Tag Archives: Howard McWilliam

Book Reviews: October 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Monsters, Monster Trucks, Female Icons, and Daniel Tiger

Standard

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

Elbow Grease vs. Motozilla by John Cena and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Penguin Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first Elbow Grease, though I’m not sure that I could put my finger on why if you asked me to do; perhaps it just isn’t living up to my expectation now that I have a more favorable expectation for Cena’s books. In the first, Elbow Grease learned the worth of his personality and how to use his skills, and his brothers learned to respect Elbow Grease. Now Elbow Grease is craving some of the adulation that his brothers receive. He decides that they need to defeat the biggest, baddest new truck in the monster truck world, and he devises a plan for he and his brothers with the help of a contraption made by their female mechanic Mel to work together to take down the monster. I don’t know. The plot and the lessons both fell more flat in this one for me, though the length was better, shorter. I really do think that this is just a case of my expectations being too inflated from the success of the previous book.

***

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

No More Monsters Under Your Bed! by Jordan Chouteau and illustrated by Anat Even Or. JIMMY Patterson-Little, Brown-Hatchette, 2019.

This book relied too heavily on its gimmick—a patch that according to the tale turns you invisible to monsters—in much the same way that Santa’s Magic Key was an explanation of why a person was giving you a key or The Elf on the Shelf is an explanation of why someone wants to give you a creepy elf plush. It begins by introducing a boy who is scared of monsters and then describing all the different types of monsters that scare him. His parents give him a patch which when pressed turns him invisible to monsters, which erases his fear. Becoming bored without anyone to scare, the monsters move on, and the boy passes on his patch to another friend, who passes it to another, and so on, until it reaches the reader, I suppose, who gets the patch by buying the book. This isn’t really teaching a reason to not fear so much as it is preaching a belief in a token.  It is though I suppose a lesson in sharing tools that have helped you.

**

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

Juno Valentine and the Fantastic Fashion Adventure by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I did I think like this one just a bit better than the first of Eva Chen’s books. Chen has changed the rules of her magical closet. Now, Juno does not become the women whose clothing she obtains but rather interacts with famous historical women, who gift her clothing and advice on her quest to capture her brother who has trespassed in the magical closet—and it isn’t until I am writing this now that I have to wonder about the implications of a boy intruding on a woman’s private space, a space held open for interactions with other women. Does his interaction with the space change the space and how? Certainly now the conversations that Juno has with the other women have become conversations about her brother, how Juno can catch up to her brother. It does pass the Bechdel test, though the conversations with named women are either about catching Finn or about Juno’s clothes. In her wanders through the closet, Juno gains not only the means to apprehend her brother but a unique outfit for school photo day, which earns her the title “Most Likely to Be Herself and No One Else,” a little ironic since she is quite literally borrowing the fashions of the others.  Her class is a diverse group that includes children of many hues, a child in a wheelchair, and a child wearing what appears to be a patka, a head covering for Sikh boys.  Her teacher, Miss Dahlia, is a black woman, a thing that is more rare in a picture book than you would expect and than it ought to be.  I read an ARC.  The book is out now.

**

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

Peek-a-Flap: Boo by Rosa Von Federer and illustrated by Gaby Zermeño. Cottage Door, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 2+.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little board book which has suggestions for celebrating the Halloween holiday, labels to make it a primer, and facts about the holiday—a few of which even I did not know. I still love how sturdy these Cottage Door Press board books seem. Most other flaps are cardstock, but these are the layered cardboard that make up board book covers and pages. The illustrations are bright.  This is a Halloween book that is more about how humans celebrate with costumes and candy than centering any of the monsters.

****

Daniel Tiger

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

Big Enough to Help adapted by Becky Friedman and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2015.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-1, Ages 3-6.

Daniel isn’t big enough to do everything, but there are many things that he can do, and there are some things that he has to do be small to do, like play in his new playhouse. “Everyone is big enough to do something” is the refrain of this book.  Reading this aloud, I avoided the ending catchphrase, which is unfamiliar to me, and any singing (on all three of these).

***

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

Daniel’s First Fireworks adapted by Becky Friedman and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2016.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-2, Ages 3-7.

