Tag Archives: Deborah Underwood

Book Reviews: December 2015 Picture Book Roundup: THREE Five-Stars and Some Christmas Leftovers

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Christmas Leftovers

9780399243202Spot’s Christmas by Eric Hill. Warne-Penguin Random, 2004. Ages: 0-3.

This was a fairly lackluster book, which really I probably ought to have expected as this is a holiday spin-off book. Spot, a popular character of his own book series and television series, performs some of the acts of celebration surrounding Christmas: decorating the tree, singing carols, baking cookies and cake, hanging stockings. He knows Santa came because the stockings are full in the morning. Other than being an adorable roly-poly puppy and fairly expressive, there was little story, no moral, and not much really to say.

***

9780553498394How to Catch a Santa by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I didn’t realize that this was of the same series as How to Babysit a Grandpa, Grandma, and Surprise a Dad. As well as those first two especially have been selling, I have not read any of them, and I was not particularly thrilled by this one. There’s not a lot of story, but a lot of text. “Don’t you have a zillion questions?” A list of questions follows. “Maybe you have things you want to tell him?” A list of things that you might want to tell Santa follows. “And maybe you have things you want to give him?” A list of things to give him follows. “Okay, now you know what you want to do once you catch Santa. Now it’s time to figure out how to do it.” A list of some tips and suggestions follows. While there are some creative and sweet ideas here, I just don’t like the format—and it seems like it’s becoming more prevalent within picture books.

**1/2

The Critically Acclaimed

9780451469908Llama Llama Red Pajamas by Anna Dewdney. Viking-Penguin Random, 2005. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This is a new classic and has sparked a whole series of books. Llama Llama in this first adventure is sent to bed, but he misses his mama, he’s nervous in the dark, he wants a glass of water, but mama’s downstairs on the phone and isn’t coming to answer Llama Llama’s pleas for her to come back to the bedroom. The story ends with the moral that mama always loves you even if she isn’t immediately available. The text is full of end rhymes and internal rhyme. It’s a good reminder of a parent’s love.

****

9780803736801Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Dial-Penguin Random, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I could have been more impressed with this book. I thought what had thrown me off was the somewhat clunky progression of ideas that repeats itself, I feel, unnecessarily so that we have at least two very ardent warnings about spicy salsa—do we need two? The more I reflect on it, though, the more I think that what was even more off-putting was the questions asked of the dragons to which the dragons were never allowed to respond. The dragons are silent throughout this book, and that made the text feel clunky because why ask questions if you don’t want an answer? Why even have the dragons in the text until you need them there to offer proof of your previous declaratory statements about them loving tacos but hating spicy salsa? All of the hard t’s and d’s and p’s sounds were fun.

***

FIVE WHOLE STARS

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Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups by Tadgh Bentley. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This little book came sweeping up and stole my heart. The narrator is an adorably illustrated little penguin with the—hic!—hiccups. He pleads with the audience directly for their help. He’s tried everything to get rid of the hiccups that he developed after eating too much spicy chili last week, but nothing’s worked, so his friend Frederick has told the penguin that he would try to frighten the hiccups out of him. I was surprised that my audience was not as excited as I was for the opportunity to shout, “BOO!” The penguin forgets the audience to scold Frederick for frightening him so badly, but then realizes that his hiccups are gone and agrees to join Frederick for celebratory tacos, and—surprise, surprise—those spicy tacos give him another bout of—hic!—hiccups.

*****

stacks_image_17Part-Time Princess by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cambria Evans. Disney-Hyperion, 2013.

In her sleep, this regular girl becomes a princess in beautiful dresses and crown, who fights dragonfire to save her kingdom, who lassos the dragon but invites him to tea instead of listening to the demands for the dragon’s death by her fearful subjects and realizes that he is a good dragon who is just upset that his crayons were melted. She meets a queen, and they play in the mud, and she takes a bath with bubbles, a high dive, and a dolphin. She isn’t scared of trolls either but dances with the head troll and shows her subjects that trolls are neither frightening or mean. There is a handsome prince, but she’s too busy saving the kingdom to marry now. She is tired in the morning, and there is glitter in her hair. There is glitter in her mother’s hair too; she is the queen. This is a good alternate princess narrative particularly for those girls who do want to marry princes and wear frilly dresses and eat three slice of pink cake for tea.

