Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Review - The Color Collector

The Color Collector

by Nicholas Solis
illustrated by Renia Metallinou
Date: 2021
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

The Color Collector is a poignant story about newness, friendship, and common ground. When a boy notices the new girl picking up all manner of debris and litter on their walks home from school he wants to know why. So she shows him the huge mural she's created in her room that reminds her of the home she left behind. He learns all about where she's come from and they both find how wonderful it is to make a new friend.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Parts of this book I liked, while other parts left me a bit cold. I'm not even sure why. The premise is solid.

A boy sees his classmate Violet picking up colourful trash and finally asks her what she's doing. She shows him the mural she's constructed on her bedroom wall that reminds her of home in a faraway place.

I guess the reader has to suspend a bit of disbelief that a small child could create the amazing mural depicted in the book. (The kid should have a scholarship to art school if she can do stuff like that!) The idea that she's trying to recreate a bit of her old home is a nice starting point for a story, but the book spends more time focusing on the girl picking stuff up off the ground. And the ending, which has the boy starting to collect colourful trash himself, doesn't make a lot of sense, given that we're not told anything about him. What is he going to make a mural of? We have no idea.

I did like the way the book starts out in monochromatic tones and only gains a little bit of colour at a time until the reader is introduced to Violet's full-colour room. And the mural is great.

Overall, it's an okay book, but I just feel like something was missing. Unfortunately, I can't put my finger on what that was.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - The Day the Crayons Quit

The Day the Crayons Quit

by Drew Daywalt
illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Date: 2013
Publisher: Philomel Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun.

What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've been seeing this picture book around for a few years, but I didn't have a chance to pick it up until now. It's an amusing look at what crayons might complain about if... well, if crayons were able to complain.

Duncan loves to colour, but when he goes to get his crayons, he finds a stack of letters instead. They're from his crayons, and most of them would like to lodge a complaint. Beige only gets used for colouring wheat. Red never gets holidays off. Gray has to colour all the big stuff like whales and hippos. Yellow and Orange are arguing over which is the real colour of the sun. Eventually, Duncan comes up with a solution to appease his crayons... and make himself happy at the same time.

The format of the letters from the crayons is pretty cute, although a couple were a bit tricky to read (especially the letter from Yellow). The addition of Duncan's drawings adds another layer of charm.

This is an entertaining picture book that I would recommend to young children (or to their parents, who will likely also enjoy hearing the complaints of these waxy whiners).

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Review - Angelina and Alice

Angelina and Alice
(Angelina Ballerina)
by Katharine Holabird
illustrated by Helen Craig
Date: 1987
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Angelina Ballerina loves turning cartwheels, hanging upside down, and even doing somersaults in the air. The only thing she likes better than doing tricks is doing them with her new friend Alice. But Alice can do perfect handstands, and Angelina can’t. When Angelina tries and falls down, everyone laughs at her, including Alice. After this, can Angelina and Alice learn to work together and become the best of friends again?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read another book about Angelina back in 2014 called Angelina's Big City Ballet. To be honest, I liked that one much better, even though it was a newer title. I expected Angelina and Alice, which was first published back in 1987, to be a lot stronger than it was.

Helen Craig's illustrations are adorable, and there's plenty to look at amongst the charming settings and murine characters. But the story in this one just felt really weak. Basically, Angelina tries to do a handstand and fails, which causes the older children to laugh. Alice laughs, too, and goes off to play with the older kids, shunning Angelina for a whole day, which traumatizes the poor little mouse. Then Alice asks Angelina to be her partner for the gymnastics display, and all is forgiven.

While children can be fickle and change their moods with head-spinning rapidity in real life, I don't think it works in a fictional story. I kept waiting for Alice to explain her behaviour (or at least apologize), but that never happened. Alice did help Angelina perfect her handstand, but not another word was said about the cruel behaviour. That just didn't sit right with me.

The illustrations are so cute, though, that fans of Angelina Ballerina will probably want this book for their collections (if they don't have it already). The book could spark an interesting discussion about kindness (or lack thereof) on the playground.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Bear With Me

Bear With Me

by Noemi Vola
Date: 2017
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

What do you do with a bear who won’t leave? When a bear comes to stay, no one expects him to stay too long! But his arrival changes everything, from sleeping to shopping to hanging out with friends. If even dinosaurs and math problems can’t drive him away, what are you supposed to do?

Featuring quirky, energetic illustrations, this amusing tale suggests we can learn to live with even the most unbearable company.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Wow. Wow. Is this seriously what passes for a good children's picture book these days?

A bear breaks into a guy's house and then won't leave. The guy spends the rest of the book talking about how much he hates the bear and even contemplates suicide because it would be easier.

Seriously?

I think the author just enjoyed drawing bears and thought it would be funny to have a bear crash a man's life. Well, living where that actually can happen, let me tell you that it's not funny at all. In fact, a book like this given to children in this area would either scare the crap out of them or make it seem like a bear crashing into your house and eating all your food is just hunky-dory.

