Tag Archives: disease

Book Reviews: December Picture Book Roundup


As with November, several of these are books from story hours.  A lot are now on clearance at Barnes & Noble, being books we sell only for the Christmas season.

A Christmas Carol: A BabyLit Colors Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2012.

Adams’ adaptation is a decent introduction to the characters of Dickens’ novel but does little to adapt the plot.  It also introduces more unusual colors.  There are few books that introduce children to “silver,” so I suppose it’s good to have some variation from other available primers; this along with BabyLit’s adaptation of literary classics sets Adam’s A Christmas Carol apart.


Bubble’s in Trouble! by Ag Jatkowska.  Caterpillar-Little Tiger, 2012.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is a book I’d laud much more for its construction than its plot.  It features a spinner-like Bubble the Blowfish on its final page.  Bubble can be moved on each page.  Bubble gets caught in a porthole (a hole left in the pages of the book to show the Bubble of the final page) of a sunken ship.  Various sea creatures come along and suggest that he try to escape in the way that they would.  These means do not work for Bubble.  Only a sneeze works to free Bubble.  I would have preferred if Bubble had somehow been able to escape in a way that was especially specific to blowfish or if Jatkowski had somehow made it seem as if the sneeze was something unique to blowfish.  Then the lesson could have been said to be that one must use one’s own particular talents instead of deferring to the advice of others in problem-solving.  As it is, the story is cute enough, the text rhymes, and the moveable book is interactive.  It should be said too that this was a book that came to my attention because the rotating Bubbles that peeps through each page had been torn off.  I don’t know what the book’s history on the shelf had been.  Maybe it was maliciously torn off, but the fact remains that it had been damaged.


My First Batman Book: Touch and Feel by David Katz.  Downtown, 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

The main draw of this book is Batman—for both parents, kids, and gift-givers.  It introduces kids to the character, to the main gadgets, and to the idea; the text itself is not particularly imaginative.  The moveable pieces are of a more unique nature than most interactive books, however, including moving a cardboard Batman along a Batrope and turning off the lights to see the Bat-Signal glow in the dark.  The final phrase “Who’s Batman’s little helper?” with a mirror face in Robin’s costume seems dare I say saccharine (not to mention patronizing to Robin)?  This book too, it should again be mentioned, was brought to my attention by a customer who would have bought it perhaps except that a cardboard piece depicting Batman and Robin in the Batmobile had been torn from the book.  Again, I don’t know how long it had sat on the shelf or what torments the book had endured, but it did not survive to find a happy home.


A Very Crabby Christmas by Tish Rabe and illustrated by Dave Aikins.  Inspired by Dr. Seuss.  Golden-Random, 2012.

This was a request from one of my attendees to the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! story hour.  I don’t know that he’d heard the story before and had to leave midway through it, but I finished it for anyone who was still listening while coloring.  When did the Cat in the Hat become a helpful creature instead of a creature of chaos?  This is not the Cat that I remember from my childhood.  I believe it happened when PBS gave him his own cartoon show, but perhaps the change was sooner, and I missed it.  In this tale, the Cat and his human friends, Sally and Nick, have been invited to a Crab Christmas Ball on the beach.  The festivities are interrupted when one of the crabs goes missing, and the Cat, Sally, and Nick, find the missing crab and are the celebrated heroes of the tale.  But there’s no suspense, and there’s very little plot.  There’s no real explanation of the crab’s festivities, and there’s no real description of the search for or panic of discovering that Sandy is missing.  I missed all that.  I suppose it is pleasant to have a Christmas book that doesn’t involve a usual Christmas celebration and one that excludes snow or any winter theme.


How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss.  Random, 1957.

This was a story hour read aloud.

Dr. Seuss is always a classic.  It’s hard for me to really qualify How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (or any Seuss book).  The lesson that “Maybe Christmas […] doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas perhaps… means a little bit more” is still a fantastic and very pertinent lesson today.


The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg.  Houghton Mifflin, 1985.  Intended audience: Grades K-3 (Ages 4-8).

