Monday, July 12, 2021

Review - Anomaly

Anomaly
(The Blood Race #0.5)
by K. A. Emmons
Date: 2020
Publisher: K. A. Emmons
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novella
Pages: 150
Format: e-book
Source: author

14-year-old Ion Jacobs just wants to belong to a family and feel normal. But his past is a mystery, his future is a question, and his whole life is about to change.

Tossed from one foster home to another and shadowed by his mysterious past, Ion fears he’ll never fit in — until one day, when he drops a pencil and instead of falling to the floor…it floats.

Shocked and bewildered, Ion searches deeper and discovers an undeniable truth about himself: he possesses extraordinary powers beyond his control. Healing injuries, levitating objects, and superhuman strength come as easy to him as breathing. Now Ion only has one goal: make sure no one finds out what he’s capable of.

Struggling to keep his newfound abilities a secret, Ion finds himself more isolated than ever — until he meets a mysterious stranger in the woods who seems to understand Ion better than anyone else. As tensions rise at home with his new foster family, Ion finds it harder and harder to control his powers. And when he accidentally sparks a fire that nearly destroys their home, Ion is forced to face the reality of his situation: not only is he capable of healing — he’s also capable of fatal destruction.

Anomaly is the gripping paranormal prequel to The Blood Race series by K.A. Emmons.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I recently read The Blood Race, which was the first book published in this series. I was curious to try this novella-length freebie for a couple of reasons: 1) to see if the author's writing had improved over the course of three years, and 2) to see if some backstory would help me understand the characters in The Blood Race better. The answers? 1) no, and 2) yes.

I should love this series. But there are some major problems with the writing, pacing, and character development that prevent me from doing so. Anomaly moves along at a much quicker pace than The Blood Race, with fewer halts in the action so that people can have boring conversations. I did like getting to know Ion in this book. And we actually get to know something about him! With The Blood Race, it was almost as if we were missing something, and we were dropped into the middle of the story with characters we were supposed to already be familiar with (which is a problem, given that it was the "first" book). I never really got a feeling for who Ion was in The Blood Race, even though other characters kept telling us what kind of person he was. (Unfortunately, these explanations didn't mesh with what we were shown.) In Anomaly, we meet a confused 14-year-old kid who's having some very strange things happen to him. And he has no support system because he's a foster kid who's been placed with a family of stereotypes. So... life is rough.

Unfortunately, that little bit of character development in Ion doesn't cancel out all the other problems the book has. The main character's voice is off; he's supposed to be a 14-year-old boy, but he talks like a 20-something woman who reads lots of self-help and spirituality books. Most of the characters speak very formally, but it's not as bad as in The Blood Race, where you could be forgiven for thinking there'd been some sort of time-slip into Regency England. What really gets my goat about these books, however, is the editing. The continuity problems are awful here, just as they are in The Blood Race, and I'm starting to wonder if editors just skim and call it a day. A particularly egregious example of what I'm talking about can be found in chapters 15 and 16. It starts by referring to a "navy" sky. So it's probably night (or close to it). But a few pages later, we're told the sidewalk is painted a "pale pinkish-gray by the setting sun". Two paragraphs later, it's "dark". Two paragraphs after that, "the sky was getting dark". I mean, it doesn't take a professional editor to know that the sun doesn't bounce up and down like a rubber ball... but that appears to be what's happening here!

If I were to recommend this series to someone, I'd probably tell them to start with Anomaly. It sets up the character of Ion Jacobs much better than in the official first book of the series. But I'd be very careful about who I recommended this series to; if they're detail oriented and prefer characters who seem at home in their chosen genre and time period, I might suggest they look elsewhere.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 1/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Review - Death by Airship

Death by Airship

by Arthur Slade
Date: 2019
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 128
Format: paperback
Source: library

Prince Conn will never be king. And that's just fine with him. He's ninth in line for the pirate throne and is quite happy to sail the skies in his airship with his crew of cheery misfits, plundering as they go. But one by one his siblings are being murdered, in tragic fires, violent cannon attacks or mysterious poisonings. Soon all fingers are pointing toward Conn as the mastermind. To prove his innocence, Conn must make his way to Skull Island, navigating his airship through a gauntlet of villains, explosions and betrayals. Can he reach his father's kingdom before it's too late? Or will he suffer the same fate as the rest of his family?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was looking for a short YA book. This is short, but my library had it shelved wrong. But I figured, "Why not?" I'd read another book by Slade before, and it wasn't terrible, so I thought I'd give Death by Airship a try.

Disclaimer: I am not an eleven-year-old boy.

Maybe, if I had been, I would've liked this more. Maybe I wouldn't have been bothered by the physics-defying feats or the lack of logic. Maybe I wouldn't have thought it was so darn goofy. Maybe I wouldn't have seen the villain coming from miles away. Maybe I would've given the lacklustre resolution a pass. And maybe I wouldn't have seen the cover as a reject from a self-publisher's reject pile. (The book is not self-published... but that cover is doing it no favours.)

