Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yay! I can finally review this book! What's New at the Zoo? by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, introduction by Phyllis Newman (illustrated by Travis Foster)

What's New at the Zoo?
Authors: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
(based on song lyrics)
Introduction by: Phyllis Newman
Illustrator: Travis Foster
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
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Source: I received a review copy (hardcover) from illustrator Travis Foster. Thank-you so much!

Nearly a year ago, I received a digital review copy of this book from Blue Apple Books through the Edelweiss Above the Treeline program. Unfortunately, the file didn't work properly and when I tried to contact the publisher I did not get a reply. Alas, I couldn't review it, though I did talk about my wish that I COULD review it in blog post here. Luckily, Travis Foster read it and so graciously offered to send me a copy so I could review it for real. So nice!

My Take:
Even if the digital file had worked, I don't think it would have done the book justice. The hardcover edition has large lift out flaps with illustrations that are both bold and subtle at the same time. It's really best experienced as a print book. Actually one of my favourite things about the book is how the illustrations are done in layers, with shiny line drawings in the background to compliment the full-colour illustrations in the front. It adds to the feeling of the zoo animals being frantically crowded, without making the pictures appear messy or overwhelming. But that detail would have been lost in a digital edition, I think.

Magda's Take:
My daughter Magda enjoyed the illustrations and the words from the song lyrics (more on that later) but overall she found it a "sad book about a sad subject." I asked her why she thought it was so sad and she said, "Because the animals are being so mean to each other, stepping on each other's necks and tails, but it's because they're so crowded. If the zoo wasn't crowded the animals wouldn't be so unhappy. Did they not have bigger zoos for them? It's so sad!"

A Little Background:
Although the book made Magda a little sad, I think she got the point of the story. The song, "What's New at the Zoo?" is from the musical Do-Re-Mi (which you may remember as the original source of the song, "Make Someone Happy"). According to the afterword by Phyllis Newman (wife of late composer Adolph Green), the cramped conditions of the Central Park Zoo was the real inspiration for the song, and she was delighted when--decades later--the zoo was transformed into a more spacious and comfortable environment for the animal residents. It was changed in response to criticisms of the living conditions of zoo animals and changing attitudes toward zoos in general. While this specific song may not have been the catalyst for such shifts, it's nice to know that some of these changes have been made. And it's also nice to see a children's book that, while still fun and silly, encourages children to think critically about the way we treat animals in our care (an element that is often missing from the thousands and thousands of farm and zoo themed children's books).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Handknit Holidays: Knitting Year-Round for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice, by Melanie Falick (photographs by Susan Pittard)

Handknit Holidays:
Knitting Year-Round for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice
Author: Melanie Falick
Photographer: Susan Pittard
Publisher: STC Craft | Melanie Falick Books
Publication Date: October 30, 2012
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 Source: NetGalley

Unless you are a person of very diverse talents and interests, it's unlikely you'll make every single one of the projects in this book. Unless of course you happen to knit, crochet, embroider, do lace work, metal work, felting AND you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, winter solstice, the Feast of St. Lucia and various Russian folk traditions AND you make gifts for children, adults, newborns and dogs AND you're looking for a new holiday craft book. In which case, you're amazing. And I just found you the perfect book.

For everybody else, this book would be more of a starting point, a source of inspiration or new ideas, even if you only make a few of the projects in it. It really takes the "something for everyone" approach to heart, with a selection of clothing, decorations, household items, ornaments, gifts, toys and more to make. There's even a cookie recipe. For me, it's probably not a book I would buy (I received a digital copy for review purposes) because I just don't think I'd get enough use out of it. But I could see it making a great addition to your crafting library if you have a crafting circle, if you teach classes, etc. Otherwise, I would recommend checking it out from your local library first and seeing if the projects appeal to you. There are a lot to choose from and there may be enough that are intriguing that you want to own the book.

