute teacher comes and changes everything, Ben gets upset. He liked everything the way it was before! But soon Ben starts to think differently about change and realizes that doing things another way can be fun.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute story about change and a little boy who thinks he's not quite ready to face it.

When Ben's teacher, Mrs. Garcia, goes on maternity leave, there are lots of changes in the classroom. Ben, who has always done things the same way every day, doesn't like it. He feels lost and confused and just wants things to go back to the way they were before. It takes a visit from his favourite teacher to help him see that change can be good. It's an adventure!

While I enjoyed this one, I think it has the potential to be a mismatch with certain audiences. Inability to handle change is a common trait among those on the autism spectrum, and I thought at first that perhaps Ben was autistic. The way he's treated by the teachers, however, kind of suggests that he's not. (Mr. Elliot, the substitute teacher, simply rams through his changes without any sort of concern for the kids' feelings. If Ben were actually autistic, Mr. Elliot would have--hopefully--been informed of this and been a little more accommodating.) Ben eventually embraces change--without being prompted to--so he's obviously just a kid who's gotten stuck in a bit of a rut. That's the audience... not kids on the spectrum whose parents are trying to find a weaselly way to get them to break out of their routines.

The pictures are pretty cute, and the story is simple but well-written. I enjoyed it, once I realized this wasn't a book about a kid who was going to be pushed beyond his limits.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Review - Magnificent Homespun Brown

Magnificent Homespun Brown
by Samara Cole Doyon
illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

If Walt Whitman were reborn as a vibrant young woman of color, this is the book he might write. America, we hear you singing! With vivid illustrations by Kaylani Juanita, Samara Cole Doyon sings a carol for the plenitude that surrounds us and the self each of us is meant to inhabit.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Amber brown.
Like honey harvested from the hive in Auntie's yard.
A sacred, healing elixir, a balm for beleaguered
voices and aching throats,
born from the billowing bustle of industrious
bees, stretching into a soft, squiggly line as it
slips from the spigot to the bottle.

This is yet another picture book for adults disguised as one for children.

Were I to have viewed it as something aimed at adults, I probably would've liked it better. The words are evocative, and I like the way each flowery description of a shade of brown is tied back to the little girl narrating the story. But the vocabulary is just too much, and I don't know how many kids would sit through something that's so wordy.

The pictures are cute and really highlight the text nicely. But, again, there's that mismatch with the audience. Kids might enjoy looking at the illustrations, but are they really going to want to sit and listen to what is, essentially, a really long free-verse poem?

If this were aimed at adults, I might've given it a higher rating. But I just can't see this appealing to children.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tilbury House Publishers 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

Review - I Am Brown

I Am Brown
by Ashok Banker
illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
Date: 2020
Publisher: Lantana Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

I am brown. I am beautiful. I am perfect. I designed this computer. I ran this race. I won this prize. I wrote this book. A joyful celebration of the skin you're in--of being brown, of being amazing, of being you.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a vibrant book that shows a diverse array of non-white kids doing and being a variety of different things. It almost works for me... except for two things.

I find the emphasis on skin colour off-putting. The rest of the book (the vast majority of it, anyway... more on that in a second) in great. Kids are shown doing activities, eating food, speaking languages, worshipping, accomplishing goals... and that's all great. But it's all prefaced by, "I am brown. I am beautiful. I am perfect." There's nothing wrong with that statement by itself. But books like this are inevitably going to be read by white kids, and that's going to bring up some complicated conversations (such as why it's not okay for them to say, "I am white. I am beautiful. I am perfect"). Because of the strength of the pictures, I don't even know if the skin colour needed to be mentioned in the text. It's pretty obvious that we're talking about brown kids here.

My second issue, though, really took me aback. The illustrations depict children. Sometimes, they appear to be talking about things they're going to do one day (be a doctor, a president, etc.); they're drawn as children acting out these jobs. But on the spread about clothes, there's a little girl wearing an actual wedding dress. The first thought that sprang to my mind was "child bride". Unfortunately, that's still a thing in some countries, and I was kind of shocked to see this in a picture book. While the implication might have been that she would wear a wedding dress one day, the fact is that there was a child drawn wearing a child-sized wedding gown. I just found that deeply off-putting.

It's a shame, because the overall premise of the book is good and it depicts so many possibilities, opportunities, and variations of human children within its pages. So... this one kind of got a mixed reaction from me. I'm not even sure whether I'd recommend it. I guess parents need to use their own discretion when deciding if this is something they want their kids to read.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Review - Brown Baby Lullaby

Brown Baby Lullaby
by Tameka Fryer Brown
illustrated by AG Ford
Date: 2020
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

From sunset to bedtime, two brown-skinned parents lovingly care for their beautiful brown baby: first, they play outside, then it is time for dinner and a bath, and finally a warm snuggle before bed.

With Spanish words sprinkled throughout and featuring warm art by New York Times-bestselling and NAACP-Award-winning illustrator AG Ford, Brown Baby Lullaby is the perfect new baby or baby shower gift.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This "lullaby" seems to be more aimed at the parents than the baby. The synopsis suggests that it would make a good baby shower gift, and I think that's probably the case. It reads a bit like a book for first-time parents, letting them know what they can expect (like the kid throwing food everywhere; hey, they're just "learning"!).

The pictures are kind of cute and show a loving little family. The inclusion of some Spanish words is nice, but I think it unfortunately further limits the audience for the book. The number of parents this would be appropriate for is a minority. Still, if you fall into that minority, it's a nice little book.

While this personally wasn't for me, I can see it having appeal for the right demographic.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.57 out of 5

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Review - The Invisible Bear

The Invisible Bear
by Cécile Metzger
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A simple act of kindness brings two unlikely friends together in this profound picture book about the transformative power of friendship.

A bear sits in his quiet, colorless home in a forgotten place. He feels invisible; no one comes to see him, and he spends his days alone.

Then someone moves in next door. Madame Odette is sound and sunshine, and at first, the bear isn't sure about this colorful new neighbor.

But through an act of kindness, the bear and the Madame Odette meet, and as time goes by, they become friends. And in the end, they are both forever changed by the gifts they bring each other.

The first book from author-illustrator Cécile Metzger, The Invisible Bear is a powerful and beautiful meditation on the beauty of friendship and how two people can save each other just by being themselves.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What the...?!

I'm just sitting here laughing because I don't get it. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to get it. (Okay, to clarify, I get it. But I'm trying to read this as a child would, and I keep coming up confused.) It's not that the illustrations aren't charming (because they are) or that the overall message isn't sweet (because it is), but there's obviously a lot of symbolism and metaphor here that's likely to go over readers' heads. Like when the bear is illustrated in a sequence of filling up with grey and then a raincloud appearing over his head. (I'm still not sure if that's how he saved Madame Odette's flowers. Is this magical realism? Or is it some sort of statement about using negative emotions constructively?) The book ends with Madame Odette dying (she loves her dragonflies so much that she flies off with them) and leaving the bear a gift. And the gift represents... not feeling invisible?

Honestly, I'm just confused. Maybe I didn't get it after all. (And I really don't get why this was thought to be a good story for kids. Aside from the cute bear, there's really not much here that seems like it's going to appeal to younger readers.)

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5