Still, if you like puns, snark, and silliness in a quasi-steampunk setting, you might like this more than I did. It's a quick, amusing read... but it definitely wasn't what I was expecting or looking for.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Review - The Blood Race

The Blood Race
(The Blood Race #1)
by K. A. Emmons
Date: 2017
Publisher: K. A. Emmons
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 321
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

All Ion Jacobs ever wanted was to be normal. But when you’re capable of killing with your very thoughts, it’s hard to blend in with the crowd.

Running from his past and living in fear of being discovered, Ion knows he will never be an average college student. But when Hawk, the beautiful, mysterious girl next door unearths his darkest secret, Ion’s life is flipped upside-down. He’s shocked to discover a whole world of people just like him -- a world in another dimension, where things like levitation, shape-shifting, and immortality are not only possible… they’re normal.

Forced to keep more secrets than ever before, Ion struggles to control his powers in the real world while commuting between realms -- until his arch enemy starts a fight he can’t escape. Now he has sealed the fate of the Dimension, severing their connection to the real world, and locking himself inside forever. But a deadly threat hidden in plain sight may cost Ion more than just his freedom -- it may cost him his life.

The Blood Race is the first book in K.A. Emmons' riveting new sci-fi/fantasy thriller series. If you like epic urban fantasy, fresh takes on super powers, deep allegories, raw emotions and intricate plots that surprise you at every turn, you'll love the first novel in Emmons' page-turning series. Grab your copy of The Blood Race and delve into a new dimension today!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's taken me over two months to read this book. Given that it's not very long, that should tell you something. I wish I could say that I'm not the audience for this, or that it just wasn't my cup of tea. Unfortunately, this book has a lot that's objectively wrong with it.

K. A. Emmons is also known as Kate Emmons, sister of Abbie Emmons who wrote and self-published 100 Days of Sunlight a couple years ago. (You can read my review for Abbie's book here.) The sisters host a podcast called The Kate & Abbie Show where they gab about writing and storytelling. Given this, and after being impressed by the brief sample on Amazon, I bought The Blood Race and hoped to enjoy it. Let's just say that I expected a lot more from someone who purports to be some sort of writing guru.

I think the first problem is that she's marketing this as YA sci-fi/fantasy. It's not. It's NA crossworlds fantasy... but with a weird insistence on keeping things squeaky clean. Nineteen-year-olds are chastised for using the word "frickin'", for example. The very worst language this book offers is three instances of "shit" (and yet, that was enough to get some reviewers' panties in a terrible twist; it makes me wonder if they've ever been around real 21st-century teenagers).

The second big problem is the obvious mismatch between chosen genre and writing style. I was misled by the sample, because that first chapter is an action-packed one. But from there, things slow to a crawl, and the reader is treated to session after session of stilted dialogue that sounds like it would be more at home in a Regency-era drawing room. (Kate has admitted in the podcast that she doesn't read a lot of fiction. She does, however, watch BBC historical dramas. These two points are reinforced through her writing style.)

Much action is skipped over with dry paragraphs of the characters telling us what transpired. And it's not even linear. As the point of view switches back and forth, so does the timeline jump around so that we're often thrown back a few hours so that we can see a scene from the other character's point of view. This threw me a few times, and I wondered if I'd missed something... only to realize that it was just another clumsy transition.

That's what the whole story seemed to me: clumsy. I can see the glimmer of a good idea here, but it's hidden behind weak plotting, white-room syndrome, and underdeveloped characters. Much of the character development of our leads, Icarus and Hawk, consists of other characters making observations about them... even when those traits aren't shown to the reader. And I was never quite sure who the main character was supposed to be. The blurb makes it sound like Icarus... and yet, it's Hawk (I'm assuming) on the cover, and Hawk who's the more developed of the two. Abbie had the same problem in 100 Days of Sunlight, with her secondary main character of Weston kind of stealing the show. Unfortunately, Hawk isn't anywhere near as likeable as Weston, and yet we're forced to be in her head for half the book.

This review is already way longer than I intended, so I'll just mention one more thing, and that's the editing. I realize this is a self-published book, but when so many of these indie authors are so adamant about the necessity of using outside editors, I really expect better in the way of typos and errors. The continuity errors, in particular, are some of the worst I've ever come across. It makes me wonder if people don't actually read books anymore, but merely skim; am I the only one who's noticing when people are lounging on a picnic blanket, and the next instant they're standing on the edge of a cliff, about to head back to their picnic blanket? (There was a gaffe like this in many of the chapters, which made for some frustrating reading.)

I'm in the minority, though. People seem to like this book, judging by its overall rating. The ending is a "cliffhanger"... but I have no desire to continue with the series. If you like clean NA fantasy with little swearing and aren't a nitpicker when you read, you might get more out of this than I did. If, however, you're looking for YA sci-fi/fantasy with teenagers who actually talk and act like teenagers, you're liable to be disappointed.

(All that being said, I would be interested to see what Kate could do if she tried her hand at writing historical fiction or high fantasy. The overly formal dialogue style she seems to be fond of would work much better in those genres than it does in a contemporary fantasy setting.)

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 1/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 1/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Review - The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

by Mariah Marsden
illustrated by Hanna Luechtefeld
Date: 2021
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Green-growing secrets and magic await you at Misselthwaite Manor, now reimagined in this graphic novel adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale.