I'll just say one more thing about the projects though. Don't judge them based on the picture on the cover of the book. In my opinion the cover photo is the ugliest one in the whole book (sorry). It's dated and, I think, a little tacky. And most of the projects in the book are not at all like that. I'm not sure what made them choose this particular glove-hood combo thing for the cover but it makes the whole book look like it came right out of the early 1980's. So don't be fooled. A lot of the ideas in the book are actually very pretty and modern.

Which reminds me. If I'm going to make any knitted gifts for Christmas this year, I'd better get started! There's a tree skirt and a table runner in the book that I'm dying to try but I'm not sure if they're too hard for me (I'm truly a beginner). If I make them, I'll be sure to post my results!

 Or maybe I'll just start with some of those adorable tree ornaments...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Best-Dressed Knitted Bears: Dozens of Patterns for Teddy Bears, Bear Costumes and Accessories, by Emma King

The Best-Dressed Knitted Bears: 
Dozens of Patterns for Teddy Bears, Bear Costumes and Accessories
by Emma King

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Publisher: Anova Books (Collins and Brown)
Publication Date: July 5, 2012
Source: NetGalley

It's cute, and the idea is a good one: provide a few patterns for basic teddy bears and then provide patterns for clothing them. If you like those teddy bears, you'll love dressing them in dresses, pants, hats and various costumes. The only thing is, I didn't really like the teddy bear patterns. They're okay, but they're the kind that have the arms and legs attached separately so there's a seam at the connector points. I'm sure that makes them a little easier to make than if they were all one piece, and it probably makes it easier to put them in a sitting position, but I don't think it looks as nice, especially when the bear isn't dressed.

I guess I think these would make good "display" bears but not necessarily good "playing with" bears. Having said that, that's just my personal aesthetic preference. There's no reason you couldn't make these bears--which are mostly the same but in different sizes--for a child to play with. And if they loved it you could easily surprise them with new clothes for the bear without needing to measure again. Personally, I think I may skip making the teddy bears for now and just try making some of the outfits for my daughter's other stuffed animals. I think she'd be thrilled!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices, by David M. Schwartz (photographs by Dwight Kuhn)

Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices
Author: David M. Schwartz
Photographer: Dwight Kuhn
Publisher: Creston Books
Publication Date: July 23, 2013
Source: Net Galley

My three-year-old daughter and did not quite agree on this book. And rightly so. A preschooler's reaction to icky gross things is usually quite different than her mom's. So I've split it up into two reviews:

My Review: Ewwww! It's so gross! I mean I knew it would be gross because it's about mold and rotting fruit. It IS called "Rotten Pumpkin" after all. But still, it's sooo gross. Close ups of fuzzy mold and slugs, coupled with little stories from the points of view of the bugs, fungi, soil and pumpkin itself. It's definitely not for the squeamish.

Magda's Review: This book was fantastic! I really liked how the slime mold is actually a whole bunch of little molds that work together. It's good to work together. And there are a lot of true facts in this book, like how some molds are used for medicine and fermentablation [she means 'fermentation'] which is good. Why don't we let our fruits rot so we can feed all the bugs and molds? We should do that!

Sigh. Thanks a lot, David M. Schwartz and Dwight Kuhn. My daughter loved your very informative and verrrry icky book.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ten Birds Meet a Monster, by Cybèle Young

Ten Birds Meet a Monster
Series: Ten Birds
Author: Cybèle Young
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Source: Edelweiss
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Ten adorable and frightened black birds are about to be attacked by a scary monster in the next room! At least they think it's a monster. It's definitely casting a very scary shadow. One by one they use a pile of clothes to devise costumes to make themselves look like bigger, even scarier monsters. But the creature in the next room is unmoved. Finally, bird number ten wanders into the next room and discovers what the "monster" really is.

The line drawings remind me of antique book engravings, except with adorably big-eyed bird faces staring back at me. Every page made me want to go, "Awwwww...cuuuuute!"