I can't even recommend this for the illustrations. They're all monochromatic, the bear is barely ursine, and the some of the pages are extremely chaotic.

Yet another book about bears for my "never-give-to-a-child" shelf. *sigh*

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.33 out of 5

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Review - The Happy Pumpkin

The Happy Pumpkin

illustrated by MacKenzie Haley
Date: 2021
Publisher: DK Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 16
Format: e-book
Source: library

On Halloween, the scariest and spookiest night of the year, pumpkins are looking forward to meeting their new owners! While everyone is getting picked, one pumpkin feels left out - the happiest and smiliest of the lot. He can't help but think that nobody wants a not-so-spooky pumpkin on Halloween. Will our Happy Pumpkin find a home in time?

The adventure of this perky little pumpkin will teach little ones vital life lessons about being themselves and not judging others based on their appearance. This heartwarming story is filled with adorable, engaging illustrations - the perfect Halloween treat for you and your little one to read together at storytime!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book doesn't even make sense. Judging by the fact that there isn't even an author listed, it looks like nothing more than an opportunity for the publisher to cash in on Halloween by releasing a book about pumpkins. But it's ridiculous. Near the beginning, the book states:

Today, every pumpkin in town
would be chosen by a child and
made into a shining, but
SCARY jack-o'-lantern.

What's the problem? The accompanying illustration is of a field full of jack-o'-lanterns. These pumpkins are already carved! I guess the idea of plunging a carving knife into an anthropomorphized pumpkin's head was just too much. But now the story doesn't make any sense.

So, anyway, nobody wants the Happy Pumpkin because he's smiley rather than scary. Finally, a little boy who's scared of Halloween takes the Happy Pumpkin. And we're all taught that we shine the brightest when we're just being ourselves.

The illustrations are fine. They're kind of cute, actually. But I feel sorry for the illustrator when they were given this mess of a story. I'll bet there was a lot of head-scratching going on. "So the kids are supposed to pick pre-carved pumpkins and turn them into jack-o'-lanterns? What kind of pumpkin patch is this?"

Just another holiday money grab. Moving on...

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.83 out of 5

Review - Kristy's Great Idea

Kristy's Great Idea
(Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novels #1)
by Raina Telgemeier
based on the novel by Ann M. Martin
Date: 2006
Publisher: Graphix
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this new graphic novel edition of the very first Baby-Sitters Club book, Raina Telgemeier captures all the drama of the original in warm, spunky illustrations. Witness Kristy's eureka moment, when she gets the idea for a "baby-sitters club" and enlists her best friends, shy Mary Anne and artistic Claudia, in an exciting new venture. But the baby-sitting business isn't the only thing absorbing their attention: Kristy is having a hard time accepting her stepdad-to-be, and the newest member of the gang, Stacey, seems to be hiding a secret.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've known about these graphic novels for a while, and always wanted to try reading one. But it wasn't until recently that I spotted the first one at the library. I was a huge BSC fan when I was a tween, so I just had to give this series a try.

Aside from a few little nitpicky things (like why Claudia was allowed to dye a magenta streak in her hair when she wasn't even allowed to wear makeup), this is actually much like I remember the books being. The characters are developed well and incorporate the quirks from the original novels. Some things have not aged well (like a grown man saying that whoever drops their bread in the fondue has to kiss the person on their left, knowing full well that he's potentially going to get a kiss from a 12-year-old girl), and I still don't like Kristy (I never really did), but overall, this was a fun, nostalgic trip.

I'd definitely recommend this to fans of the original series. To be honest, I'm not sure how this would play to a modern audience. They'll have to view it as historical fiction, in any case. (There's not a smartphone in sight!)

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Review - The Great Eggscape!

The Great Eggscape!
(The Bad Seed)
by Jory John
illustrated by Pete Oswald
Date: 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Based on the #1 New York Times bestselling picture book sensation The Good Egg, Jory John and Pete Oswald present: The Great Eggscape!

The Great Eggscape is when the Good Egg and his pals escape their carton and drop into the store for a morning of fun, enjoyed by everybody.

Well, almost everybody.

Shel (an egg) isn’t a huge fan of group activities, especially when he’s made to be “It” for a game of hide-and-seek. Nevertheless, Shel doesn’t want to let his friends down, so he reluctantly plays, anyway. But after a morning of hiding and seeking, somebody’s still missing. Will the dozen eggs friends ever be reunited?

Find out in this hilarious egg hunt adventure that reminds us to break out of our shells and help our friends in need!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've read all the other books in Jory John and Pete Oswald's collection about sentient foodstuffs (except the forthcoming The Smart Cookie), so I thought I might enjoy The Great Eggscape! Unfortunately, it reads more like a cash grab to capitalize on the popularity of the other books.

