Author Archives: Kathryn

About Kathryn

My love of books has been carefully cultivated by the adults who raised me and also by the friends who love to share. My life has led me down long library shelves, to online forums, fanfiction sites, the front of a lecture hall, and into the desks of college classrooms. With an English degree and a couple master’s classes in Children’s Literature, I am now a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. I have been an editor for Wizarding Life Networks (the people who brought you Wizarding Life, Panem October, and MyHogwarts now HogwartsIsHere).

Book Reviews: November 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Valuing Women and Two Holidays

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Women in History and Today

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

My First Book of Feminism (for Boys) by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Michéle Brummer-Everett. Downtown Bookworks-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

Feminism for boys! Very young boys! Or boys of all ages. And women who need reminders about these same principles. This is about respecting women as people, allowing space for their voices and ideas, and about unlearning the toxic masculinity both that says that boys can take advantage of girls and that tries to define what men and women should and should not do. It suggests some simple acts one can do to express one’s respect for oneself and for the women in one’s life. The illustrations, though sparing in color, using only the primary three, green, black, and white, seem to represent a more inclusive feminism too than is too often practiced, which I appreciate.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-MacMillan, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

This was an odd one for me. Juno is searching for her own favorite shoes, plain white Keds, when she discovers a magical portal to a magical closet filled with shoes from historical women which, when she puts them on, transform her into the women who owned the shoes. Or that’s how it seems. There’s not a whole lot of explanation about what is happening to Juno or about the women themselves. I would have liked to have this be a very long story about Juno overcoming with these women the trials that they faced both in their climb to greatness and then once that greatness had been achieved. What I got was a line each about one quality that helped each woman succeed. And I suppose in its way that that’s its own positive message, but it was not what I expected, and it wasn’t the story that I wanted—because it was really not much of a story. This was not about overcoming adversity but about possessing certain qualities—and shoes. This book supports in part the idea that clothes make the woman, and while I understand that Eva Chen is a fashion director, a former editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Lucky, and a former beauty and health director for Teen Vogue, it’s not the message that I want to send to children who may not be able to afford or who may not be interested in owning the shoes that are chic for their chosen profession. It closes with Eva changing her own shoes to reflect her experiences in the shoes of and her present in the footsteps of these powerful women. In the back, there is a page with a bit more about each of the women, but the picture book itself really is the type of story that only works if you already know the figures. In short, I think the book, the idea had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to because it didn’t go far enough. As an introduction to influential women of history, it is far from the best that I have seen, and right now, there are a lot of fish to choose from in that pond. There are better, more comprehensive books even for younger audiences. Had this been printed another year, several years earlier, I probably would have rated it more highly because it would have been filling a need. It does have a more creative plot than many of the other books about influential women for children that I can think of which are often written more as encyclopedias than stories, but it slides past those women’s experiences in favor of the protagonist’s to the point that only a foreknowledge of the women gives the women context.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.My First Little People, Big Dreams: Audrey Hepburn by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Amaia Arrazola. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

My First Little People, Big Dreams: Amelia Earhart by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by MARIADIAMANTES. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

I learned a bit about both of these women from these board books. I pulled a copy of each of the available board books in this series for a story time and offered to read any in which the audience was interested. (Also available in board book form from this series are biographies of Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, and Maya Angelou; more are coming in February.) The kids didn’t voice any opinions, but two adults in the audience expressed interest. Vegara does a good job of keeping to the truth without going into either too much detail for her audience or too romanticizing the history. Hepburn’s war-torn childhood is not forgotten nor is Earhart’s disappearance left out. These books talk not just about the one act that these women are most famous for, but also their philanthropy, what influenced their lives, and their influence on others. Their lives are framed as models and lessons. I’m not 100% sure what the appropriate audience would be for these books. As with many nonfiction board books today, I’m just not sure if the interest is there for the 0-3 year olds that board books are marketed towards, but I had no trouble reading these to my story time audience which consisted that day of children probably up to age 7.

****

Seasonal Stories

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Fangsgiving by Ethan Long. Bloomsbury, 2018.

