Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, by K.G. Campbell

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters
Author: K.G. Campbell 
Publisher: Kids Can Press 
Publication Date: September 1, 2012 
Lester is a particular boy. He likes everything to be orderly and neat. He likes things to be proper. So when his Cousin Clara comes to stay (whose cousin she is remains unclear) and proceeds to knit Lester sweater after horrible sweater, all with extra bits or missing arm holes, Lester is not happy. In fact, he's dreadful. He tries everything he can think of to "accidentally" lose or destroy each sweater, but Cousin Clara is a maddeningly fast knitter and there's always another monstrosity to replace the last.

It's rare to get a chance to witness the beginning of the career of a children's book author you know is destined to be beloved by generations. I am too young to have read the very first book by Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl or Margaret Wise Brown, before everyone knew their names, and seen their work from the beginning. But I'm fairly certain that in a few decades time, everyone will know Keith Gordon Campbell from the library of quirky and beloved children's classics he has yet to write. If Lester's Dreadful Sweaters is any indication, you'll be buying his books for your great-grandchildren. I'm actually astounded that this is his debut book. After reading it, I immediately felt such a strong kinship with it that I was certain I had been reading and loving it for years!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more!

Dinosaur Countdown, by Nicholas Oldland

Dinosaur Countdown
Author: Nicholas Oldland
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
This preschool counting book satisfied the dinosaur lovers in my family! The pictures are delightful (and, according to my resident dinosaur expert, accurate enough to pass muster) and the countdown rhyme is very cute. My favourite thing, though, is that it includes zero. Not enough counting books include zero! It shows dinosaur bones with "zero dinosaurs" because they're extinct, silly. Love it!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Birthday Suit, by Olive Senior (illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes)

Birthday Suit
Author: Olive Senior
Illustrator: Eugenie Fernandes
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 1, 2012

This book is, as you might guess, about a little boy who just doesn't see why he should have to wear clothes. After all, he lives on a beautiful sunny island with warm sun and sparkling water--he should be allowed to go naked! Alas, his family disagrees and tries to tell Johnny that it's time to put some clothes on. It's a sad day for many a nudist toddler. I remember my own wriggly baby was able to somehow get herself out of her one-piece pajamas the first week she was home from the hospital...and that was WHILE SWADDLED! We'd go in and find her swaddling blankets a little loose (but mostly intact) but she'd be completely naked inside the blankets and her pajamas or onesies would be pushed down inside the swaddle, down by her feet. I tell that to Magda now and she's not sure if she believes me, but she certainly appreciates the desire to be a naked toddler. I think a lot of parents and kids will be able to relate to this delightful tale of unencumbered toddlerhood!

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Big Brave Daddy, by Smiljana Coh

Big Brave Daddy

Author: Smiljana Coh 

(text copyright Harriet Ziefert, Inc.)
Illustrator: Smiljana Coh 
(illustration copyright Smiljana Coh)
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
There are a lot of great preschool picture books about kids and their dads...I'm just not sure this is one of them. The illustrations are, I think, meant to be folksy or something, but really they just look like they were done with MS Paint or Facebook Graffiti (and even then, they're not that great). The text apparently wasn't even written by the listed author, since the "text copyright" is held by the publisher, Harriet Ziefert (see below for more about that). I've looked at Smiljana Coh's online portfolio and some of her art is lovely and amazing, but I am definitely not a fan of the art in this book. I thought maybe my three-year-old, Magda, would find it cute and silly at least, but she seemed more confused than anything ("Are they mice? Why do they have big ears? Where are their tails?").

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Lucy Rescued, by Harriet Ziefert (illustrated by Barroux)

Lucy Rescued
Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Barroux
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Unfortunately, this is another book by Blue Apple Books that has the page numbers all messed up on the e-book edition (I've contacted the publisher multiple times and have heard no response) so it was impossible to read the book properly on my desktop the way you would a print edition (with pages 2-3 facing each other, pages 4-5 facing each other, etc.). As a result, the illustrations were all cut in half when we were trying to read this, so we had to guess what was happening some of the time. I found it a bit annoying, though my daughter Magda didn't seem to mind since she really loved the story. Something about the story of the little dog that couldn't sleep without a stuffed animal friend really resonated with her (she herself is miserable without Lambie). If you have to choose between a print edition and an e-book edition, though, I would steer clear of the e-book, since it's very likely mis-numbered the way my review copy was (again, I emailed the publisher a few times and didn't get an answer).
Hit the jump for Magda's take and more!

Pass It On, by Marylyn Sadler (illustrated by Michael Slack)

Pass It On
Author: Marylyn Sadler
Illustrator: Michael Slack
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Oh this book would have been so great if the pages had lined up properly! I received the e-book version of this through Edelweiss and read it on my desktop with my three-year-old, Magda. The problem was, the book is clearly meant to be read two pages at a time (like you would with a print book), which is normally not a problem since I just set my desktop reader to the two-page view. With most e-books, though, the publishers remember to number the pages in the digital file the same way you would number the pages in the print edition, or leave blank pages where necessary, so that a two-page illustration--say, pages 2-3 in the book--appear together in the e-book edition. Blue Apple Books, however, didn't do that. They added extra file pages at the beginning (a page of promotional bookmarks or something) that messed up the page numbers and made it impossible for me to view this book properly. So Magda and I viewed half a cow and half a dog on one page, then flipped to the next page for the other half of the dog and half a duck, etc. I contacted the publisher (more than once) to ask for a better review copy, but did not hear back. From this, I can only assume that the e-book edition is exactly like the review copy I received, in which case I would recommend you avoid it at all costs. If, however, you find a print copy, check it out as it's actually a pretty cute story! It's a play on that old "telephone" game I used to play as a child (I'm sure you did too) where the farm animals have to pass messages along and it all gets muddled up.