Each of these stories features a little bit of a moral lesson for the main character. This sort of has that, but it's nowhere near as strong as in the other titles. Children may enjoy searching for the escaped eggs as they hide in the aisles of a grocery store, but there's no real overarching theme to tie everything together. Eggs stick together and don't end their game until they've all been found? Fine. But that doesn't exactly tug on the heartstrings.

The illustrations are standard fare for this series, with the added bonus of some of the eggs being dyed. (Nowhere is it mentioned how that happened... nor what the consequences will be if/when a customer opens up the carton to find the decorated eggs. Come to think of it, how long have these eggs been sitting in the dairy case? Ew...)

Check this one out if you absolutely love the series and can't bear to be without an installment. Otherwise, wait for The Smart Cookie (which will hopefully have a sweet message like the other books).

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - A Little Sister for Brady: A Story About Accepting & Embracing Change

A Little Sister for Brady: A Story About Accepting & Embracing Change
(The Little Labradoodle #3)
by April Cox
illustrated by Harry Aveira
Date: 2021
Publisher: Little Labradoodle Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.com

Having a new baby is a thrilling change, but for an older sibling, it can also be a confusing time.

How can you help your child adjust, and accept their new sibling with an open heart?

A Little Sister for Brady is a beautifully illustrated story with relatable characters and social emotional learning around this important topic.

Unlike other sibling books, the story highlights some initial friction as our little labradoodle adjusts to sharing his toys, treats and even his humans with his new baby sister.

Brady quickly grows to love his sister and we see a shift in his emotions as he learns to accept and embrace the big change.

(synopsis from Amazon.com; see it on Goodreads)

This brightly illustrated picture book will probably appeal to children. It's a rhyming story, and the rhythm isn't bad, so it's suitable for reading aloud.

I was a bit confused, though, with the progression of the story. When Brady first meets his little sister, Mandy, Mandy chases him all around and things seem to be going well. But then we jump right into Brady complaining about Mandy's existence. I'm not sure if that's a failing on the part of the illustrator (the dogs looked happy on the previous page!) or the author, but it was jarring to this reader. I'm also not sure about why Brady needs to both think and speak aloud (in English, no less); he's a dog, so I would've been content with seeing him just think his dialogue. Of course, then he wouldn't have been able to talk to the cat, but the only purpose for that was so he could complain about missing Mandy (yes, Brady's rather fickle) and I think that could've been done just as well with internal monologue.

Yes, I'm picky when it comes to picture books. So you might enjoy A Little Sister for Brady more than I did. I'm not sure if I would use it in a situation where a child is getting a baby sibling, although it might be useful in a situation when a household with a dog is getting a new puppy, to show children how the existing dog might be feeling. Dogs can have sibling rivalry, too!

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Friday, October 15, 2021

Review - Igor

Igor

by Francesca Dafne Vignaga
Date: 2021
Publisher: Windmill Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

The only thing Igor knows about himself is his name. When he's not busy playing, he likes to watch what the animals do, but why has he never seen anyone else like himself? Maybe it is time to leave home and go on a journey of self-discovery.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Igor is cute, but... I'm not really sure about the story. Basically, this little creature decides to set off to see if he can find someone who looks like him. The main bulk of the book is full of wordless spreads where Igor tries to blend in with various other creatures (with sometimes-amusing results). He eventually does find one of his own kind (supposedly... though I didn't really see the resemblance), and then he goes home because he's tired.

Check this one out for the illustrations, but don't expect much of a story. It would be good for a one-on-one bedtime read, but maybe not so much for groups of kids who might not be able to see the detailed illustrations.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Juanita: The Girl Who Counted the Stars

Juanita: The Girl Who Counted the Stars

by Lola Walder
illustrated by Martina Peluso
Date: 2021
Publisher: Cuento de Luz SL
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A magical story of a Guatemalan girl named Juanita, who loved cooking crunchy maize tortillas and counting stars every night.

Juanita lived in Santa Catarina Palopó, a pretty little village next to a beautiful lake, surrounded by three huge volcanoes. She loved her pueblo and their people. Women there helped their families by weaving huipiles from silk, wool, and cotton thread while men worked the land. Juliana wanted to be of help, so she always cooked for her family her favorite meal, tortillas. At night, when the sun cleared the way for the moon to shine bright, Juliana would run onto the roof of the house for her nighttime routine: counting stars. The sky was so clear she could almost touch it.

But one day, Juanita's mom became very ill, and she couldn't work at her loom. Juanita wanted to help but didn't know how to. It appears the sky had been listening to her all the time and had a big surprised stored for her...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The colourful illustrations in Juanita have a certain charm, but they aren't enough to overcome the weak story.