I was truly pleased by this original Thanksgiving tale. A group of monsters (a vampire named Vladimir, a werewolf, a witch, a mummy named Mumford) every fourth Thursday in November get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they all cook a special dish. When Vladimir’s family drop in unexpectedly, they go about expressing their distaste for the dishes and improving them with their own ghastly twists (boogie butter, eyeballs, baboon farts), much to the chagrin of the monsters whose food and hard work they disparage. Because they are family and he loves them, Vladimir wants to make the best of it, but when their dog Spike eats the feast in its entirety, Vladimir cries that they have ruined Thanksgiving. To which his family responds that they were only trying to help, that he can’t be mad at them because they are family. Vladimir reminds them that families forgive one another and work together, and together with Vladimir’s friends, they set out to make a second feast that takes everyone’s tastes and ideas into account. Spike remains outside, and the monsters start a new tradition: Fangsgiving on the fourth Friday of every November. There are some important lessons that this book has to impart to the young and the old any time that they are about to embark on a day of getting together with family and friends (Thanksgiving, yes, but other holidays and events too). Family and friends don’t always have the same ideas or tastes as you or as each other. Though they are often acting with the best intentions, they may forget their boundaries and their manners. It’s okay to get angry. Sometimes you have to let them know that what they are doing is hurtful. Once you have done so, you can forgive one another and work towards a more perfect day. With lots of gross ingredients and several puns to get laughs, plus the spooky characters, this is a likely hit with most kids, despite its more narrow color palette.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Bear Can’t Sleep by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Margaret K. McElderry, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Bear’s considerate friends stop into his cave to see that he is warm and comfortable when he should be hibernating. But Bear can’t sleep, despite his best intentions, earnest attempts, and his friends’ acts of kindness. The friends try building up the fire and turning down the lights. They make him warm milk to drink. They sing him a lullaby. But nothing is working. So Bear gives up and decides that since they are here and he is not asleep, he will tell them a story—a new story. And just before the end, he falls asleep, snoring. The friends will have to wait till Spring to hear the end. As with most of these stories, Chapman’s soft, warm, realistic illustrations are the star. This would make a good bedtime story.

****

Click to visit Barnes & Noble for links to order and summary.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping by Annie North Bedford, Bob Moore, and Xavier Atencio. Little Golden-Golden-Penguin Random, 2018.  Originally published 1953.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

We read this book with the help of a Google Home Mini, which produced background music and sound effects cued to the words of the story as spoken by my voice—which was really neat when it worked. It once lost me very early in the story, but then found me again. It seemed to lose me again while the boys were on the space ride. It cut out entirely when the store closed—and it never did pick back up. I wonder if it works better when in private and not in a store on a Black Friday weekend. But that’s another review for another day. The story itself does not show Mickey or Minnie in the best light ever. They take their nephews shopping, but then each think that they’ve left the boys with the other, and end up leaving them unsupervised and then in the store altogether after it closes—which must mean that neither sought and found the rest of the family much before if at all before the store closed and neither was watching the boys or one another. This was about doing a chore and not about spending time with family as the boys had hoped. Of course, the boys too were distracted by the toys and the rides in the toy department. After realizing that they have fallen asleep in the enclosed pod of the ride and awoken in a closed store (no employee checked the ride?), the boys find the store’s Santa Claus, still in his suit, and Santa delivers them to the front door, where Mickey and Minnie are banging to be let in to find their renegade nephews. Perhaps because I know Mickey and Minnie and not Ferdie and Mortie, I judge as negligent and in need of correction the adults’ actions more than I do Ferdie’s and Mortie’s.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This cover does not do this book justice. I understand that the publishers were going for a more classic, more simplistic cover, but the cover it has would not make me pick the book up as readily as if a full-page illustration had been used. That’s probably personal preference and a small quibble though. The inside is every bit as vibrant and realistic and amazing as I remember Curato’s illustrations being. Mouse is really excited for Christmas, but Elliot just is not. When they go to see Santa, Elliot asks for Christmas spirit from Saint Nick, but Santa says Elliot will have to find that himself. Elliot and Mouse try lots of wintertime activities to try to find Elliot’s Christmas spirit, but to no avail; this elephant has no luck. Walking home, a letter blows into Elliot’s hands. It’s for Santa. They go back to the store to try to hand-deliver it, but they’ve missed him. So Elliot with Mouse decide that they need to fulfill the Christmas wish themselves. They take a cab outside of the city to become friends with the letter’s sender, a little Asian American girl named Noelle. And in granting her wish, Elliot finds his Christmas spirit too. This story is saccharine in the best way, a tale of Christmas spirit that isn’t commercial and is truly attainable magic.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and activities.

Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney-Hyperion, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The mice are overstepping again, this time making commitments for Bruce that Bruce does not want to keep. He is a grumpy bear, and wearing red long johns should not volunteer him to be Santa Claus despite one excited raccoon’s mistaking him for the jolly saint. Nevertheless, the mice invite excited animals into Bruce’s home not once but twice and say that Bruce will deliver presents overnight to the woodland creatures. Very, very reluctantly and because the mice have done all of the work and have promised to do in fact more work than they can actually do—forcing some of the onus onto Bruce once they are already out in the snow—Bruce agrees to their plot. Presents are delivered, a joyous feast is attended, and Bruce—Bruce is still grumpy, vowing to sleep through next year’s Christmas as he had hoped to do through this. I actually like that Bruce is not won over and filled with the holiday spirit. It’s a change from the Scrooge & Grinch narrative that so pervades Christmas stories. Though much Christmas cheer is spread here and everyone (except Bruce) is celebrating, there is no real miracle here, just a grumpy bear fulfilling promises made on his unwilling behalf because deep down he is a softie for kids—being mother himself to four nearly grown geese.

***** 

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Shelfie: January 22, 2017: Opportunistic Reads

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This is a page from Thornyhold by Mary Stewart.  I grabbed it on a whim one day while trapped in my chair; I don’t remember why I wasn’t able to move.  The book is my roommate’s, one that has survived several shelf purges even since we moved to this house–and one that she brought with her when we moved in.  I don’t know how long she has had it, but by that alone, I know it is one that she enjoyed.  I enjoyed the writing style that I was exposed to in these few pages, but I never have yet gone back to finish it.  Sometimes, I can be convinced to try a book by mere convenience.  Have you ever picked up a book just because it seems to be the best thing near at hand?  Have you found any favorites that way?

Book Reviews: October 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Celebrity Writers and Fall Fun

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

Elbow Grease by John Cena and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I was pleasantly surprised by this picture book. I know John Cena more for his philanthropic work than as a wrestler, but I still did not really expect a quality picture book from this celebrity (nor do I from most celebrities). This is the story of a family of monster trucks who each have a particular skill or trait that helps him dominate one aspect of the monster truck arena—all expect Elbow Grease, who is the smallest of his brothers and electric besides. His brothers make fun of him. He decides that he will prove them wrong and drives all night to enter a demolition derby. When he gets there, he’s already exhausted, but he goes to the starting line anyway. Despite the other trucks being bigger, having more experience, and better technique, he does not give up. In the middle of the race, his battery gives out. But when a lightning strike reenergizes his battery, Elbow Grease is able to make it across the finish line. The winner of the race declares that Elbow Grease has gumption, and the brothers’ (female) mechanic, Mel, tells them that if they only stick to what they are good at, they’ll never learn anything. The book closes with all the brothers being coached through new challenges by Elbow Grease. There are a lot of lessons and broken stereotypes crammed into this one brightly colored picture book. It was a little long, a little spasmodic, but neither excessively so.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio. 

Little Elliot, Fall Friends by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I adore earlier Little Elliot books. This one, frankly, didn’t live up to my expectations. The illustrations were still beautiful and the story was clever and fun, but it lacked the message that I am used to seeing in this series. Perhaps if the reader was infrequently in the country, the message would be the delights of the country, but here, where everywhere we look is not too dissimilar from the landscapes depicted in the vibrant illustrations (though rarely do we get that much fall color), it’s not much of a lesson; we know the joys of pumpkin patches and watching clouds and picking apples and eating pies. In this, the two friends on their vacation decide to play hide-and-seek, but Elliot hides too well, and Mouse can’t find him—until Mouse bakes a pie and fishes Elliot out of the cornfield, Elliot following his nose to the source of the delicious aroma (which honestly feels a bit like cheating at hide-and-seek though it is clever and the reward is reunion and pie). This of the Elliot books seems to be the one aimed at the youngest audience.  There are many farm animals in the final pages, and though few if any are explicitly named in this story, those pages could easily be turned into a testing of animal names and sounds when reading to a young child.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

How to Scare a Ghost by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This isn’t a format that I particularly enjoy. This story was basically a series of lists, and it seemed long. It seems like the sort of book that you ought to read page-by-page, stopping to decorate for Halloween, stopping to do some Halloween activities at school. Why one wants to scare a ghost is never addressed. The only thing that scares the ghost is a vacuum. That one scene is a page long. Scaring a ghost becomes comforting a ghost and playing with a ghost and taking a ghost trick-or-treating. The book’s ideas are quite clever, but the format just doesn’t help those ideas, I don’t think. I’d rather read a story about less-generic, better characterized kids making a ghost friend and taking it trick-or-treating than listicles with a vague “you” addressee. My little story time guests wanted to know why the ghost was incorporeal when the kids were playing with it on the playground, but it was able to be corporeal enough to wear a costume, and why wearing a Halloween costume made a ghost visible to adults.  I couldn’t answer them.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, video, activity kit, and authors' and illustrator's bios..