Ten-year-old Mary Lennox arrives at a secluded estate on the Yorkshire moors with a scowl and a chip on her shoulder. First, there’s Martha Sowerby: the too-cheery maid with bothersome questions who seems out of place in the dreary manor. Then there’s the elusive Uncle Craven, Mary’s only remaining family—whom she’s not permitted to see. And finally, there are the mysteries that seem to haunt the run-down place: rumors of a lost garden with a tragic past, and a midnight wail that echoes across the moors at night.

As Mary begins to explore this new world alongside her ragtag companions—a cocky robin redbreast, a sour-faced gardener, and a boy who can talk to animals—she learns that even the loneliest of hearts can grow roots in rocky soil.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The Secret Garden is one of my favourite classics, so of course I jumped at the chance to read this graphic novel adaptation of the story. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations, it doesn't do the original story justice, and it's liable to annoy people who are tired of whitewashed history.

The main problem I see here is that, if you don't know the original story, you're going to be confused because the format leads to a glossing-over of many plot points and the character development is weak (and inconsistent with the original). For some reason, the decision was made to remove any mentions of India from the story (purportedly because "they don't do justice to the history of British oppression in colonial India"), rendering Mary an inexplicable orphan with no backstory and no reason for her appalling behaviour toward those she feels are beneath her. The British were in India and they acted like racist jerks; can we please not try to "fix" the problem by ignoring it?

In the original story, Mary is a lot more sour. Here, we see a badly developed child character going through the motions of the story. Even the artwork doesn't really convey the emotions of this hurt little girl very well, as the drawings make everyone look much the same. Colin is probably the best developed out of all of them, but only because he's such an over-the-top character to begin with.

I can't put my finger on the intended audience here, either. There's not a ton of text (there are many panels with no text at all), so it might be okay for younger readers. However, like I mentioned earlier, those who are unfamiliar with the original story are liable to be confused and/or underwhelmed by the rather thin plot as it's presented here. There is some historical information at the back, along with a strange glossary that defines many words that are only used in the author's note. While the factual information about Frances Hodgson Burnett, India, and the English countryside is nice, I don't really know why we needed a glossary. (And I don't know why India was too taboo a topic to include in the graphic novel itself, when it was okay to put in the notes at the end.)

Perhaps fans of the novel who want to read every adaptation will get more out of this than I did. I love the original story... but this graphic novel definitely did not measure up.

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

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Review - The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

by Charlie Mackesy
Date: 2019
Publisher: Ebury Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: library

Discover the very special book that has captured the hearts of millions of readers all over the world.

'A wonderful work of art and a wonderful window into the human heart' Richard Curtis

A book of hope for uncertain times.

Enter the world of Charlie's four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared millions of times online - perhaps you've seen them? They've also been recreated by children in schools and hung on hospital walls. They sometimes even appear on lamp posts and on cafe and bookshop windows. Perhaps you saw the boy and mole on the Comic Relief T-shirt, Love Wins?

Here, you will find them together in this book of Charlie's most-loved drawings, adventuring into the Wild and exploring the thoughts and feelings that unite us all.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not usually a fan of picture books that are aimed at adults. And despite the fact that this is about a little boy and a trio of animals, I can't really see this appealing to very young children. It's mostly just a collection of insights and sayings, accompanied by rather abstract, scribbly illustrations, that would be perfectly at home on coffee mugs and t-shirts.

But, you know what? It's still incredibly charming.

Aside from the questionable grammar and the sometimes hard-to-read text (cursive-impaired millennials should have fun!), the book is strong, with a lovely premise and engaging characters. The plot is thin, but this is a book that's focussed more on "being" than on "doing"... so it works.

This is a book that's pretty much all quotable moments, so it was hard to choose a favourite! But I think the horse's advice is very wise...

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Review - Camelea Like a Seagull

Camelea Like a Seagull
(Camelea #1)
by Frank Chaput & Suzanne Gohier
illustrated by Suzanne Gohier
Date: 2013
Publisher: Camelea inc.
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

After a great birthday celebration for her brother, Camelea is too excited to sleep. Replaying the events of the day in her head, she finds a way to calm down. Camelea’s fantasy hairdo helps her fall asleep easily.

Using the power of her imagination, Camelea finds within herself the confidence to face her fears. Her enthusiasm and resourcefulness are an inspiration to children as they learn to meet the challenges of everyday life.

Immerse yourself in the fantasy world of Camelea. Discover the ways she has found to build her confidence and feel good about herself.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm really not sure what to make of this. It's free, inoffensive, and colourful. It's also not that interesting.

The actual book really doesn't deliver what the blurb promises. Basically, Camelea is waiting for her brother's birthday party. She sees some flowers. Her mother braids her hair to resemble them. She sees a seagull and gets mesmerized by the waters of the lake. She dances at the party. There are fireworks. Everyone is too excited to sleep... so Camelea imagines that her hair is water.

Got that?

The "plot" (such as it is) is meandering and rather vague. The ending is trippy. And the whole thing reads as if we're dropped into the middle of the series, when this is actually the first book. Characters are just named, and you're supposed to figure out who they are. (I'm still not sure who Carl is. Uncle? Cousin? Who knows?)