Juanita lives in a small village in Guatemala. The people there live a traditional sort of lifestyle. Her father is a farmer and her mother weaves huipiles. One day, her mother gets sick and can't do her work. Juanita tries to help, but she's useless at sewing, so she goes up to the roof to cry. While there, an anthropomorphized star asks what her problem is, and gives her a magic needle, thereby saving the day.

I would've liked to see less fantasy and a more realistic solution to the problems (which were, in fact, compounded by the crops being ruined by rain, which was only mentioned when Juanita was telling her sob-story to the star).

Aside from that, the writing is uneven, with tense shifts where there probably shouldn't be any. The illustrations are nice, but they don't do much but illustrate a rather weak story. (Juanita was apparently inspired by a little girl that the author encountered on a trip to Guatemala. This makes the whole thing even worse for me, reducing potential problems like ailing parents and failing crops to something that can be solved with facile magic.)

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Review - Hook: Dead to Rights (DNF)

Hook: Dead to Rights
(Captain Hook and the Pirates of Neverland #1)
by Melissa Snark
Date: 2018
Publisher: Nordic Lights Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 230
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

Neverland is a wondrous isle of adventure.

Neverland is a cruel lie.

Children follow Peter Pan believing their dreams will come true—to never grow up.

Surprise, surprise... they never will. The children Peter Pan abducts are murdered or meet a grimmer fate.

I'm the child who escaped Peter's treachery. I've made it my life's calling to rescue the Lost Boys, even those who don't wish to be saved. Now Pan has a schooner he's using to steal even more children. I'm the only one who can stop him.

Call me Hook. I am the master and commander of a pirate ship, and I'll have my revenge on Peter Pan if it's the last thing I do.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

DNF @ 31%

I think I've been more than fair in giving this one a shot. At almost 1/3 of the way through, exciting things have only just started to happen. Six chapters before that were taken up with introducing characters on the pirate ship Revenge and annoying me with the overly modern narration. (Correction: The author tries to make the writing sound old-timey but doesn't always succeed. It often comes across as a teenage girl participating in Talk Like a Pirate Day.)

For such a short book, I expected things to move along much faster. But the story is so slow. And I'm finding it difficult to care about what happens.

Also, if you're going to gender-swap characters from the Edwardian era, don't name them things like Jayden. If I'm being honest, that pretty much clinched this book as a DNF for me. The author could've gone with Jane Hook. Even Jamesina Hook would've been more realistic. Jayden Hook? Give me a break; last I checked, the infamous Captain Hook was not part of Generation Z.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Review - Tell Me About Sex, Grandma

Tell Me About Sex, Grandma

by Anastasia Higginbotham
Date: 2017
Publisher: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: library

Patiently forthcoming with lessons your parents redacted, this necessary conversation stresses consent, sex positivity, and the right to be curious about your body. The dialogue focuses on the dynamics of sex, rather than the mechanics, as Grandma reminds readers that sex is not marriage or reproduction, and doesn’t look the same for everyone. Instead, each person’s sexuality is their very own to discover, explore, and share if they choose.

Anastasia Higginbotham’s tell stories of children navigating trouble with their senses on alert and their souls intact. Her previous books include Divorce Is the Worst and Death Is Stupid.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I read the introduction, I had high hopes for this book. While I think the intention is admirable, I'm not sure if the book really accomplishes what it sets out to do.

A child is curious about sex. After trying to find some info online (and obviously getting completely grossed out, judging by their facial expressions), they turn to Grandma for some wisdom.

I knew the basics from a very young age. I never had to wonder where babies came from. I knew the simplified version of human anatomy. A book like this, being as vague as it is, might have confused a child like me because it dances around so many concepts that are involved in sex. Other than the word "sex", there's no other specific terminology. When the child asks where they will feel "the feelings", there's a collage implying a sort of vague swirl that encompasses the whole torso. This vagueness, I fear, could backfire, especially in cases of abuse where a child might not realize what's happening. Abuse is covered somewhat, but mostly in a "kids never have sex; it's an adult thing" sort of way. And there's a somewhat confusing bit on page 63 about choice, which seems to imply that, hey, sometimes you won't have a choice in the matter, but it's good enough to know what you want. This bothered me.

I'm not sure that kids who ask, "What is sex?" will be satisfied with the answer given here: "It's a grown-up thing." I certainly wouldn't have been. But maybe this would work better for kids who have been kept in the dark about their bodies and how they work.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Friday, October 8, 2021

Review - The Case of Vampire Vivian

The Case of Vampire Vivian
(Science Solves It!)
by Michelle Knudsen
illustrated by Amy Wummer
Date: 2003
Publisher: Kane Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Watch out! The new girl in town, Vivian, wears a bat T-shirt and bat earrings. Suddenly, there are bats flying all around at night! Does she have something to do with them? Is she really...a vampire?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The overall goal of these books is admirable, but there are bound to be some hits and misses within the series. I picked this book up because I was looking for a Halloween-themed read. That's not what this is at all, though. It's a science-based book that's mostly about bats, and that also misses an opportunity to focus on first impressions and snap judgements.

