Sunday, October 31, 2021

Review - Penguin and Pumpkin

Penguin and Pumpkin
(Penguin)
by Salina Yoon
Date: 2014
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

When Penguin and Bootsy plan a field trip in search of Fall, Penguin's little brother, Pumpkin, wants to come. Pumpkin is heartbroken to find out he's too little to go, and when Penguin tries to say good-bye, his brother is nowhere to be found! At the farm, all the pumpkins Penguin sees remind him of his own special Pumpkin.

So Penguin and Bootsy bring a special surprise home to share a little touch of Autumn with Pumpkin. Prolific author/illustrator Salina Yoon's spare text and bright, energetic illustrations bring to life this endearing story celebrating Autumn and family in many forms!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not sure I understand the appeal of these books. They're super simple, kind of silly, not at all realistic, and the illustrations aren't very interesting.

In this book, a penguin named Penguin takes all his friends to go to a farm (somewhere) and see pumpkins. Little brother Pumpkin wants to come, but he's too small. So the older penguins leave and head off to the farm on an ice floe. They pick out some pumpkins, grab a box full of leaves, and head back to Antarctica (I'm assuming). Then Pumpkin tells Penguin all the fun he's had imagining some adventures while they've been gone. But he still wishes he knew what fall looks like. So Penguin makes it rain leaves.

I guess if you're two, this is fine literature. But I find these books annoyingly basic.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 1.83 out of 5

Review - How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?

How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?
(Mr. Tiffin's Classroom #1)
by Margaret McNamara
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Date: 2007
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

For curious kids, this explores skip counting and estimation in a fun pumpkin-themed classroom experiment. "How many seeds are in a pumpkin?" Mr. Tiffin asks his class as they gather around the big, medium, and small pumpkins on his desk. Robert, the biggest kid, guesses that the largest one has a million seeds; Elinor, sounding like she knows what she's talking about, guesses the medium one has 500 seeds; and Anna, who likes even numbers better than odd ones, guesses that the little one has 22. Charlie, the smallest boy in the class, doesn't have a guess. Counting pumpkin seeds is messy business, but once the slimy job is done... well, you'll have to read and find out!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I enjoyed this classroom tale more than I thought I would.

One day, Mr. Tiffin brings three pumpkins to school and asks the class how many seeds are in each one. Which will have the most: the big, the medium, or the small pumpkin? Each student has their own ideas, but there's only one way to find out. And the answer comes as a surprise to everybody.

While the illustrations didn't wow me, they're perfectly adequate as an accompaniment to the story. I can see this being used in a classroom setting, perhaps along with a pumpkin-seed counting activity. I actually learned a few things about pumpkins that I didn't know before, and I always like it when that happens.

Recommended to curious kids who are interested in learning fun facts.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Review - Pumpkin Heads

Pumpkin Heads

by Wendell Minor
Date: 2000
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Halloween is time to pick pumpkins and carve them into pumpkin heads--jack-o'-lanterns of every shape and size!

Award-winning author and artist Wendell Minor uses simple language and striking autumn settings to celebrate jack-o'-lanterns in this reissue of a Halloween classic. The perfect holiday read aloud, Pumpkin Heads takes readers and trick-or-treaters from the pumpkin patch for picking, all the way home for carving, and gets everyone in the Halloween spirit.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

While some of the illustrations in Pumpkin Heads are lovely, the book is rather simple and uninteresting. I'm not a fan of the layout, which pairs a page of sparse text and a translucent pumpkin with a fully illustrated page depicting the various carved pumpkins. The resulting look is uneven, with the text pages appearing slapped together while the illustrated pages look like they were laboured over. There's no story; the text is just a means to introduce the pumpkins.

Can we mention the cover for a moment? Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a horror story? That particular arrangement of pumpkins is supposed to be a snowman, but it looks rather menacing.

I'm not sure who I'd recommend this one to. Children old enough to appreciate the artwork probably won't be impressed by the lack of story. Children young enough not to care about the story might be unnerved by some of the illustrations.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Review - The Secret Halloween Costume

The Secret Halloween Costume

by Sophie Vaillancourt
illustrated by Karina Dupuis
Date: 2021
Publisher: CrackBoom! Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A Halloween story for little ones!

Charlotte is a young witch. For Halloween, her family insists she must wear her darkest clothes and scariest makeup. After all, a witch must be spooky! But Charlotte doesn't want to follow tradition - she wants to wear something that reflects who she is. She asks her grandmother to sew her a secret costume... But what will it be?

An adorable Halloween story about an enthusiastic little witch who follows her heart and inspires others to do the same!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This simple Halloween story has appealing illustrations and an okay message... as long as you interpret it a certain way.