Builder Brothers: Big Plans by Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott of Property Brothers, and illustrated by Kim Smith. Harper Collins, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was another celebrity picture book that surprised me with its quality. During a summer day the brothers, children in this story, are dreaming up plans for a tree house, which makes the grown-ups laugh, thinking their wild ideas impossible.  (“There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacation.” )  The brothers set out to prove the adults wrong. They decide to build a luxury, two-story doghouse (a bit of a step down from their castle tree house with a catapult, but perhaps more manageable on a small budget). They draw up blueprints, go to the store to purchase all that they need, and build their house—only to find that they measured incorrectly, and the scale is not right for their dogs. They are at first upset, but realize that the scale is right for a birdhouse. It’s a cute tale of trying to prove adults wrong, trying to prove that young people can succeed, that they can brings their dreams to life. It’ll be a fun one to read before setting out to build a birdhouse of your own with your little—instructions are in the back of the book.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: Read Timekeeper Quickly

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

I did not give Timekeeper the reading that it deserved, and I’m going to probably always regret that a little. I bought this book when it first came out, and—let’s get this out of the way—I wanted to love this book, and how much that bias colored my reading, I don’t know, but when I did read this book, I did love this book. Timekeeper is the first novel by Tara Sim. Tara Sim is the first person of my graduating class at my alma mater to get a book deal from a big name publisher (one that easily supplies Barnes & Noble). She is the first author that I’ve known personally to get such a book deal. She’s the one who made it first. (She won’t be the last.)

I don’t know what happened when I was reading this book—I honestly don’t. I bought it in November 2016. I’d actually opened it and read a few pages in November 2016; I have pictures. I started reading it in earnest in January 2018 or earlier—earlier I think, but I didn’t finish it until September 2018. Between January 2018 and September 2018 I reread three favorites, I read The Burning Maze, I started a mess of books, including several set in Wales in preparation for a trip to that country, without finishing them. I think portability made a big impact on my reading of Timekeeper this first time. Because I did read a new book called Tara Takes the Stage, a little 151-page paperback, and two of those rereads were portable paperbacks too.

I also have a niggling memory of a sense of being overwhelmed by book reviews that I hadn’t had the energy or time to get to you—and a feeling that I didn’t want to add to my pile of overdue reviews by finishing anything new; I think that might have been part of why I allowed myself so many rereads this year….

All this to say that I did not read Timekeeper in one great, thirst-quenching, squealing gulp like I ought to have done—like you ought to do; learn from my mistakes.  (And I’m sorry it took me so long, Tara.)

I was squealing enough about this book in January that I had to tell Goodreads about the dopey grin that I kept developing whenever I read about Danny and Colton and their will-they-won’t-they, forbidden romance.

Every time I opened it, I was infected by the characters’ emotions, but I somehow never sat down and put nose to page until I vowed to finish the books that I’d started instead of starting more. Once I was in maybe the last quarter of the book, I was tearing through it.

I was surprised by the ending.

I love that I was surprised.

The characters are all well-crafted, the world is vividly imagined and deeply considered. (There’s a note in the back where Sim talks about the ways her mythology and the changes that she made to humanity’s timeline in Timekeeper affect the characters and society in her world as compared to the world on our unaltered timeline, absent of her mythos.)

Here are so many things to cheer: well-portrayed PTSD; several, strong, well-rounded female mechanics, including one who is half Indian; a beautiful, gay romance; respected, well-rounded black characters in a Victorian setting because (to reference Psych) black people weren’t invented after 1888.

There are moments when Sim plays with textual layout and presentation to create story in a way that is nearly unique among books that I’ve read.

I intend to do better by Book 2, Chainbreaker, when I get my hands on a copy. The series deserves my attention.  Book 3, Firestarter, is due to come out in January.

This book deserves at least four stars, probably five if I’d read it as it ought to be read.

****

Sim, Tara. Timekeeper, Book One. New York: Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2016.

This review is not endorsed by Tara Sim, Sky Pony Press, or Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: September 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Astronauts, Bees, and Sillier Animals

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Astronauts

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio. 

I Am Neil Armstrong by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos. Dial-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

My toddlers at story time are not the target audience for this book. For them is it too long—just too long. I suppose it could be best considered a graphic novel, but it’s really too short for a novel. A graphic novelette? But it’s not a picture book, despite the bright illustrations and round-faced depictions of the protagonists. I personally feel that it talks down to the middle school students that are generally the target audience for graphic novels.  So elementary students?