There's a new girl at school named Vivian. She really likes bats, and her wardrobe reflects it. So, naturally, the other kids assume she's a vampire. (Whatever.) Things only escalate when Molly notices bats flying around outside her house, and she and her friends start doing research about bats to try to figure out if the new girl is actually a vampire or not. (The boys are convinced she is.) Eventually, Vivian sees them doing their research and approaches them, at which point she teaches them lots of bat facts.

The whole dynamic between the kids rubbed me the wrong way. Molly, Frank, and Louis spend much of the book talking about Vivian behind her back, and the whole thing seems like it could've devolved really easily into bullying. There's a throwaway line at the end about how Vivian was a good sport about the whole vampire thing, but in reality, it would be tough for the new kid to be whispered about by ignorant classmates and accused of being a mythical monster.

There were some interesting bat facts sprinkled throughout the book, and the goal seemed to be to make bats not so scary. But that was blown away with the second-to-last of these facts, which was a big red warning not to touch a bat because they carry dangerous diseases like rabies. This was after trying to convince kids not to be scared of bats, so I'm not quite sure what they were going for with the message.

So... this is neither a vampire book nor a Halloween book. It will most likely only appeal to kids who are fascinated by bats. Even then, I'm not sure I'd recommend it due to the questionable way the kids were behaving toward their new classmate.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Monday, October 4, 2021

Review - Little Witch Hazel: A Year in the Forest

Little Witch Hazel: A Year in the Forest

by Phoebe Wahl
Date: 2021
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 96
Format: e-book
Source: library

An earthy and beautiful collection of four stories that celebrate the seasons, nature, and life, from award-winning author-illustrator Phoebe Wahl.

Little Witch Hazel is a tiny witch who lives in the forest, helping creatures big and small. She's a midwife, an intrepid explorer, a hard worker and a kind friend.

In this four-season volume, Little Witch Hazel rescues an orphaned egg, goes sailing on a raft, solves the mystery of a haunted stump and makes house calls to fellow forest dwellers. But when Little Witch Hazel needs help herself, will she get it in time?

Little Witch Hazel is a beautiful ode to nature, friendship, wild things and the seasons that only Phoebe Wahl could create: an instant classic and a book that readers will pore over time and time again.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Little Witch Hazel hearkens back to another era of picture books. You won't find any bright colours or sleek lines here. Instead, the coloured-pencil textures evoke the spirit of some early picture books by author-illustrators such as Wanda Gág. The book includes four short stories, one for each season. In "The Orphaned Egg", the diminutive witch finds a rather large egg in the woods and takes it home to keep it safe. In "The Lazy Day", Little Witch Hazel has chores to do and can't understand how everyone else has so much free time. In "The Haunted Stump", the witch and her friends try to figure out the mystery of a strange howl that's permeating their usually placid forest. And in "The Blizzard", the tiny witch provides healing care to the inhabitants of the forest, only to be caught unawares by a blizzard... at which point the stories come full circle with a resolution that's simple yet satisfying.

I'm not entirely sure how a book like this will play to a modern child audience. As an adult, though, I found it charming, with decent writing and good messages. I enjoyed the little details in the illustrations (such as Little Witch Hazel's hairy legs) and found the limited colour palette refreshing.

Overall, this is a strong picture book. I'd recommend it to those who enjoy stories about witches of the non-spooky variety, as well as to those who like picture books with a more classic feel.

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, October 2, 2021

Review - Time Is a Flower

Time Is a Flower

by Julie Morstad
Date: 2021
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 56
Format: e-book
Source: library

A playful and poignant exploration of the nature of time through the eyes of a child from acclaimed author/illustrator Julie Morstad.

What is time? Is it the tick tick tock of a clock, numbers and words on a calendar? It's that, but so much more. Time is a seed waiting to grow, a flower blooming, a sunbeam moving across a room. Time is slow like a spider spinning her web or fast like a wave at the beach. Time is a wiggly tooth, or waiting for the school bell to ring, or reading a story . . . or three! But time is also morning for some and night for others, a fading sunset and a memory captured in a photo taken long ago.

In this magical meditation on the nature of time, Julie Morstad shines a joyful light on a difficult-to-grasp concept for young readers and reminds older readers to see the wonders of our world, including children themselves, through the lens of time.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one. It sounded similar to Sara Cassidy's The Moon Is a Silver Pond and The Sun Is a Peach, both of which stretched metaphors to the point of nonsense. Time Is a Flower is an exploration of time, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it actually made sense! The metaphors are lovely, and simple enough for a young child to understand. Caterpillars and butterflies, moving sunbeams, and photographs that capture a mere instant are just some examples.