The illustrations are... strange. There are drawings combined with photographic elements, and while the end result is colourful and not awful to look at, it also has a weird, surreal sort of quality, and all the characters look like Lilo from Lilo & Stitch. (I did like the illustration of all the boys in their sleeping bags, though. That was cute.)

Overall, this is probably a book I'll soon forget. It's not completely terrible, though, and it's free, so there's no harm in giving it a try.

Premise: 1/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Review - Spring Stinks

Spring Stinks

by Ryan T. Higgins
Date: 2021
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Ruth the bunny is excited to share the smells of spring with Bruce, but Bruce thinks spring stinks!

Fans of the best-selling Mother Bruce series will cheer for this festive book blooming with visual humor just right for our littlest readers.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

While this isn't quite at the same level as the Mother Bruce books, it's still an entertaining little book about an exuberant bunny named Ruth who tries to engage Bruce the bear with all the scents of spring.

There's not much of a story like there is in the other books. This would probably be more suited to very young readers. The illustrations are great, though, with funny facial expressions and cute critters romping through the pages. I can't really find much to fault there.

While I was hoping for another story about the curmudgeonly bear and his geese kids, I'm not too disappointed by this little diversion. Fans of Bruce will surely eat it up.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Review - ABCs of Economics

ABCs of Economics

by Chris Ferrie & Veronica Goodman
illustrated by Chris Ferrie
Date: 2020
Publisher: Sourcebooks eXplore
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 26
Format: e-book
Source: library

Chris Ferrie's bestselling scientific series is expanding!

It only takes a small spark to ignite a child's mind! The ABCs of Economics introduces babies (and grownups!) to a new economic concept for each letter of the alphabet. From asymmetric, business cycle, and capital, all the way to zero sum. It's never too early to become an economist!

With scientific and mathematical information from an expert, this is the perfect book for enlightening the next generation of geniuses.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's never too early to become an economist? Um... I think it can be.

I laughed my way through this one. It's a board book about economic principles. Teach your toddlers about Keynesian Economics and Nash Equilibrium! Make sure your infant knows all about zero-sum situations. Seriously? This is one of those books that's aimed squarely at adults, a book they can leave out when their friends are over to signal how brilliant Junior is. Never mind that the baby would rather chew the thing than listen to anything that's between its covers.

Also, X is not for eXternalities. If you're aiming an alphabet book at an audience that doesn't even know the alphabet yet, don't confuse them.

I question the value of this even for older children. I found parts of it confusing as an adult. Formatting it as a board book limits the audience, too, as older kids will probably turn their noses up at it. This is for pretentious, virtue-signalling parents who want the world to know how special their baby is. Really, though, they're probably the only ones who will get anything out of the book.

Premise: 1/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.83 out of 5

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Review - People Don't Bite People

People Don't Bite People

by Lisa Wheeler
illustrated by Molly Idle
Date: 2018
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Lisa Wheeler and Caldecott Honor–winning illustrator Molly Idle remind overeager little biters that biting is for food in this hysterical read-aloud picture book. Learning good behavior has never been so fun!

It’s good to bite a carrot.
It’s good to bite a steak.
It’s bad to bite your sister!
She’s not a piece of cake.

Cause…
People don’t bite people!
That’s what this book’s about.
So if you find
you’re tooth-inclined—
you’d better check it out!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read the companion book, People Share With People, back in 2019 and have wanted to get my hands on People Don't Bite People ever since. While I did enjoy this book, I don't think it's quite as strong as its successor, and it may appeal to a more limited audience.

In jaunty rhyme, this book explains all about how you shouldn't bite others. Accompanying the cute text are Molly Idle's charming illustrations. I really can't fault the premise here, although biting was never an issue with me (or anyone I knew). This might make the book little more than an amusing diversion for many children if they're not biters. I'm also not loving the first rhyme that tells kids it's good to bite a steak. Alienating vegetarian readers on the very first page probably isn't the wisest thing to do.

Overall, though, I would recommend this one... but I'd recommend People Share With People even more strongly since it's liable to be applicable to more readers overall. Fans of Molly Idle's art will definitely want to check this book out, too. (Also, check out the dedication to see where Lisa Wheeler found the inspiration for this book!)

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Review - Where Children Sleep

Where Children Sleep

by James Mollison
Date: 2010
Publisher: Chris Boot
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 116
Format: hardcover
Source: library

“Where Children Sleep” presents English-born photographer James Mollison’s large-format photographs of children’s bedrooms around the world—from the U.S.A., Mexico, Brazil, England, Italy, Israel and the West Bank, Kenya, Senegal, Lesotho, Nepal, China and India—alongside portraits of the children themselves. Each pair of photographs is accompanied by an extended caption that tells the story of each child: Kaya in Tokyo, whose proud mother spends $1,000 a month on her dresses; Bilal the Bedouin shepherd boy, who sleeps outdoors with his father’s herd of goats; the Nepali girl Indira, who has worked in a granite quarry since she was three; and Ankhohxet, the Kraho boy who sleeps on the floor of a hut deep in the Amazon jungle.