This biography of Neil Armstrong begins with Armstrong as a child climbing trees and ends with his space mission completed and a plug for the National Air and Space Museum in DC. There are many details about his life and his philosophy. It is intimate in a way that I did not expect. There are though too perhaps extraneous details, which I suppose sometimes add weight to Meltzer’s assertions (not a long checklist but “a 417-step checklist”), but more often added to the length of the story without really deepening my understanding of Armstrong or his mission.

Perhaps because I read so few biographies and don’t know what to expect or to want from them, I was less interested in the intimate details of Armstrong’s life. I don’t find it necessary to know that he was scared of Santa or fell out of a tree or read many books in a year. Any biographies I’ve read, I’ve read (and long ago) to be able to give a report or write a paper—a flaw in me not in the genre or in this book in particular—so I’ve never needed or particularly wanted more than the facts—just the straight up facts. What I read for pleasure—primarily fantasies but even realistic fiction that I read—are more often the span of an event—a significant event—and nonessential personal histories are left off or obliquely referenced if and only if they are effecting the character in the now.

I can tell that Meltzer wanted to include these details to illustrate the natural traits that allowed Armstrong  to succeed in his space mission, but the presentation felt extremely forced; it lacked finesse when compared to the arc of the fictions that I enjoy reading.

I frankly don’t feel qualified to rate this book, but I wanted to discuss it nonetheless because it wasn’t what I was expecting, and it might not be what you’re expecting either.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary,

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington. HarperCollins, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I chose this book because Brad Meltzer’s I Am Neil Armstrong was too long for my usual story time audience, but I wanted to keep to something in theme with the story I had been assigned to read. Plus, it’s the true story of an African American woman achieving her dream, written by Somali woman living in Norway! Mae Jemison’s parents support her dream to see Earth from space. They tell her she’ll have to become an astronaut. But her teacher (a white woman), says that an astronaut is no job for a woman—wouldn’t she rather be a nurse? That’s a good job “for someone like” her. Jemison is heartbroken by her teacher’s pronouncement. But her parents continue to be wonderful and tell her that this time her teacher is wrong; she shouldn’t believe her. So Jemison continues “dreaming, believing, and working hard,” and she becomes an astronaut and waves to her parents from space. There is less about Jemison’s life here and more about following your dream and achieving your dream through hard work and a firm belief. Meltzer focuses on facts; Ahmed on story. Ahmed’s was much better for my young audience.

***

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Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. Lucasfilm-Disney, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

All right. I found this one funny as did the friend who pulled it off the shelves to show it to me. But it’s only funny if you’re already familiar with Darth Vader and the Star Wars films; the text is littered with allusions to quotes and to plot points from the films. I tried it out on some kids who didn’t know Darth Vader. They didn’t find it funny. It’s also funnier if you can imitate Darth Vader’s deep voice, which I can only do poorly. Really, this may even be a story more for adults than for children.

The authorial voice and Darth Vader dialogue throughout this story. The book tries to scare Darth Vader with a werewolf, a ghost, a witch, but he is unimpressed by any of these despite the authorial voice’s assertion that they can bite and hex him. So the authorial voice invites a posse of children in Halloween costumes and without to swarm all over Vader, to pester him with questions, as the authorial voices continues to tease, “Are you scared now, Darth Vader?”

But Vader is not scared so much as annoyed by the posse.

The children decide that he’s no fun, and they leave.

Well, it seems Darth Vader can’t be scared, so it’s time for the book to end.

But Darth Vader will not allow the book to end. He implores the child holding the book not to turn the page, not to close the book.

He admits to his fear, but the book must end, and so he is trapped inside the book, “almost like [he’s] frozen in carbonite—or whatever.”

*** 

Bees

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, video, and activity kit.

Princesses Save the World by Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim and illustrated by Eva Byrne. Abrams, 2018.

This is not the story I expected. This is a story about the importance of bees to an agrarian economy and society. Princess Penelope Pineapple receives a distress call from her neighbor across the sea whose bees have all disappeared and whose fruit harvest has suffered because of it. Princess Penelope calls an assembly of princesses from a wealth of fruit-centric nations. Princess Sabrina Strawberry is not alone in her plight. Audrey Apple is having the same problem. She’s a pretty minor character, mentioned once by name then shown as trying to help the other princesses solve the problem, but that the two princesses whose kingdoms are in trouble are both dark-skinned and dark-haired women of color gives the story an unpleasant tinge of white savior complex that this world does not need.