The appealing illustrations give the reader plenty to look at while they ponder over the various metaphors. It's a book that makes you think... and I quite enjoyed it.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Review - Dozens of Dachshunds: A Counting, Woofing, Wagging Book

Dozens of Dachshunds: A Counting, Woofing, Wagging Book

by Stephanie Calmenson
illustrated by Zoe Persico
Date: 2021
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A lively stream of dachshunds, cleverly dressed as hot dogs, dinosaurs, birds, bees, books and more, parade across the pages until 78 dachshunds and tons of townspeople join together for Dachshund Day fun. A sing-along, bark-along dachshund song celebrates this beloved breed. Back matter highlights the different sizes, coats and colors, and introduces the author's own adorable dachshund, Harry.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Dozens of Dachshunds is a fun counting book for kids that shows off 78 adorable wiener dogs on a fun day celebrating their breed. There's diversity in the dogs and humans (including some human and canine wheelchair users) and lots of great costumes on the dogs. I especially like the pups dressed as their favourite books.

The end matter illustrates the different varieties of dachshund coats, sizes, and colours. Instead of an author bio, we're introduced to the author's dachshund, Harry.

This is really cute, and would be a great addition to a library of counting books. Dog lovers (and dachshund lovers in particular) will bark for joy!

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Review - Bevan: A Well-Loved Bear

Bevan: A Well-Loved Bear

by Petra Brown
Date: 2021
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Over many years a teddy bear named Bevan enters the lives of different boys and girls, and after countless adventures, Bevan is old and patchy, but still loved.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Bevan is a very old teddy bear. He once belonged to some children a long time ago. When they grew up, their nanny gave Bevan to her grandchild... and so began the journey of a teddy bear from Victorian times to the present day.

The strength of this book lies in its illustrations. The story is simple, and perhaps lacks some of the emotion that other books in this vein might have. But it's still sweet, and Bevan is a sympathetic character. I did enjoy watching the progression of time and seeing all of Bevan's various "lives" as he brings joy to a number of children.

This book reminded me of Henry Cole's One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey with its multigenerational passing-on of a beloved object. It also reminded me a bit of Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (which is longer and more on the emotional side). If you enjoy books such as these, you might also like the story of Bevan the bear.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Review - How to Find a Fox

How to Find a Fox

by Kate Gardner
photographs by Ossi Saarinen
Date: 2021
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Look for tracks. Listen for yips. Be as still as a pebble.

Taking kids on an imaginary trek through different landscapes and seasons, How to Find a Fox celebrates one of our planet's most graceful and enchanting creatures: the red fox. Ossi Saarinen's stunning wildlife photos and Kate Gardner's lively and informative words capture the magical and profound connection between animals and humans. Readers will be inspired to get outside and make their own discoveries--maybe with a camera in-hand, just like Ossi.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Attention fox lovers! You'll want to check out How to Find a Fox, which combines lovely photographs with a simple text and some interesting facts about our vulpine friends.

If I have any complaints, it's with some of the landscape photographs. I'm not sure if we're supposed to find foxes within them or not. I spent quite a while trying to find the critters, Where's Waldo? style, and couldn't really see any in most of the landscapes. (I did spot a fox in one, which made me think there might've been a fox in all of them.) So, either there are no foxes and it's all a bit misleading... or there are foxes and it's way too difficult to find them!

Other than that, though, the photos of the actual foxes are lovely. I even learned a few things I didn't know before.

Highly recommended to readers who enjoy books about foxes and wildlife, or who like picture books illustrated with gorgeous photos.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Review - Pink!

Pink!

by Lynne Rickards
illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain
Date: 2008
Publisher: Chicken House
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

When Patrick wakes up one day to find he has inexplicably turned bright pink, he sees red! "Whoever heard of a pink penguin?" he cries. "And boys can't be pink!" After too much teasing, he's had enough. "I don't fit in here anymore," he tells his parents. "I'm going to Africa to see the flamingos." But poor Patrick doesn't fit in with them, either: He can't stand on one leg, skim the water for food, or fly off with the rest of the flock. So he returns home--and everyone is happy to see him! In fact, his friends are green with envy over his exotic trip. Ends up being hot pink is pretty cool!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Pink! tells the story of Patrick the penguin who wakes up one day to find that he's turned pink. In a fit of gender conformity, he declares that boys can't be pink, only to be chastened somewhat when his father tells him about flamingoes. Feeling like he no longer fits in with the other black-and-white penguins, he decides to head to Africa to live with the flamingoes. But when he gets there, he finds he doesn't fit in with those tall pink birds, either. So he heads home and everybody wants to know about his trip. The book finishes with Patrick declaring that penguins belong at the South Pole.

*sigh*

First of all, penguins don't live at the South Pole. They live near the water where they can feed, not in the landlocked middle of a continent. Second... there are penguins in Africa, contrary to what Patrick might think. What a missed opportunity to teach kids about the range and habitat of penguins!

