Tag Archives: television

Book Reviews: December Picture Book Roundup

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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.

**1/2

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.

**1/2

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.

**1/2

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.

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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.

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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.

**1/2

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.

****

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Book Review: Finally! The Search Finds the Series’ Tone

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Click to visit the publisher's website for links to purchase and a preview.

I dance with spoilers.

Fans of Avatar: the Last Airbender have waited a long time to have these questions answered.  The Search, the latest of the story arcs created in conjunction with the series, published in as a graphic novel series, has promised to answer what happened to Zuko’s mom, the resounding question with which the series closed, and so has a lot of live up to in the minds of fans.

And so far, with the publication of Part 1, I’m impressed.

Though it may stem partially from the way in which I have read the two (the one being a complete, contiguous compilation devoid of the intended breaks and the other being the first of several parts of a story arc), The Search: Part 1, returning to questions of family and honor and leadership, seemed more like several of our beloved episodes (maybe a DVD’s worth) than The Promise.  The main characters of the series here, maybe because they are interacting in situations more akin to what we are used to as viewers (questing and camping alone together), seem more themselves, more fully portrayed.  The inclusion of Ursa’s red-tinted backstory seems to make this half her story and half Zuko’s.

The Search: Part 1 has left us with almost more questions than answers, though we’ve been given backstory for Ursa now and Ozai’s disappointment bordering on dislike of Zuko.  They’ve made me see Ozai in a new and better light, though I’m not sure that that was their intention.  Except that The Legend of Korra makes me suspect the possible twist in this plot will be resolved in a palatable way, the plot would be nail-biting.  I’m not sure how the authors will pull it off, but I’m going to put my faith in this talented team and hope that they know what they’re doing.  They’ve put themselves in a tenuous position, teetering on a knife’s edge of destroying some of the positive messages and some of the complexly interwoven destinies of the original TV series that made it so powerful and tight as a story.

The inclusion of the Wolf Spirit makes me hope that we’re about to get more about the Spirit World.  Several characters have had interactions with the Spirit World: Aang, obviously, as the bridge between the two worlds; Sokka, who was once abducted by a spirit and can authoritatively tell us that there are no bathrooms in the Spirit World; and Iroh, whose trip to the Spirit World has never been fully explained (the explanation that he had an encounter with the last two dragons who led him to understand the true meaning of firebending has never seemed to me to explain his ability to see spirits that others do not).  It seems to me we may get the answers to Iroh’s Spirit World visit as well as the answers as to where Ursa is in this story arc, and that would leave me with few burning questions from the original TV series (though I’m sure that Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko can dredge up more to which I will devour the answers, and I’m still not satisfied with the history we’ve been given of Republic City).

This is a fantastic teaser for the next (I believe) two parts.

****

Yang, Gene Luen, Michael Dante DiMartino, and Bryan Konietzko.  Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search: Part 1.  Ed. Dave Marshall.  Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by any of the authors or creators of Avatar, Nickelodeon, or Dark Horse Comics.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Perhaps The Promise was Not Fully Fulfilled, But at Least It Wasn’t the Movie Adaptation

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Click to visit the publisher's page, for links to purchase, summary, and preview.

A lot of young boys come to our store looking for comic books.  Hindered by the way that my brain works, recoiling from the explosive quality of traditional American comic book illustration style and finding it difficult to digest together the text and illustrations of comic books in such styles, I have read very few well-known comics, though I have tried to read several.

As such, I don’t know what is kid-friendly and what is not, other than being very positive that no elementary or middle school student ought to be reading Sandman.  Heck, I hardly follow Sandman sometimes, and I don’t think that the illustrations would help me much there.

I always ask such customers if they happen to be fans of the Nickelodeon TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender.  The creators of Avatar have written two companion storylines published in comic book form, the second of which, The Promise, takes place just after the conclusion of the television and helps to bridge the dramatic cultural changes between Avatar: The Last Airbender and the sequel series Avatar: The Legend of Korra.

These comics use a style nearer to manga than most American productions—or nearer to the modern and evolving graphic novel—or is it a storyboard format?

I have great respect for the creators of Avatar.  They created a complex world with complex yet logical magic, researched Eastern cultures in order to found their world.  They have created complex characters with complicated backstories and complicated psyches and a bestiary’s worth of surprisingly plausibly constructed composite creatures.  They do not shy from throwing all this complexity into a children’s television series.

They don’t shy from throwing it all into their comics either.

I actually expected more from the comics and was a tad disappointed.  I’d hoped for another season, though, and recognize that my disappointment stems from this.  The comics read more like the final three episodes of a series than a complete story arc.  Neither shenanigans nor dialogue lived up to the ridiculousness of the TV series.  This is what I missed most in The Promise.

Quickly the era of peace that was ushered in by the replacement of Fire Lord Ozai with Fire Lord Zuko dissolved into war.  I think that there were probably some several months of nights of poor sleep and growing suspicion for Zuko that the comics skip over.  Those same months were probably filled with wonderfully ridiculous escapades by Team Avatar, the blossoming relationship of Aang and Katara, and Toph’s departure from the team in order to create the first metalbending school.

The plot is heavy.  It begins with Zuko extracting a promise from Aang to kill him if (and I think he might believe “when”) he begins to act like his father.  Though defending his people, Zuko’s actions look even to him to be like those of his father, and Aang struggles with whether to kill his friend and is told by trusted advisors that he must.

This particular version of The Promise, the library binding, is particularly nice for the marginal notes from the creators, who discuss their love of the characters, some of the ideas for the scenes, and notes about the characters’ stories.

The Search will fill a few more gaps.

***

Yang, Gene Luen, Michael Dante DiMartino, and Bryan Konietzko.  Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise.  Ed. Dave Marshall.  Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by any of the authors or creators of Avatar, Gene Yuen Yang, Dave Marshall, Nickelodeon, or Dark Horse Comics.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.