*****

9781452125329_350_4Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt. Chronicle, 2015.

It’s the story of Cinderella—set in space! This Cinderella fixes the household robots and machines but dreams of fixing fancy space ships. The family is invited to the royal parade, and Cinderella’s stepmother says that she can come if she can fix their broken space ship, but the stepsisters take Cinderella’s toolbox with them to the parade, leaving her stranded. Cinderella’s friend, the robot mouse Murgatroyd, sends an S.O.S. and summons Cinderella’s fairy godrobot, who magics Cinderella up some new tools: a sonic socket wrench (yeah, I saw that, Underwood), a blue space suit with jewels and pockets, and a power gem that will run out at midnight. Then it’s off to the parade, but the prince’s ship is smoking, and he doesn’t have a mechanic. Cinderella, masked behind the dome of her space suit, flies over and saves the prince’s ship. He invites her to the Gravity-Free Ball in thanks, and they talk for hours of space ships, but she has to run away before the clock strikes midnight. The sonic wrench falls out of her pocket. The prince goes searching for her, and brings a broken ship with him across the galaxy. The stepfamily tries to fix the ship, but can’t. The mouse helps Cinderella escape the attic into which her stepmother has locked her and left her tied up. Cinderella grabs her wrench back from the prince and fixes the ship. The prince asks her to marry him, and she thinks about it, but decides that she is too young. She offers to be his mechanic instead, and she goes to live at the palace, and fixes fancy space ships, just as she always dreamed she might do. Her fulfilled wish is a job that she loves in a field that here on earth is dominated by men.

This has all the elements of the classic fairy tale story, but the fairy tale ending is not one that includes marriage. My young audience was curious why she didn’t want to marry the prince. I’m not sure if I should be glad that I got to explain that not everyone’s dream is to get married and put that thought in their young minds or I’m sad that I had to explain. The handsome prince is a dark-skinned besides, though it’s never mentioned in the text, and we may have Hunt more than Underwood to thank for that.

There are a lot of larger words here, some of which I think went over the heads of my audience, but they didn’t seem phased by not knowing how to define a sprocket.

The text relied surprisingly heavily on the illustrations here. It almost seemed as if there were holes in the text itself, perhaps the text being limited by the rhyme, but the illustrations filled in those holes well, showing us why, for example, Cinderella would cry out for her toolbox. We had fun looking at the details of the illustrations: the robots, the aliens.

Now I have a question for fellow readers: The endpapers show Cinderella’s tools, all nicely labeled. One of the spaces is empty. Has anyone found that tool? Maybe in one of the book’s illustrations? Why is it missing?

*****

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 Reviews: April Picture Book Roundup: Part Two

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Beware, this lot got me to don my mover-and-shaker-concerned-citizen-of-the-world-britches.

Happy Easter, Mouse! by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2010. Intended audience: Ages 0-4.

This is a board book, Easter spinoff of Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. I thought that this book was surprisingly well handled as both a spinoff and a holiday spinoff at that. Numeroff was conscious of her audience and she built a book for them. This book is a color and number primer, a counting book, an interactive book, and it’s shorter than her others. I had fun counting the eggs in the pictures, and I had the kids at our story hour each count a page for me too.

***1/2

Tea with Grandpa by Barney Saltzberg. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades Pre-K-2.

This is one of the most moving books that I’ve read in a long while. A little girl enjoys a daily teatime with her grandpa. They laugh and enjoy one another’s company. It’s not till the end of the book that it is revealed that all of this has taken place via a video chat. I think this is an important book. It’s a tradition I’d have loved to grow up with (the technology wasn’t available), and I think it’s important to instill in all people the reminder of our need and desire for quality time. In an age where many of us do live far apart from family members, this has become difficult, but Saltzberg here suggests a possibility for the sort of communion we desire to be possible despite distance. I think it does hold the threat however of, if given as a gift from grandparent to child, extolling a paragon that the grandparent may find impossible, and as a gift of a child to a grandparent, coming across as condemnation for what is lacking. This is a book that ought to be given with a promise—and I’d like to see families doing so.