The princesses decide it is their duty to help, and among Princess Penelope’s many other talents, she is a beekeeper; she knows that scents lure bees. She hops into her lab and with whatever perfumes and sweet-smelling treats the princesses happen to have in their luggage creates a perfume. The princesses engineer new hives to give to Princess Sabrina, and with her perfume in hand, Princess Penelope leads the bees across the sea to the Strawberry Kingdom, where the bees settle, and their industry the next year leads to a healthy harvest for the kingdom—celebrated with a tea party by the princesses.

If only solving the problem of the disappearing bees were so easy!

But I continue to like Princess Penelope and her more modern take on being a princess with a wealth of duties and talents not generally assigned feminine or princess-like. I like that she seeks outside help and opinions from other nations when she sees a nation in trouble. That kind of collaborative foreign diplomacy and policy is forward-thinking and positive too.

I appreciate that the authors saw a current environmental problem and wanted to raise awareness among a younger audience about the problem, and that they seek to show young activists taking steps to alleviate a problem.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's bio.

Bee: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup. Doubleday-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 3-7. 

This is not the first of Teckentrup’s books that I’ve read. Her strength I feel is in lyrically romanticizing the ordinary—thus far her subjects have always been also natural. This like Tree is more nonfiction than fiction, depicting the day and job of a worker bee and bees as pollinators. Many animals, including a bee in a peek-hole through each page, hide among the illustrations, making a fun spot-the-critter game as you read through the book. Teckentrup uses lyrical language and specific detail to paint her text. This made for a good side book to Guthrie and co.’s Princesses Save the World. A bit more on level for my youngest listeners and certainly much shorter, there’s less—really no—problem here, certainly no talk of a global crisis, but it seemed a good way to introduce the concept of why bees are so important to an ecosystem.

**** 

New Twists on Old Tales

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Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey. Scholastic, 2018. First published 2015.

I’ve reviewed others (almost all of the others) in the Pig the Pug series. It’s just not a model I love. In this addition to the series, Pig is blaming Trevor to avoid getting into trouble for things that he’s done. Having gotten Trevor out of his way, Pig concocts a scheme to get to the treats on the top shelf of the closet, but along with the treats, a bowling ball falls from the shelf, and Pig is again bandaged and laid up, again he gets his comeuppance for treating Trevor poorly, for behaving poorly. And he’s learnt another lesson—but again not well and not without serious bodily harm all portrayed in a singsong rhythm. Learning not to blame a sibling or bystander, not to scapegoat is a valuable lesson, but I’m still just not sure about this method of teaching; it’s so drastic, and the tone is at such odds with the harm caused to Pig.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's bio.

Corduroy Takes a Bow by Viola Davis, based on characters by Don Freeman. Viking-Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

What a special opportunity I expect this is for Viola Davis! Don Freeman was one of the first picture book illustrators to create a book with African American protagonists, and now fifty years later, Davis, the first African American to win a Tony, and Emmy, and an Oscar, has returned to his characters with a new story. She takes Corduroy and Lisa to the theater—a live stage performance. Both are excited and in Lisa’s attempts to see above a tall man who sits in front of her, she loses track of Corduroy, who too seeks a better seat, ending up in the pit, backstage, and then on stage. The picture book is unfortunately heavy with lessons about the language of the theater, the people behind a production, and those pieces weighed down the story somewhat.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and reviews.

Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody by Michael Rex.  G. P. Putnam-Penguin Random, 2008.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is yet another Goodnight Moon parody, this time with a spooky, B-horror, monster theme. The little goon spends the second half of the book avoiding bed and partying and playing with the creatures that infest his bedroom, perhaps trying to tire everyone out so that his bedroom will be quiet enough to sleep; everyone is sleeping or out of the bedroom when the happy goon is at last in his bed by the last page (“Goodnight monsters everywhere.”)—that’s a fun twist on the story.

***

And Silly Animals

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and song.