Charlotte is a witch, but she's had enough of being scary. On Halloween, all the witches dress up in their scariest clothes and makeup. It's tradition! But Charlotte is tired of the whole scary thing, and when her friends find out how she's feeling, they try to help her find a new costume.

I have no problem with any of this. What kind of bothers me, though, was that when Charlotte gets to school and shows off her new costume, that isn't the end of it. She assumes all the other kids dislike scary stuff as much as she does, and proceeds to bring out a bunch of non-scary costumes, declaring: "No one has to be scary for Halloween." She follows this by saying that the kids should wear whatever they like, but I thought it came off as a little pushy on Charlotte's part, since the kids all seem to be happily decked out in their scary costumes and makeup. Then the teacher declares that the kids are free to wear whatever they like, implying that everyone was literally forced to get scary... which perhaps should've been addressed with more than a weak excuse about tradition. (As far as I know, a tradition isn't a mandate.)

Anyway, I'm sure this book will appeal to kids, as it's bright, appealing, and fairly inoffensive. Some of them might wonder, though, what's so wrong with a scary costume on Halloween.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - This Book Is Not a Bedtime Story

This Book Is Not a Bedtime Story

by Eoin McLaughlin
illustrated by Rob Starling
Date: 2020
Publisher: Pavilion Children's
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Renowned author Eoin McLaughlin and award-nominated illustrator Rob Starling join forces to create a hilarious, not-so-spooky tale.

This book is NOT a bedtime story.
It’s scary, strange and rather gory.
Bedtime stories make you sleepy.
This book won’t.
It’s much too CREEPY.


Except it isn’t...

This book is told by a group of monsters who think they’re very scary, but in fact they’re not – they’re cute and cuddly. They try their hardest to frighten – in a haunted house, creepy wood, ghostly ship and darkest dark, but each time they fail! The problem is, these monsters aren’t at all scary, they’re a bit silly and a bit cuddly. They share the insecurities and worries of us humans and all they want is a good night’s sleep.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a book narrated by a monster from under the bed who thinks he's pretty scary stuff. But he's not. None of the monsters are.

Some of the text rhymes. Some doesn't. Some of the illustrations are amusing. Some of them are just kind of boring.

I don't think I would read this as a bedtime story simply because it introduces the idea of monsters under the bed. Even though they're not scary ones, that's still a disconcerting thought (especially if that hasn't been an issue up to this point).

Overall, this is pretty forgettable.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.43 out of 5

Review - Bonaparte Falls Apart

Bonaparte Falls Apart

by Margery Cuyler
illustrated by Will Terry
Date: 2017
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Bonaparte is having a tough time. It's hard for this young skeleton to just hang loose when he can't keep hold of himself.

When he plays catch, his throwing arm literally takes a flyer. Eating lunch can be a real jaw-dropping occasion. How can he start school when he has so many screws loose?

Luckily, Bonaparte hit the bone-anza when it came to his friends. Franky Stein, Black Widow, and Mummicula all have some boneheaded ideas to help pull him together. But will it be enough to boost his confidence and get him ready for the first day of school?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Bonaparte the skeleton has a problem: He keeps falling apart! His friends try to help him out with various methods of trying to keep all his bones stuck together, but nothing seems to work... and the first day of school is fast approaching. Bonaparte's worried that he's going to fall apart in front of all the other kids. How embarrassing that would be!

This is a simple story with a rather cute premise. And the illustrations are absolutely adorable. But there's one point in the story where Bonaparte's friend Blacky Widow helps him out with a web. Unfortunately, the author decided to say the spider "spinned" a web. I'm pretty sure "spinned" isn't a word (in fact, my spellchecker keeps highlighting it when I type it), and I was kind of irked and distracted throughout the rest of the story.

Aside from that, though, this is a cute tale of a skeleton being helped by his monster friends as they try to figure out a solution for his unusual problem. Those looking for picture books about paranormal creatures might find something to like here.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - Poultrygeist

Poultrygeist

by Eric Geron
illustrated by Pete Oswald
Date: 2021
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

From a debut picture-book author and a #1 New York Times best-selling illustrator, a wry take on "Why did the chicken cross the road?" that gives a whole new meaning to "the Other Side." Cock-a-doodle-BOO!

It's punny. It's spooky. It's a meta picture book that puts a fresh spin on an old joke and elevates chicken comedy to ghastly new levels. A little spring chicken crosses the road but quickly gets flattened under a semitruck. The barnyard beasts who've gone before break the news: now that Chicken's fried--dispatched to the Other Side--Chicken has a job, an unwanted job, as a noisy troublemaking ghost. This fowl may be weak in the beak, but Chicken knows that scaring people isn't nice. There is such a thing as a friendly ghost, after all--isn't there? Loaded with laughs and shivers, this Halloween-ready treat features ghoulishly funny art by the illustrator of the #1 New York Times best-selling Bad Seed series. Let the haunting begin!