Daniel helps his little sister overcome her fear of the fireflies, which she has never seen, by holding her hand and showing no fear himself. She holds his hand as does his dad as the fireworks start, and they are louder than Daniel thought that they would be.  This is a sweet story about encountering new things and helping others experience new things that might be frightening.

***

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

Daniel Chooses to Be Kind adapted by Rachel Kalban and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-2, Ages 3-7.

Daniel asks King Friday what it is like to be king, and Friday declares him king for the day. He gives Daniel a list of things that he needs to bring to the castle at the end of the day. It’s never quite clear what King Friday intended to do with these items. After acquiring them, Daniel gives them all away in the course of the day to cheer up or help his friends. He never acquires replacements for the items that he gives away, which seemed a little odd honestly.  Though Daniel visits shops, he doesn’t seem to pay.  There’s seems to be some economy run on trade of services.  I really don’t remember much of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood anymore, and I have never seen Daniel’s Tiger’s Neighborhood.

***

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: September 2019 Picture Book Roundup: A Few Good Books

Standard

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

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez and illustrated by Jamie Kim. HarperCollins, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The text and the illustrations in this picture book are both beautiful! This sentiment is beautiful! A little girl, frustrated by repeated questions that imply that she and her family are not from “here,” asks her abuelo’s advice on how to answer them. Her abuelo gives her a beautifully lyrical answer: She is from each of the strong and brave ancestors before her, she is from the beautiful land that they came from, and she is from the love of her family, “my love,” her abuelo says, “and the love of all those before us.” I assume that the girl like the author is Argentine American, but there is no specific reference to the country. There is mention of the Pampas, but the lowlands stretch across several countries in South America. This is a book about feeling proud of one’s heritage and provides a comfort and an answer to the too often asked question. I don’t share Méndez’s heritage, but I was still stirred by Méndez’s words and sentiment and Kim’s illustrations. I think I would be even if I had never met the first generation of my family to immigrate to this country. I think this book will stir something in everyone. I do think, though, that more than the text, I will remember the sentiment and the illustrations.

*****

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

How I Met My Monster by Amanda Noll and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Flashlight, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is the third in a series of books but the first one that I have read thoroughly enough to write a review for this blog. The illustrations in this are so wonderfully saturated and detailed and fun. This book reminds me somewhat of Monsters, Inc with its concept of monsters learning the rules for haunting a child at night. These monsters don’t seek the child’s terror, though. Instead their goal is to keep the child in bed until they are asleep, an aid not a trial for parents. A class of small monsters and their teacher emerge from beneath a boy’s bed and try to frighten him into bed, but the boy doesn’t find them particularly scary, mostly funny, though one, Gabe, is kind of awesome and just a little scary with his long claws, gurgling stomach, and feigned penchant for human toes. The boy enjoys being just a little scared though. The book ends with Gabe proclaiming that this seems like “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and an illustration of Gabe curled up beneath the boy’s bed, looking like an overlarge canine or feline. This was just the right length for my group of three littles at story time. Anything longer would have been too much. They enjoyed counting the eyes under the bed and shouting out the colors of the monsters. They wanted the monsters names sooner than the story supplied them though.

****

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

A Busy Creature’s Day Eating! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Here’s an unusual alphabet book, which begins with breakfast food and, the creature running out of food, devolves into eating all sort of unusual things like Furniture, Gravy, a Hoagie, Ice cream, and a Jacket. And then at O, the creature begins to feel sick from its unusual diet and runs to the Potty. It is cared for, given basic foods to calm its stomach, Vomits anyway, is kissed by its guardian (XO-XO-XO), and sleeps away the ache: Zonked. The story is completely gender-neutral, which is a nice change, with no actual indication that the guardian is a biological parent. I liked that this included unusual words beside those more typically used in alphabet primers. I liked that this has a storyline. So many alphabet books are list books without a story. I have read clever alphabet primers before: Animal Homes ZXA: an Out of Order Alphabet Book, Animalphabet, and even A is for Awful: A Grumpy Cat ABC Book and Arctic Bears Chase. This is still perhaps the only one that really tells a story, though, a story that makes sense (Arctic Bears tries to build a story from one sentence, but it is a fairly nonsensical story). For what this is, this is a very good, a very unique book. I am surprised that no one that I know of has done this before, but no one that I know has done it. Willems does it with characters’ exaggerated expressions and humor in the text.

*****

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

Standard

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.