The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley. Scholastic, 2010. First published 2009.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Sometimes British picture books in particular, I’ve found, are just wonderfully weird. This one is wonderfully weird. It resurfaced in America because of a YouTube video of a Scottish grandmother reading the book aloud. The story reads like a camp song, a wonderful camp song where each verse adds another adjective to a long list of to remember, all rhyming, all silly. I remember the days (20 years ago) when Scholastic didn’t believe we would understand “Mum” in a middle grade novel. Now look at them! throwing our picture books readers words like “wonky” and making no changes to the British English “spunky” though it doesn’t seem to mean the same thing as it does in American English; from this picture book in British English it seems to be a synonym for “good looking.” I really enjoyed this. I enjoyed the silliness of the plethora of adjectives attached to this donkey, and I enjoy saying it as fast as I can: “a spunky, hanky-panky, cranky, stinky dinky, lanky, honky-tonky, winky, wonky donkey.” I like the victory of being able to say it all really fast. I guess I’m still a camper at heart. If any Scottish grandmothers out there want to read Evil Weasel and make that something I can find in my country, I’d much appreciate it; I remember really enjoying that one when I read it while staying with a family in Edinburgh.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and reviews.

Chomp Goes the Alligator by Matthew Van Fleet. Paula Wiseman-Simon & Schuster, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 2-99.

With lots of interactive elements—touch and feel, a pull-tab to make the alligator chomp up and down, and even a pop-up—this is a counting book and animal and color primer—all set in a swamp, which is not the most oft used of settings for a picture book. On the final pop-up page the animals not featured in the text are labeled in smaller print and the bugs in a bubble of dialogue ask to be counted in a later reading. The page spreads are labeled 1-10 in big text. Every animal miraculously lives though the text’s pretext is the alligator eating them and seems on the last page even to have enjoyed its experience on the alligator thrill ride. The illustrations are of cute, happy critters in pastel colors. There’s a burp to make the kids laugh, and a polite “excuse me” to appease the parents. This book has everything! Educational and fun and unusual.

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Shelfie: January 15, 2017: ReReading Blue Lily, Lily Blue

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Oops.  In planning for another adventure and just the day-to-day I never did get around to finishing a blog post (though I’m close on at least one).  I didn’t want to leave you without anything for the next two weeks, so enjoy some of these favorite lines of mine from Maggie Stiefvater’s Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the third book in The Raven Cycle.

Needless to say, if you read the full pages, you might find some spoilers, but the quotes I’ve highlighted are all I think pretty safe.

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“She drifted toward the bedroom, on her way to have a bath or take a nap or start a war.”

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“Violence was a disease Gansey didn’t think he could catch.”

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“Blue was perfectly aware that is was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening.  It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.”

Book Reviews: May 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Schooling, Mothers’ Love, Unicorns, and a Wedding

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Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney. Viking-Penguin Random, 2009. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

Llama Llama is going to school for the first time today, and he’s nervous after he gets there and meets all the new faces, after he is left by his mama. He spends the morning moping and refusing to play, but after he cries at lunch and is reassured by both his teacher and his classmates, his day takes a turn. He plays with his new friends till the end of the day when his mama returns. The he shows his mama around the school, and they play together. He decides that he loves school. This is an all-too-familiar feeling and scenario for parents and young students, teachers and students-to-be. For that, this is an important book, and Dewdney’s illustrations are as always endearing.

****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

Llama Llama Loves to Read by Anna Dewdney and Reed Duncan and illustrated by J. T. Morrow. Viking-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Published posthumously and completed in her style by her long time partner Reed Duncan, this school time story teaches lessons about the alphabet and the words that they can spell and the sentences that are made by words, the songs, the books. This seemed a little longer, a little more didactic than some of the other Llama Llama books with its vocabulary words and its recitation of the alphabet. It’s more picture book than a primer though. Llama Llama is growing up, and he’s less in need of reassurance of his mother’s love. Now there are other lessons to be learned. The text still has the rhythm and rhyme of Dewdney’s earlier works. The illustrations seem somehow a little more cartoonish, though it is clear that J. T. Morrow tried to stay true to the character of Dewdney’s earlier works.

***

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman. Penguin Random, 1988. First published 1960. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This is not the first time that I read this story. I don’t think it’ll be the last. But somehow I’ve never read and reviewed it or rated it on Goodreads. A baby bird hatches while his mother is away, and he knows that his mother should be there when he hatches, so he goes off to look for her—falling right out of the nest. He goes to a number of animals and objects, questioning each about being his mother, but always getting the negative answer, getting more and more desperate with each negative. He visits a kitten, a dog, a cow, a boat, a plane, and finally a Snort. The Snort is the only one to help him find his mother—although the baby bird finds the Snort very scary. The Snort picks him up in its claw and puts him back into his nest, where his mother is waiting, wondering where he has been. The story is told in rhyme with a lot of repetition.