Photographed over two years with the support of Save the Children (Italy), “Where Children Sleep” is both a serious photo-essay for an adult audience, and also an educational book that engages children themselves in the lives of other children around the world. Its cover features a child’s mobile printed in glow-in-the-dark ink.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

After I read and reviewed Gregg Segal's Daily Bread: What Kids Eat Around the World, this book was recommended to me by a Goodreads friend. While I can't say that I liked Where Children Sleep as much, I'm not sorry I read it (though I doubt I'd ever pick it up again).

Unfortunately, this is a very depressing children's book. Focussing on the extreme ends of the economic spectrum, the book shows us children either living in squalor or residing in privileged (or spoiled) excess. There's not a lot in between, and I—having grown up squarely in the middle class—found it difficult to relate to any of the children. The photos don't help. I'm not sure if it's the lighting or a particular filter that was used, but there's a distinct post-apocalyptic feel to the photographs that I do not like. Even the mansion bedrooms look dark and dingy, and I wouldn't be surprised to open the curtains and see something out of a nightmare.

As an adult, I found this to be a fascinating—if sometimes horrifying—read. This book is supposedly aimed at children, but I would definitely suggest parental guidance as there are some disturbing images and text (though, thankfully, not always together). I'm thinking mainly of the children in Kenya who must go through circumcision as teenagers (without crying out, so as to not bring shame on their families), the little girl who works in a quarry, and the girl who sleeps in an attic prison in her employer's home (the sleeping space even has bars). These things could be confusing and frightening for an eight-year-old (which is where the recommended reading age begins).

I do appreciate the fact that more ground was covered in Where Children Sleep than in Daily Bread. However, the offerings were still pretty sparse and an opportunity was missed to show children of different levels of privilege in more familiar places. Where are all the aboriginal children? Entries from places such as Canada and Australia wouldn't have been that difficult to create, and would have provided some good information to children who live in those countries but might not know that much about how their neighbours live. Unfortunately, I've yet to see a book in this genre that has a really diverse selection of children.

The premise is good. The information (and the writing it's presented with) is decent. I'm not a fan of the photographic style, but your mileage may vary. This is an important book that highlights the living conditions of some children in our world... but I'd be hesitant to give it to actual children unless a parent is going to sit down and read/discuss it with them.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Review - B Is for Baby

B Is for Baby

by Atinuke
illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
Date: 2019
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: library

Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank, creators of the award-winning Baby Goes to Market, pair up again for a bright and beautiful first book of words.

B is for Baby. B is for Brother. B is for going to see Baba!

One morning after breakfast, Baby's big brother is getting ready to take the basket of bananas all the way to Baba's bungalow in the next village. He'll have to go along the bumpy road, past the baobab trees, birds, and butterflies, and all the way over the bridge. But what he doesn't realize is that his very cute, very curious baby sibling has stowed away on his bicycle. Little ones learning about language will love sounding out the words in this playful, vibrantly illustrated story set in West Africa.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I thought this was going to be an alphabet book, but it's not. Instead, it's an exploration of words that start with "B" that's set in West Africa.

A baby goes with her brother on his bike to visit Baba (their grandfather) and bring him some bananas. The journey is populated with lots of "B" words (including some doozies that even parents might have trouble pronouncing, like "bougainvillea"). The colourful illustrations bring the setting to life.

This is only the second of Atinuke's books that I've read. There are definitely some culture shocks (like, who thinks it's a safe idea to toss a baby in the banana basket on the back of a bike and ride it through baboon-infested areas?) but it's still interesting to see the settings.

Overall, this is a nice title for very young children that really does give plenty of examples of things that start with "B". They'll probably love the cute baby and her ride to Baba's house (even if it does make adults cringe a little).

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

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Review - Ten Animals in Antarctica: A Counting Book

Ten Animals in Antarctica: A Counting Book

by Moira Court
Date: 2016
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Antarctica – an icy desert with mountain ranges and sleeping volcanoes, home to the spinning end of the earth and to an array of quirky creatures. Moira Court brings the diversity of Antarctica to life in this gorgeous new picture book, combining clever counting with lyrical prose and stunning artwork.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Despite the fact that this is a counting book, it's not really for very young children. The vocabulary and the detailed notes at the end make this more suitable for school-aged children who probably already know how to count to ten.

That said, though, this is a really nice book that highlights ten different animals that live in Antarctica. Through detailed collage and interesting adjectives, Court brings the continent to life. There are probably some species here that you've never heard of. But don't worry... there's a brief explanation of each one at the back of the book, along with some information about the continent itself.

Setting the mismatch between reading level and format aside, this is a lovely look at Antarctica and the animals that live there. I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy learning about wildlife... even if they're far past the point of learning how to count to ten!

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

Review - Too Many Carrots

Too Many Carrots

by Katy Hudson
Date: 2016
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Rabbit has too many carrots, which overtake his house. When he tries to move in with friends, more chaos ensues. Will Rabbit learn to change his selfish ways?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Rabbit has so many carrots! He stores them in his burrow, but that means he has nowhere to sleep. So he goes in search of a new house. Unfortunately, he takes his carrots with him, and those veggies end up destroying the homes of all of his friends until, finally, everybody is homeless... except for Rabbit. Will he find a way to make up for his carrot-hoarding selfishness?