****

Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider. Clarion-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Seeing the title, I had high expectations of this book, and those expectations were not met. The Barbie-like Princess Sparkle is destroyed by the family dog, and Amelia and her mother set out to repair her and make her better than before. The end result is nearer to Lilo’s Scrump than Barbie, and Amelia declares her better than new, but an opportunity was sorely missed by Schneider. The only mention of transforming the princess into a strong or independent person was the protagonist’s demand to give Princess Sparkle-Heart extra stuffing as muscles to defend her from the dog. That’s a step towards the right direction. Girls should be strong, but they should not have to be strong because they need to defend themselves. They ought to be able to be strong for strength’s sake and not because of outside threats. I realize I’m searching for an ideal that may be impossible in our fallen and baggage-laden world, but I would like it to be a possibility, and I worry that this idea of women needing to be strong to protect themselves teeters towards proclaiming that a woman deserved to be raped (or Princess Sparkle-Heart deserved to be destroyed) because she wasn’t strong enough to defend herself, and if she had been strong enough, she wouldn’t have been raped (or destroyed)—an argument as stupid as that she shouldn’t have worn a skirt. Also, is the lesson here that a woman who looks like a typical princess cannot defend herself? That she has to look like a patchwork doll to be safe? I do enjoy as a reader the dog that lingers on each page growling at Princess Sparkle-Heart, but when I look at it with the more detached eyes of the feminist I see a dark, malevolent, and ever present threat rather than a jealous family dog, and that’s unsettling. Josh Schneider, what are you trying to tell me?

I recognize that I am seeing issues that Schneider did not and that his intention was to write a sweet story of a mother helping her daughter with the simple lesson that a girl need not look to the world’s ideal of beauty to be worthwhile. Maybe he should have asked these questions too, but how do you condense all of this into a picture storybook? If I could answer that question, maybe I wouldn’t need to ask the questions anymore.

**

Puppy and Friends: Touch and Feel by the staff of St. Martin’s Press. Sandy Creek-St. Martin’s, 2010.

This is a touch and feel book with puppies. I did like that instead of telling the child what the objects felt like, the text asked the child to describe what the objects felt like. That’s an interesting twist. It makes it less of a primer, but I think it makes it actually a more important book. Shouldn’t we be teaching our children to think and express themselves? Rather than illustrations, this book uses photographs—photographs of puppies. I like photographs of puppies.

***1/2

Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop! by Todd Tuell and illustrated by Tad Carpenter. Abrams Appleseed-Abrams, 2014.

Ninjas. Well, I had to see, didn’t I? (Have to keep up-to-date on the press being given my rivals and make sure that our books are better; so there you are, I might be biased, though I’ve loved ninja protagonists before). A rambunctious child dons a ninja outfit and proceeds to sneak and kick and karate chop his way through the pages. This ninja seems mostly to use his powers selfishly or cruelly, however, to sneak up on his dog or brother or to escape his grandmother’s kisses, and he faces no consequences for his actions, other than to be told once to stop by a brother. The book would sit better with me I think if there had been some sense that the ninja did heed his brother’s upset cry and changed because of it. Instead, the text continues with a very repetitive sentence pattern—“Ninja this. Ninja that”—without any break in the rhythm to indicate a change, and in the end the brother for some reason dons a black mask too—perhaps because there seems to be no consequences for the ninja and the ninja seems to be allowed to do whatever he wants and always get his way; that could be very appealing.

**

Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Dial-Penguin, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I really enjoyed this book myself, but it seemed a bit long to hold the attention of the children I had at story hour. Cat, who does not speak but holds up pictorial signs to which the text responds, is upset that the Easter Bunny is getting so much attention and love. The reader explains to Cat that the Easter Bunny is loved because he leaves gifts for children. Cat decides he too will leave gifts for children to earn love. The Easter Bunny delivers a gift for Cat, and Cat who notices how tired the Easter Bunny is and is distraught by the idea the Easter Bunny has no time for naps, decides to help the Easter Bunny with his delivery. This is the second book (the other being Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure) that I read that expounds a new idea that Easter’s message is to help others. As I said, it’s not a bad message, but I don’t really know where this idea came from, though I suppose Jesus did help us, and we are called to imitate Him. The real draw is the back and forth of the reader and a very expressively illustrated Cat.

***1/2