This is becoming a new classic, and like How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, it now has its own film adaptation.  The story itself is not one that thrills me.  I like Chris van Allsburg, but I don’t consider this his best—or anywhere near his best.  Even the illustrations are not as amazing as I’d hoped that they would be, especially for a Caldecott winner.


That’s Not My Train by Fiona Watt and illustrated by Rachel Wells.  Usborne, 2008.  First published 2000.  Intended audience: Ages 6 months+

There are a lot of books in this touch-and-feel series.  Pick a noun, tack it on the end of the phrase, and there’s probably a book or there will be soon.  Of them, I’ve otherwise read That’s Not My Elephant, which I preferred to That’s Not My Train, but maybe that’s because I’m more interested in elephants than trains?  For a boy in love with trains, this book would probably be amazing.  That’s Not My Train does use a number of interesting textures.


An Elephant and Piggie Book: Pigs Make Me Sneeze! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion-Disney, 2009.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

In a very usual childlike idea, Elephant Gerald sneezes while Piggie is nearby and decides that he must be allergic to Piggie, and he is terrified and terribly distraught.  He sees a cat doctor, sneezes near the cat, and decides he must be allergic to cats too.  The doctor tells Elephant Gerald that he is not allergic to cats or pigs; he has a cold, and Elephant Gerald rejoices.  He runs to tell Piggie the good news and finds Piggie sitting in a pile of tissues.


Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars Doesn’t Have Many


First let me say that I am and was before reading this book a fan of John Green’s and of everything he has been doing to “decrease worldsuck.”

The Fault in Our Stars, the love story of star-crossed Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, young teenagers whose lives have been ravaged by cancer, is his latest novel and the first of Green’s books that I’ve read.

I had before reading it heard so much about The Fault in Our Stars.  It’s been lauded by many as a must-read and has been on the bestseller list for many weeks.  As I was warned, I had a strong hate-and-love relationship with this book while reading it.  I cried and was angry with Green, and I laughed aloud even more often than I was upset.

Death hangs like a Damocles sword over the heads of so many of the characters, and Green shows how that threat effects all the characters from the protagonists to their parents to their friends who understand and their friends who don’t down to people in the food court at a mall who catch a glimpse of Hazel’s oxygen tank, a full and round cast.  There is a hopelessness and sadness in the knowledge that few characters that you love here will live long or healthy lives.

Yet, their lives go on despite the disease that tries to destroy them—they live, play video games like ordinary boys, The Fault in Our Stars reads primarily like a romance—and disease brings the cast together.  There is hope in the continuation of their lives.

The story tells of parents caring for a child that they know that they will lose too early and parents who have lost a child, of the devastation that a young death can cause and of the ability of a parent to move on.  Though categorized as and reading like a teen book, Green does not neglect directing a message to adults.

I do not know if it’s merely that I tend to avoid this genre, but it seems to me that Green gives voice to a pretty much voiceless group, which I believe to be an important endeavor.  I believe that cancer is oft talked about in our society as the great evil, the last, great American disease to be conquered, but there is little hope offered to those suffering from it.  Survivors are lauded as heroes and heroines, but we speak of discovering a cure for cancer the way we speak of finding Atlantis or of planting a colony on the moon.  There’s not a lot of hope beyond the example of survivors given to those suffering from the disease.

Green captures the exile of disease well.  Green’s is an honest rather than a glorified look at cancer and death and disease, though he does take a rosy glass to life.

With likeable characters, intelligent banter, philosophical thoughts, and quotable one-liners, the text is enjoyable—surprisingly so for the depth of the subject matter (the nature of life, death, and immortality), the characters’ circumstances, (try explaining to people who don’t know about the book that you’re laughing aloud at a story about a group of cancer-riddled friends; they look half-scandalized), and the stilettos with which this book’s plot stomps on your poor heart.

Now something must be shared that was not shared with me and would have had me reading this book (one that’s out of my usual comfort-genres) much sooner:  Augustus Waters is Jace (from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series) with fewer thorns.  Now go out and read some realistic fiction, Shadowhunters and Mundie Moms.


Green, John.  The Fault in Our Stars.  New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2012.

This review is not endorsed by John Green, Dutton Books, or Penguin Group, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.  DFTBA.