The pictures are quite cute, but I wasn't really a fan of the story. Rabbit's obsession with his carrots grew grating after a while. I also didn't like how Rabbit was shown climbing into Tortoise's shell. That's not how it works.

If you're a fan of Hudson's artwork, check this one out for the illustrations. But if you're looking for books about friendship and overcoming selfish tendencies, you might want to look elsewhere.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Review - Valentine's Day with Snowman Paul

Valentine's Day with Snowman Paul
(Snowman Paul)
by Yossi Lapid
illustrated by Joanna Pasek
Date: 2021
Publisher: Yosef Lapid
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

How will Dan describe the meaning of love to his best friend who happens to be a Snowman?

With stunning watercolor illustrations and delightful rhymes, this holiday-themed picture book explores the meaning of Valentine's Day and show just how much fun it can be with beloved family and good friends.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is the third of the Snowman Paul books I've read and, for me, it's one of the weakest. It's not terrible, by any means; it still has cute pictures and a nice message. However, I felt it was kind of a rehash of some of the other books rather than an entirely new story, and the punctuation in this one bothered me a little more than it did in the other titles.

That said, it's a refreshingly normal title—considering its release date amid all the COVID craziness—that shows friends getting close to each other to provide love, comfort, and support. As Snowman Paul and his friend Dan share examples of how they've felt love for each other, we're reminded of a simpler time when children were actually allowed to get close to their very best friends.

If you're a fan of Snowman Paul and his stories, you'll probably want to check this one out. If you're looking for a simple but sweet Valentine's book for kids, you might find something to like here, too.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Review - This Is the Glade Where Jack Lives: Or How a Unicorn Saved the Day

This Is the Glade Where Jack Lives: Or How a Unicorn Saved the Day

by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Date: 2021
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

This unicorn-friendly twist on “This Is the House that Jack Built” will charm readers young and old

This is Jack, all sparkly and white, whose magical horn shimmers bright, day and night.

Inspired by the beloved rhyme “This Is the House that Jack Built,” this is the whimsical tale of Jack the unicorn and the magical glade where he lives! Full of fantastic creatures from fairies and mermaids to gnomes and trolls—even a dragon—this sweet and silly book is a wonderful read-aloud for creatures big and small.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is kind of a goofy take on "This Is the House That Jack Built" that's populated by whimsical creatures. The cumulative nature of the story means that it's repetitive, but the illustrations keep the interest level high as gnomes, mermaids, trolls, and goblins keep joining in. When a cranky dragon is aroused from her nap, though, it's up to a unicorn to set things right.

I kind of wish that the blurb didn't give away the unicorn as Jack, because it's not immediately obvious when you start reading. I wondered who Jack was the whole time, and I was pleasantly surprised when we were introduced to the unicorn. But then I saw the blurb on the back, which kind of blows the surprise. Oh, well. Chalk it up to a weak marketing decision.

The illustrations are colourful and detailed, and there's plenty to examine in each spread. Each fantasy character is rendered with their own personality, and the whole thing is quite pleasant to look at.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. If you're looking for variations on "This Is the House That Jack Built", you might want to take a look at This Is the Glade Where Jack Lives.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Review - A New Kind of Wild

A New Kind of Wild

by Zara González Hoang
Date: 2020
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

This sweet author-illustrator debut celebrates imagination, the magic of friendship, and all the different ways we make a new place feel like home.

For Ren, home is his grandmother’s little house, and the lush forest that surrounds it. Home is a place of magic and wonder, filled with all the fantastical friends that Ren dreams up. Home is where his imagination can run wild.

For Ava, home is a brick and cement city, where there’s always something to do or see or hear. Home is a place bursting with life, where people bustle in and out like a big parade. Home is where Ava is never lonely because there’s always someone to share in her adventures.

When Ren moves to Ava’s city, he feels lost without his wild. How will he ever feel at home in a place with no green and no magic, where everything is exactly what it seems? Of course, not everything in the city is what meets the eye, and as Ren discovers, nothing makes you feel at home quite like a friend.

Inspired by the stories her father told her about moving from Puerto Rico to New York as a child, Zara González Hoang’s author-illustrator debut is an imaginative exploration of the true meaning of “home.”

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book made me kind of sad. I guess it's supposed to be about friendship and seeing the beauty in your surroundings wherever you happen to be, but I just felt sorry for poor Ren, uprooted from paradise and plunked in the middle of a city with all of its sensory onslaughts. It's nice that he had Ava to show him that the city had its own beauty, but how would that help a reader who's longing for home and hasn't made any friends?

So... I basically spent a lot of this book being mad at Ren's mom.

That said, the story is okay and the illustrations are colourful and engaging. I might have enjoyed the story more if I actually believed that going from a simple wilderness life to a polluted city one was a good thing.

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 - Choo-Choo School

Choo-Choo School

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
illustrated by Mike Yamada
Date: 2020
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

No racing in the haul-ways! From the late, beloved author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a look at seven adorable train cars on their first day of school.