Magda loved it too. Usually she has a love-hate relationship with books that might be scary or monster-filled. She doesn't like to be scared, except that she really does (just like her mom). But she was so charmed by the silliness of the birds' attempts to scare the "monster" that she wasn't scared at all.

Magda's favourite part: There's not really a monster! It's just a shadow!

My favourite part: The line drawings. I can't get enough of them.

Fans of Cybèle Young's previous book, Ten Birds, will be pleased to know that the bridge featured in that book (seen above) appears as a picture on the wall in Ten Birds Meet a Monster.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Lady Fiona J. M. Aitken Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon (Audiobook narrated by Wanda McCaddon)

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle
by Lady Fiona J. M. Aitken Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon

Narrator: Wanda McCaddon
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Audiobook Publisher: Tantor Media
Publication Date: March 5, 2012


Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of the audiobook from Tantor Media through Edelweiss (Above the Treeline). I was not required to write a favourable review, nor was I otherwise compensated in exchange for my review. I also borrowed the print edition of the book from my local library. All opinions expressed are strictly my own.

I loved both the print and audio versions of this book! As a fan of Downton Abbey, I was fascinated with all the ways in which the show mirrors the real life of the family who inhabited Highclere Castle (where the show is filmed) at the time. Normally with books like this I try to indicate whether or not I think it would be "for fans only" or if it be of interest to non-fans as well, but this book is aimed at fans of Downton Abbey for a reason. If you are interested in the lives of the aristocracy and the servant classes in early twentieth century England, you will probably like this book. Then again, if that's the case you'll probably like Downton Abbey too! 

I loved reading about the similarities between the fictional Lord and Lady Grantham and the real Lord and Lady Carnarvon, including the Earl marrying a wealthy woman to save his fortune, the castle serving as a hospice for soldiers in WWI, the shooting hunts (or is it hunting shoots?) the division of labour among the servants and much of the specific details about their lives, the Earl's ever faithful dog, and even a stoic but compassionate man named Mr. Bates who is forced to walk with a cane due to a war injury (Wow! So many things! And more, actually.). Above all, I loved reading more about my absolute favourite character on Downton Abbey, which is Highclere Castle itself.

Plus the audiobook narration by Wanda McCaddon is absolutely perfect. Although you miss out on some of the photos if you opt for the audiobook only, I'd almost say it's worth it just to hear the story in Ms. McCaddon's pitch perfect delivery. If only they could have somehow had the Downton Abbey theme playing in the background of the audiobook, it would have been sheer heaven.

I wonder what other similarities the writers will use in upcoming seasons of Downton Abbey. Will Lord Grantham help uncover the tomb of King Tut in Series Four, just as Lord Carnarvon did in 1922? OH I HOPE SO!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons, by Sara Levine (illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth)

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons
Author: Sara Levine
Illustrator: T.S. Spookytooth
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group/Millbrook Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2013 
(Canadian Publication Date: October 1, 2013)
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Source: NetGalley

As a children's book this is okay. It introduces children to different animals by asking them "What kind of animal would you be if..." with variations such as "if your back legs were much longer than your front" or "if your fingers were as long as your body," etc. Turn the page and find the answer (hare, bird, etc.). It's cute, but I found myself wishing for two things. One, that it was longer or at least had more information (in sidebars or outlined boxes, so it could still be a picture book but would have greater appeal to older children). And second, I wish it were less open-ended. The guessing game format of the book suggests that each page has a right answer that children can figure out from the clues, but the clues are vague enough that they could each have multiple answers. I found that a little frustrating.