This book rubbed me the wrong way, almost from the beginning. There's no reason for Patrick's colour change. It reinforced gender stereotypes. And it gives inaccurate information about penguins.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Review - Rubylicious

Rubylicious
(Pinkalicious)
by Victoria Kann
Date: 2021
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

The #1 New York Times bestselling author-artist of the Pinkalicious series, Victoria Kann, is back with an all new-picture book about generosity and kindness, starring Pinkalicious and Peterrific.

Pinkalicious is searching for stones for her rock collection when suddenly—POOF!—out pops a surprise! Rocky is here to grant Pinkalicious and her brother Peter one wish, and one wish only, so they must choose wisely.

Should they wish for a pile of sweets? Or the ability to fly? Or maybe a castle with a fire-breathing dragon? But are any of those things good enough to be their very best, most special wish in the whole wide world? And what will happen to Rocky after they make their wish?

This gem of a book looks at how being selfless can be its own best reward. Rubylicious is a sparkling addition to the Pinkalicious library!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read another book in the Pinkalicious series a couple years ago, and then vowed to avoid them going forward. Well, I saw that the library had this new one, and I was curious. It can't possibly be any worse, I thought. And... it wasn't. But not by much.

Pinkalicious (I hope she grows up and sues her parents for giving her that moniker) finds a rock. It's dirty, so she polishes it, and out pops a genie. But she's not a genie. She grants wishes and she lives in a rock, but she's not a genie, okay? Anyway, the kids wish for stupid things like piles of candy and flying machines. Rather than just let the kids make their own mistakes, Rocky the non-genie gives them a sampling of each wish. Finally, the kids decide that their wishes are stupid (duh) and wish for something much better... at which point everyone is rewarded and gets everything they wanted. The end.

I can't stand picture books that are this facile and silly. There are no stakes and no consequences. As a result, I didn't really care about what happened to any of these characters. The illustrations are colourful, but almost to the point of pain. I guess kids might like them. But I wouldn't want to inflict these books on anyone I cared about.

If you're looking for a book series about a spunky, colourful little girl, try Fancy Nancy instead. Unlike the Pinkalicious books, those ones are more firmly grounded in reality with cute, relatable little life lessons and charming pictures.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.33 out of 5

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Review - What Is It?

What Is It?

by Nicole Hoang
illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
Date: 2021
Publisher: KaBOOM!
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

It’s rather strange, I’d have to say.
I saw the thing just yesterday.
What is it?
What could it be?
Someone please answer this for me!

In a nearby forest, a young girl discovers a mysterious little creature. Together, they seek to understand who or what the other is.

Beautifully painted by Dustin Nguyen (Lil’ Gotham, Study Hall of Justice) and written by Nicole Hoang, What Is It? captures the curiosity, wonder, and discovery of childhood, where it’s still easy to be surprised by the unexpected.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book is strange, I'd have to say.
The strangest thing I've seen today.
What is this book?
What could it be?
Will someone please explain to me?

The rhymes are clunky.
The tone is off.
The pictures funky.
I'd like to scoff.

I'd really like to know the point
Of a creature so unpleasant.
The authors may have smoked a joint
Or ate some rancid pheasant.

This book just doesn't work for me.
I'm thinking that's subjective.
So I'll just stop while I'm ahead
And forgo the invective.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.57 out of 5

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Review - Ms. Goshsquash

Ms. Goshsquash

by Lola Coleman
Date: 2021
Publisher: DartFrog Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 28
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

What if all it took for a kid to learn to be good was a trip to the farm? Follow three best friends as they learn from their teacher and her odd pet yak why being kind is always the way to go, discover who they are, and turn into the great kids they want to become.

Have you been naughty?
Can’t help being mean?
Perhaps you’d like to know what happens to kids who make a scene.
Well take a look inside this book; I’ll show you what I mean,
for you’ll never meet another other who’s as real as she can be.

Her name was Ms. Goshsquash, and everyone knew
that if a child went bad, she'd know what to do!
At first, the people of Drost thought her to be mean.
Some said she was the meanest old woman they had ever seen.
Yet it was those same people who asked her one day
to come into town to live and to stay.

You see, Ms. Goshsquash had a way with children that nobody else had,
but only those who didn't listen to their parents, misbehaved at school, or were just plain bad.
She spoke in rhyme and song, but if you paid attention you'd soon know
that really all she wanted was for kids to be kind as they grow.


(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a strange, preachy little book that made me distinctly uncomfortable.

We're introduced to Ms. Goshsquash, who lives alone with her yak and apparently knows how to deal with naughty children. That sounds like a lot more fun than it is. Basically, Ms. Goshsquash takes it upon herself to be judge and jury, kidnaps a trio of children who are skipping school, and then forces them to see the error of their ways by trapping them in a magic mirror before releasing them so they can go to school and be helpful.

The yak plays no part in any of this.