All aboard the train-car pool! A new lineup of students is off and rolling to Choo-Choo School. After reciting their classroom rules — Work hard, play fair, be kind — it’s time for some math to get the wheels turning. Then everyone’s ready to climb a hill in gym (it’s good to blow off steam), sing songs in music (Flat Car is a bit off-key), and learn the whole alphabet, especially the letter R. In one of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s last books, lighthearted verse portrays a world where train stations are classrooms, the conductor doubles as the teacher, and Boxcar is happy to hand out tissues to anyone who ah-choo-choos. Bright, energetic illustrations by animation artist Mike Yamada bring the whole clickety crew to rollicking life.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not sure what to think about a book that's published this many years after its author's death. Unless the author specifically set aside books to be published after her death, it seems a little opportunistic. What if certain books weren't published for a reason?

Now, Choo-Choo School isn't bad, but it's not great. It will probably appeal to very young children with its cute train-car characters... especially if those kid love trains. For everyone else, though, this is little more than a run-of-the-mill rhyming picture book with an iffy rhythm and little plot. A bunch of varied train cars go to school to learn how to be... themselves, I guess. That's literally all there is. There's no conflict. Nothing really happens. If you're looking for something with a story, this isn't it.

The illustrations are fun, though, and I can see this appealing to little train fans. It's no masterpiece, but it probably won't tarnish Rosenthal's reputation, either.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.71 out of 5

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Review - Imogene's Antlers

Imogene's Antlers

by David Small
Date: 1985
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

The family doctor, the school principal, and even Imogene's know-it-all brother, Norman, fail to resolve her dilemma. Imogene, the cook, and the kitchen maid, however, make the best of things, finding unusual uses for Imogene's new horns. Meanwhile, the problem appears to be solved when Imogene awakes the next morning antler-free. But the family (and the reader) are in for a surprise when Imogene comes down to breakfast.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'd heard of this book before I picked it up. Not surprising, given that it's been around for over 35 years now.

Imogene's Antlers is a cute story about a little girl who wakes up one Thursday morning to find that she has antlers. This takes some getting used to, and everybody has their own reaction. Some are helpful (the kitchen staff turn her into a giant birdfeeder) while others... not so much (her mother just continually faints). Imogene herself doesn't seem too upset by her new accessories, and goes to bed that night seemingly content. When she wakes on Friday, her antlers are gone. But are her problems?

The illustrations are quite cute, showing the little girl and her family try to deal with her giant antlers. While I wasn't crazy about the mother being depicted as a stereotypical fainting woman, the historical setting makes it not quite as offensive. I also appreciated the author's note in the edition I read, which tells us how he came up with the idea for Imogene and her strange problem.

This is charming and funny, and should appeal to most readers who like a touch of fantasy in their picture books. Give this one a look if you haven't already done so.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5

Review - Daily Bread: What Kids Eat Around the World

Daily Bread: What Kids Eat Around the World

by Gregg Segal
Date: 2019
Publisher: powerHouse Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 120
Format: hardcover
Source: library

As globalization alters our relationship to food, photographer Gregg Segal has embarked on a global project asking kids from around the world to take his "Daily Bread" challenge. Each child keeps a detailed journal of everything they eat in a week, and then Segal stages an elaborate portrait of them surrounded by the foods they consumed. The colorful and hyper-detailed results tell a unique story of multiculturalism and how we nourish ourselves at the dawn of the 21st century.

From Los Angeles to Sao Paulo, Dakar to Hamburg, Dubai to Mumbai we come to understand that regardless of how small and interconnected the world seems to become each year, diverse pockets of traditional cultures still exist on each continent, eating largely the same way they have been for hundreds of years. It is this rich tapestry that Segal captures with care and appreciation, showcasing the page-after-page charm of Daily Bread. Contrasted with the packaged and processed foods consumed primarily in developed nations, questions about health and sustainability are raised and the book serves as a catalyst for consideration of our status quo.

There's an old adage, "The hand that stirs the pot rules the world." Big Food is stirring the pot for children all over the world. Nonetheless, there are regions and communities where slow food will never be displaced by junk food, where home-cooked meals are the bedrock of family and culture, and where love and pride are expressed in the aromas of stews and curries.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

A friend on Facebook posted an article about this book, prompting me to seek it out. It's a fascinating look at the diets of children around the world, showing how food corporations have touched nearly every life on our planet.

Profiling a week's diet of children from a handful of countries, the book highlights the contrasts and the similarities of what kids eat. Quantity doesn't always equal quality, and those living in some of the wealthiest places also have the worst diets, full of packaged food and lots of sugar. I found the indigenous children in Brazil particularly striking, especially compared with their city counterparts; the former have diets that would make a nutritionist weep with happiness, while the latter would just make a nutritionist weep. Societal norms are also expressed in the children's words, like that of a nine-year-old girl from India who isn't allowed to go to school because she has to take care of her baby brother... whom her mother loves more than her.

This is a long book, and will probably take a few sittings for most readers to get through. But it's interesting, and the spreads of food are fascinating to look at. I was, however, disappointed by the amount of typos, and the selection of places is a bit sparse. That last point is understandable, given funding issues, but I would've enjoyed seeing what kids ate in other places, too: Mongolia, Russia, Iceland, northern Canada, Australia, South Africa... and many more could have been included. The fact that even the USA is highly concentrated in southern California makes the selection of children seem... well, kind of bunched up. There isn't as much diversity as there could've been, even though it was interesting to see how diets varied wildly even within a particular city.