Hit the jump for Magda's take and more!

The Silly Looking Thing, by Eva M. Sakmar-Sulliavan

The Silly Little Thing

Author: Eva M. Sakmar-Sullivan
Publisher: Schiffer Books
Publication Date: August 31, 2012

This is another one of those books that is "okay" but maybe isn't destined to become a classic. The premise is that a young frog is looking for a playmate at the pond, but refuses to play with the "silly looking thing" in the water, no matter how many times it asks. By the end, the "silly looking thing" has turned into a young frog himself and it turns out he was just a tadpole before. The premise is great and there's so much room for humour here, but I found myself trying to dress up the "silliness" of the book with funny voices and things. The book itself didn't really have much silliness or whimsy, which I found disappointing. When I read it to Magda, she seemed a bit let down at the end, as though I had missed a page. It's clearly intended to be a "message" book about not judging people based on their looks, but I think it's a lost opportunity that the author didn't also make it a funny, silly story that kids would want to read multiple times.

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Drummer Boy of John John, by Mark Greenwood (illustrated by Frane Lessac)

Drummer Boy of John John 
Author: Mark Greenwood
Illustrator: Frane Lessac
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Buy Now on Amazon.com
Buy Now on Amazon.ca 

Wow, if there was ever a children's book that cried out for an audio recording, it's this one! This vibrantly illustrated book tells the story of a little boy getting ready for Carnival in Trinidad by trying to make his own drums out of things he finds in the junkyard, and was inspired by the life of Winston "Spree" Simon, one of the pioneers of the Caribbean steel drum. The pictures and words almost sing right off the page, but I would love to hear an audio recording with the sounds of the steel drum in the background while the author (or a narrator) tells the story of island music, Carnival celebrations, delicious roti and, of course, steel drums. As soon as I read this with Magda I immediately looked up videos of steel drums to show her!

Hit the jump to see the book trailer, Magda's Take and more!

Shadows on my Wall, by Timothy Young

Shadows on My Wall
Author: Timothy Young 
Publisher: Schiffer Books 
Publication Date: August 31, 2012
Shadows on My Wall is a simple but delightful story about a child who has difficulty sleeping because the street lights cause all manner of strange shadows on his wall. At first he thinks there are monsters in his room, but soon learns that he can pretend the shadows are anything he wants them to be, including funny playmates to keep him company at night. I loved this book. The illustrations are simple and consistent--every page is the child's room with various shadows on the wall--but they hit just the right tone. Shadows CAN be scary but it's a great message to remind children that they can also be fun and funny. It reminded me a little of Ed Emberley's Go Away, Big Green Monster! or Charles G. Shaw's It Looked Like Spilt Milk, where things aren't always what they seem and sometimes it's all a matter of interpretation. Plus, as a bonus, the last page includes a whole bunch of how-to shadow puppets that you can try at home!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more pictures from inside the book!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mac & Cheese, Please! 50 Super Cheesy Recipes, by Laura Werlin

If I told you I'd never made real macaroni and cheese you'd probably stop reading this review right now. But after reading Mac & Cheese, Please! I realize I haven't. Sure I've thrown together some cheese, milk and macaroni (sometimes not even from a box!) but what I've made doesn't even come close to the food porn scrumptiousness contained in this book. 

Laura Werlin starts off with one of the longest introductions I've read in a cookbook in a while, especially in one essentially devoted to a single dish. She lovingly (bordering on obsessively) details the milk to cream ratios, the types of cheese that melt the best compared to those that give the most flavour, the proper wait time to obtain maximum cheesiness. In short, she has thought more about macaroni and cheese than most of us do about Christmas dinner.

But thank goodness she has because the result is a collection of recipes that burst from the pages with enticing photos and clever add-ins that just beg you to try them all right now. When I first read this book I had been sick with the flu for a week and could barely even look at food but I think my body willed itself to get better when I saw all that delicious melted cheese and toasted bread crumbs (and fried mac & cheese bites--oh my!). 

On a side note, I received the e-book only and read it all on my computer screen (my Kobo is fantastic but it would not have done the photos any justice). So I guess what I'm saying is somebody should go buy me this book! It's not available until December 2012 but, you know, Christmas and all...just sayin'...BUY ME THIS BOOK! please?

Source: carbscheeseplease.tumblr.com
Hit the jump for more Mac'n'ations (with cheese)....I apologize that was terrible...so cheesy. Oh, I'm sorry again. I'll stop now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Too good not to share!

Okay, so this isn't exactly a book review, but since I signed up to do NaNoWriMo this year, I may be a little busier than usual. But I don't want the blog to suffer, so in the meantime I thought I'd share my new favourite video of the week. It's "The Three Little Pigs" in French, to the tune of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." It's unbelievably awesome. My partner Mike and I have been gnomcing around the apartment singing "petit cochon" to our daughter for two days now (Oh, "gnomcing" is a word we made up to describe moving in a whimsically mischievous way...you know, like a garden gnome. It's obvious when you think about it, really.)

Maybe I should find various versions of The Three Little Pigs to review just so I can justify posting this video over and over...