While I did enjoy the watercolour illustrations, I wasn't a fan of the story. It just tried too hard to send a message. And I'm not sure that threatening children with the prospect of being kidnapped by a witch is the best way to encourage good behaviour.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

Review - The Bad Mood

The Bad Mood

by Moritz Petz
illustrated by Amélie Jackowski
Date: 2004
Publisher: NorthSouth Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Sometimes a bad mood can be contagious!

Badger got up one morning feeling very grumpy. "Humph!" Badger said to himself. What was the point of being in a bad mood if nobody noticed? he thought. So Badger headed out, slamming the door behind him. Badger spreads his bad mood far and wide, greeting all his friends with angry, rude remarks that put them in bad moods, too. A comical, cautionary tale for anyone who has ever gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

We all have a bad mood from time to time. This quick story follows Badger as he wakes up in a bad mood and decides he must let all his friends know about it. By the time his grumpiness has worked its way out of his system, all his friends are in a bad mood and want nothing to do with him!

While the ending does seem abrupt and a little too easy, it still makes sense. For the audience, it works. The message here is a good one and not too difficult to understand. The illustrations are quite cute, too.

Overall, this is a nice little book about the way a bad mood can ruin our day, as well as everyone else's. But only if we let it.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Review - Elatsoe (DNF)

Elatsoe

by Darcie Little Badger
Date: 2020
Publisher: Levine Querido
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 368
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

Imagine an America very similar to our own. It's got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.

There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.

Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

DNF @ 18%

This sounded like it would be good, but I didn't even read 1/5 of it and I just can't bring myself to open it back up (which is always a bad sign). While the writing is technically okay, there's a big mismatch between the characters' ages and how they're portrayed. Ellie is supposed to be 17, but she comes across as a tween and the book (what I read of it, anyway) reads more like middle grade than young adult.

I'm also not a fan of the way the fantasy elements are handled. I expected more Indigenous myths. Instead, I got a mishmash of myths with everything from ghosts and vampires to river creatures and European fairies. Which myths are Apache? Who knows? (I kind of wanted to.)

What I read of this book reminded me of Sarah Cannon's Oddity, a middle-grade novel with a similar setting that also throws everything but the kitchen sink at its readers in terms of supernatural creatures. (I didn't love that one either, but at least it didn't try to pass itself off as YA.)

Judging by the high overall rating of this book, it definitely has an audience. Unfortunately, I'm not it.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Review - A Friend Like You

A Friend Like You

by Frank Murphy & Charnaie Gordon
illustrated by Kayla Harren
Date: 2021
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

There's nothing in the world like a wonderful friend. Friends are there to laugh with you and ready with a hug when you need one. There are forever friends and brand new friends. Friends for adventures and friends for cozy days indoors. Friends who are just like you and friends who are nothing like you at all. In this book, celebrate ALL the marvelous ways to be a friend!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I picked up this book without realizing I'd already read another one from the same author and illustrator, A Boy Like You, which I read in 2019 and really enjoyed. A Friend Like You features a lovely message, some great tips on making (and strengthening) friendships, and absolutely adorable pictures.

There's something charming and magical about Kayla Harren's illustrations. A beautifully diverse array of children is presented here, anchored by one friendship between a black girl and a white boy whose relationship carries through the pages of the book. Values like open-mindedness, forgiveness, and listening are illustrated with playful images that are both sweet and poignant.

I'd recommend this one to readers looking for strong books about friendship. How to be a good friend is a topic that's always timely.

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Monday, September 6, 2021

Review - The Hiking Viking

The Hiking Viking

by Laura Gehl
illustrated by Timothy Brooks
Date: 2022
Publisher: Capstone
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

While the other Vikings love to holler and howl and battle and brawl, Leif prefers spending time by himself atop the beautiful fjord. But when it’s time for the Viking Games, everyone must participate. Will Leif let down his clan . . . or surprise them?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I picked this book up mostly because of the title (who doesn't love a good rhyme?) and was pleasantly surprised by what was inside. The Hiking Viking is the story of young Leif, who prefers spending time in nature. All the other Vikings, though, keep telling him he needs to act more like them. It's a matter of honour, they say. If they lose the Viking Games, their clan will be thought weak and ripe for plundering. So Leif tries his best, but... he isn't very good at feats of physical strength. When it comes down to the final challenge, though, Leif just may have the key to winning it all.

This is basically a story about appreciating nature and taking time away from noisy pursuits to have a few moments of stillness. Introverts will be able to relate to Leif's desire for peace and quiet. Nature lovers will delight in the illustrations, which are luminous and celebrate the natural world. The characters are stylized, but Leif is a standout, with great facial expressions and a charming vulnerability.

Fans of Viking stories will probably want to check this one out. So will those who appreciate nature and all the precious treasures it has to offer.

Thank you to NetGalley and Capstone for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5