You could probably read into this one; I’m sure it has been done. (Actually there are fewer scholarly articles readily available on Google Scholar than I would have expected, and most of those seem to be about adoption law and children’s rights and possibly only obscurely reference the book; I didn’t buy access to the articles to check.) The baby bird seeks family in all kinds of critters but cannot find it; none of them look like him. He doesn’t seem to believe that family necessarily needs to look alike, but the animals are all against interspecies families and the objects—except the Snort—all reject him with their silence. The only one that the baby bird does not believe can be his mother is a wheel-less, broken, junked car, seeming to suggest that he believes that what is necessary in a mother is locomotion, a certain spark of life—perhaps this is because his mother did leave so he knows that she was capable of self-transportation, but perhaps there is a comment there on the necessity of a mother to be alive. That the baby bird refuses to entertain the idea that his mother could be inanimate, no longer capable of locomotion, no longer possessing a lifespark is just heartrending—because some must accept that, and he is too young to even entertain the idea.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, video, and author's bio.

Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani. Abrams Appleseed-Harry N. Abrams, 2018.

I really enjoyed this story about cats and math. It’s counting, addition, division, and subtraction. Three cats stack, but four and five cats endanger the pile, so six cats become two stacks of three each. After ten cats become just too many, the cats begin to go away. The illustrated cats are delightfully round fluffs with small mouths and a wide variety of colors and patterns. There’s a sort of singsong rhythm to the simple text. The story ends with an invitation stack the cats creatively, to invent your own math solutions with the cats—of which by the last page there are more than ten—I count 21!

*****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

My Mom is Magical by Hello!Lucky and Sabrina Moyle and illustrated by Eunice Moyle. Harry N. Abrams, 2018.

“Mom,” portrayed here as a rainbow-maned and –tailed and rainbow-speckled unicorn, is described in a set of creative comparisons that rely on alliteration: “sillier than a band of bananas,” “sweeter than a cloud of cotton candy.” There’s not a lot of story to it. Pages alternate between pages of text that pops from the page between a frame of illustrations like an affirmation poster and pages of the unicorn illustrated in silly poses and fun costumes. It would make a sweet gift, an alternate to a card for a mother.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, videos, activity sheets, and author's and illustrator's bios.

I’ve Loved You Since Forever by Hoda Kotb and illustrated by Suzie Mason. HarperCollins, 2018.

The illustrations are the star of this short picture book about a parent’s and child’s love. “Before the moon lit up the night and elephants roamed free, there was you and there was me.” Via a bunch of nature-related forevers, Kotb implies the eternity of souls and suggests that a parent and a child await the time when their two “stars” become not separate “you and I” but “we.” I don’t know if she intended to put that much philosophy in the book, but it’s there. It’s a fine sentiment and statement, but there are many variations on this same theme out there, and frankly it’s a drop in a big puddle of sentiment. It takes a lot to stand out from that puddle.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, activities, and a teacher's guide.

Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century by Jane O’Connor and illustrated Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Bree has been to lots of weddings before, but Nancy has not. Bree and Nancy imagine and dream that the wedding will be very fancy, but Uncle Cal wants everything kept secret from the girls until right before the event, so even as the family packs up to go to meet Cal and Dawn, his bride-to-be, Nancy knows nothing of what they have planned for the wedding—not even whether or not she will be the flower girl, though she is almost certain that she will be. Nancy wakes up from her dream of a fancy hotel wedding to find that the family has arrived at a humble cabin the wilderness. Nancy is at first very disappointed, though no one else seems to be, but there’s a party beforehand, and Dawn is kind to Nancy and even borrows a crown from her for the wedding so that she will have something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. In the end, even Nancy agrees that this nontraditional wedding, without any of the frills that she expected, is the most “glorious.” As with most Nancy stories, this was a little long for a story time, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless, and it was a nice change to have a wedding tale about a wedding free from the traditional trappings. I had a group this week for story time too that could sit through the longer stories, so it worked out.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

Today I’ll Be a Unicorn by Dana Simpson. Andrews McMeel, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This book uses characters from Dana Simpson’s graphic novel series, Heavenly Nostrils, but the story and the characters are fairly universal, really. A young girl wants to be a unicorn. She dons a tail and a headband with horse ears, a horn, and a crown of flowers. With her unicorn friend, she prances through the meadow and sits atop a rainbow. But unicorns don’t eat pizza. So maybe tomorrow she will be a unicorn. There’s perhaps not much original about this story; it’s been done before with other animals—and I think even with pizza. I’m not sure how much I care about the originality. The story remains cute, and Simpson’s illustrations are delightfully whimsical.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.