Readers who enjoy non-fiction titles like Children Just Like Me will probably be the audience for this book. It's not necessarily a children's book, either; adults will probably find the subject matter just as fascinating.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Review - Who Done It?

Who Done It?

by Olivier Tallec
Date: 2014
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this charming ebook, each page asks the reader a question about the lineup of characters featured on the spread. Sharp eyes and keen observation are necessary. There's only one right answer, and it's not always easy! Kids will love learning early concepts like expressions and positions as a natural consequence of their hunt for clues in the details of the lineup. Plus, this is a fixed-format version of the book, which looks nearly identical to the print version.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

With a title that will make grammar nerds flush in indignance, Who Done It? is a simple picture book that aims to teach kids about picking out details, facial expressions, and emotional intent. Does it work? Sort of.

If you view it in the simplest way possible, there is only one answer for each question, as the book claims. But some of the questions could be interpreted differently, resulting in multiple answers. (For example, one of the questions is, "Who couldn't hold it?" The obvious answer is the grinning creature standing in a yellow puddle. But what about the standoffish-looking girl who's holding a purse strategically over her pants? Another question asks, "Who is nervous?" Out of the ten characters, eight of them look like they could be nervous with their wide eyes and terrified expressions. Only one of them is trembling—they're the right answer, of course—but I wouldn't consider it wrong if a child said any of the other seven were nervous.)

I kind of wish that the "one right answer" thing had just been left out. Many of these questions have answers open to interpretation, and telling kids they're wrong when they might just have a more sophisticated and nuanced view seems counterproductive.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Review - Violet Shrink

Violet Shrink

by Christine Baldacchino
illustrated by Carmen Mok
Date: 2020
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Violet Shrink doesn’t like parties. Or bashes, or gatherings. Lots of people and lots of noise make Violet’s tummy ache and her hands sweat. She would much rather spend time on her own, watching the birds in her backyard, reading comics or listening to music through her purple headphones. The problem is that the whole Shrink family loves parties with loud music and games and dancing.

At cousin Char’s birthday party, Violet hides under a table and imagines she is a shark gliding effortlessly through the water, looking for food. And at Auntie Marlene and Uncle Leli’s anniversary bash, Violet sits alone at the top of the stairs, imagining she is a slithering snake way up in the branches.

When Violet learns that the Shrink family reunion is fast approaching, she musters up the courage to have a talk with her dad.

In this thoughtful story about understanding and acceptance, Violet’s natural introversion and feelings of social anxiety are normalized when she and her father reach a solution together. Christine Baldacchino’s warm text demonstrates the role imagination often plays for children dealing with anxiety, and the power of a child expressing their feelings to a parent who is there to listen. Carmen Mok’s charming illustrations perfectly capture Violet’s emotions and the vibrancy of her imagination. A valuable contribution to books addressing mental health.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I had high hopes for this one, but they weren't realized. It's not very satisfying to read a book with this kind of subject matter when nobody really changes.

Violet Shrink is a shrinking violet. She's highly introverted and hates parties. Her father, however, loves them, and he's always dragging his daughter to some sort of gathering where Violet inevitably hides under the table and imagines she's somewhere else. After learning about a big family shindig, she confronts her father. He listens, but then drags her to the party anyway, where Violet spends the time hiding under the table... this time with her father's blessing.

The better solution for everyone involved would've been for Victor to get a babysitter for his daughter. I guess times have changed since I was a kid, because nobody seems to use those anymore and kids get dragged everywhere. I found the so-called resolution troubling, since it wasn't really a compromise and Violet was still being forced into unwanted situations even after making her feelings clear.

I'm glad the book at least tried to address the issue of social anxiety... but the ending—which basically showed Violet and her father engaging in almost the same behaviour that was shown at the beginning of the book—just made the whole thing feel kind of pointless.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Monday, January 25, 2021

Review - Breaking News: Bear Alert

Breaking News: Bear Alert

by David Biedrzycki
Date: 2014
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: library

Somewhere in North America two bears are hibernating. But soon they will emerge from their den, hungry for food and hungry for--

WE INTERRUPT THIS STORY TO BRING YOU BREAKING NEWS:

TWO BEARS HAVE BEEN SPOTTED HEADING DOWNTOWN. THEY ARE WILD AND COULD BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. CALL ANIMAL CONTROL TO REPORT AN UNUSUAL ACTIVITY.

WE NOW RETURN YOU TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BOOK.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. At first, it seems like a simple story about a couple of bears who hitch a ride into town to wreak havoc. But there's so much more going on than that.

There are so many things to look at in the illustrations. References to bear stories abound. There's Paddington, Blueberries for Sal, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", and many others. Running alongside the story of the tourist bears is another in the background about a trio of robbers. Both stories eventually converge, and the troublesome bears are seen in a whole new light.

This is a book that you don't read so much as peruse. The story is told mainly through the illustrations, although you need to be able to read to get the most out of it. I'd probably recommend this to the older picture-book set; they're more likely to get the references, too.

Overall, this is a fun book to read. If you're a fan of bear stories, you might like this one.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5