No chickens were harmed in the making of this book.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The premise of this book is okay, and I like the joke about the chicken crossing the road to get to "the Other Side"... but aside from that, this book is a bit weak. Pete Oswald's illustrations are fine, but I mostly like them for the colour scheme.

The book starts out graphically with a chicken trying to cross the road and being hit by a semi. (No, I'm not kidding. Yes, this is a children's picture book.) Various other ghosts of roadkill greet him on the Other Side and try to convince him to be a scary ghoul. But the chicken wants no part of it. Besides, he's not even scary... is he?

Aside from the overall premise (which is really more of a gimmick the way it was executed here), this book doesn't have that much going for it. The other ghosts are nasty and keep bullying the poor dead chicken into being a bully himself. What kind of message is that supposed to be?

This could've been a great spooky read with a better story. As it is, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone. (And I sure wouldn't recommend it to sensitive readers who wouldn't find anything funny about a chicken being hit by a truck.)

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Review - Diary of a Witch

Diary of a Witch

by Valeria Dávila & Mónica López
illustrated by Laura Aguerrebehere
Date: 2015
Publisher: CrackBoom! Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Do all witches like to scare children, eat toad eyes and ride their brooms when the moon is full? Certainly not all! Peek under the pages of this personal diary and discover the secret thoughts of a witch who dreams of a little change in her life: to dare to wear pink, buy a swimsuit and go on vacation, and maybe just once be part of a fairy tale that ends well!

"Dear Diary,
I'm writing to tell you I'm weary.
I've been a wicked witch for too many years,
and it's making me teary."

Sprinkled with references to classic fairy tales, the Dear Diary series offers privileged access to the secret aspirations of mythical and often not-so-nice characters. Short rhythmic texts reveal the private and very funny musings of an ogre, a monster, a witch and a fairy.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This seems like a great idea for a book... but it has a few problems.

First, it's a translation. Unfortunately, it's also a rhyming book, so the resulting rhythm is off. The other issue the translation brings up is in the illustrations. There are lots of labelled things (books, jars, bottles, etc.) and they were obviously changed from the original... but it's not seamless. In places, the labels just look like they were slapped in with a standard black font, and they stand out. This is a shame, because the illustrations are great! They're the best part of the book: silly, goofy, and full of emotion and fun.

Second, the format of the book is supposed to be a diary, so there's no real progression of events... and this leads to a bit of confusion. The witch talks about how she's tired of being a scary witch and would rather get a job as a fairy and live in a castle or something. But immediately after that, she starts talking about how she cursed Sleeping Beauty, so I wasn't sure what to think.

Third, the book just ends. I kept pressing "next" on my reading app until I realized I was on the last page. There was no real ending or resolution, just the witch saying she needs to go to the beach (which is accompanied by a hilarious illustration of her in a bikini, hairy legs and all). I think part of the problem is that, since there's no actual story, there's nothing to indicate when the book is actually at an end. This may be a peek at a witch's diary, but it's like we just got to read part of it before she burst into the room and turned us into a toad.

All that said, I think this book will have appeal for those who like picture books about witches. It's worth taking a look for the illustrations alone.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.14 out of 5

Review - The Garden We Share

The Garden We Share

by Zoë Tucker
illustrated by Julianna Swaney
Date: 2022
Publisher: NorthSouth Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

To everything there is a season in this beautiful story about gardening, seasons, and treasured memories.

This inspiring picture book written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Julianna Swaney—the #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator of We Are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines—celebrates the friendship between a young girl and an elderly woman as they plant seeds in a community garden alongside friends and neighbors, waiting for the seeds to flower. By mid-summer, the friends welcome a rainbow of color in the garden and picnics in the sun. At harvest, the young girl’s elderly friend is bed-ridden, but jubilant as they share baskets with red tomatoes and snap peas amid the sweet smell of lavender. When the last leaves fall, everything is different. But in the spring, hope arises anew.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a gentle picture book about gardening, the seasons, and intergenerational friendship. A little girl helps her elderly friend plant seeds in the garden early in the year. As they nurture their garden, the plants grow and create a lovely space where the community can spend time and share the bounty. As the year cycles back around to the beginning, there are changes in people's lives... but the little girl continues on, grateful for the memories of gardening with her friend.

I really enjoyed the descriptive language used here, which evokes a lush and abundant garden full of all sorts of wonderful things to share with the community. The illustrations, largely done in a warm colour palette, are the perfect complement to the text. I'm not sure how much appeal this will have to kids looking for an engaging story, but I can see the value of a book like this in a classroom, especially accompanying teaching about gardening or seasons.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

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