Still, the idea is a good one. And how great is it that it's illustrated by someone who goes by the name "T.S. Spookytooth"?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Speeding Down the Spiral: An Artful Adventure, by Deborah Goodman Davis (illustrated by Sophy Naess)

Speeding Down the Spiral: 
An Artful Adventure
by Deborah Goodman Davis
Illustrator: Sophy Naess
Publisher: DGDFA
Publication Date: October 1, 2012
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Source: NetGalley

My daughter and I loved this book so much! As a matter of fact, as soon as we had finished reading it Magda asked if we could read it again. It's basically the story of a father, daughter and infant son who visit the Guggenheim museum in New York City. They start at the top of the museum's famous spiral when the dad stops to check an email on his phone. His daughter Lizzie tries her best to be patient but before she knows it, her baby brother Ben's stroller has gotten away from her and is--as the title promises--speeding down the spiral! As Lizzie chases after Ben, she passes by many of the museum's famous art works and gathers a crowd of helpers at the same time. By the time Ben's stroller makes it all the way to the bottom, he is being pursued by Lizzie, a teacher and students, a tour group, a security guard, an amateur artist and various other museum guests. Plus they've all learned a lot about the art they've seen.

I loved this book. The illustrations are perfect and certainly do justice to their subject matter (which is all further explained at the back of the book). I also like that many of the things that Lizzie learns about the art is said by characters who are huffing and puffing and running down the spiral ramp. It adds to the fun and frantic nature of the book. Well done!

I also like that the moral of the story seems to be not to spend all your time playing with your phone when you're supposed to be watching your kids. Or at least that's what I took away from it. 

For more information about the book you can visit its website:

Oh, also, does anyone know anything about the publisher, DGDFA? I'm 99% sure that stands for "Deborah Goodman Davis Fine Arts" so does that mean it's self-published? Or that the author has a publishing house? Either way, I was shocked to find that out. The layout and editing choices reflect the work of a larger publishing house, with many hands making it perfect. It's certainly not impossible for an author to do this on a smaller scale, but in my experience it is much harder and rarer. If this is an indication of the quality that's to come, I'll definitely be looking for more from her (and/or them)!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sometimes Just One is Just Right, by Gayle Byrne (illustrated by Mary Haverfield)

Sometimes Just One Is Just Right
Author: Gayle Byrne
Illustrator: Mary Haverfield
Publisher: Abbeville Press
Publication Date: April 5, 2013
Source: NetGalley
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I got this book specifically with my three-year-old in mind. She's always asking about the possibility of siblings and is positively obsessed with the sight of pregnant women. While I don't know whether she'll have a sibling in the future or not, I was hoping this book would be a good reminder that there are worse things in the world than being an only child. She doesn't have to share her toys, her room or her parents, for instance. She doesn't have to get dragged along to a sibling's extra-curricular activities when she'd rather be at her own. She doesn't have to listen to everyone cooing about how cute the baby is (not that I think she'd mind that).

This book does a good job of making all of these points while still extolling the virtues of different kinds of families. Sometimes it would be nice to have lots of siblings because then there'd always be someone to play with. Dinnertime would always feel like a big party. It wouldn't be as boring and lonely as being an only child sometimes is.

On the other hand, the children from big families sometimes envy the only child, who never has to wait for their turn on the swing or has the privacy and quiet of their own room.

In the end the child in the book concludes, as the title says, that sometimes just one is just right.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Porcupette Finds a Family: A Story of Adoption, by Vanita Oelschlager (illustrated by Mike Blanc)

Porcupette Finds a Family: A Story of Adoption
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrator: Mike Blanc
Publisher: VanitaBooks
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Source: NetGalley
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Oh dear. If there is one trend in children's books that I found particularly vexing it's the awkward allegory. You know those books that pretend to be about a cute little animal but are really about some Very. Serious. Issue? They always think they're being so subtle, but they're not. The thing is, there are millions (literally millions) of excellent children's books by very good authors about cute little animals who talk and have adventures and are absolutely wonderful, and ALL of them are allegories. You know how I know? Because real animals don't talk and have adventures. Those aren't the ones I'm talking about. The ones I'm talking about are the ones in which the author (often a psychologist or a well-meaning educator, rather than a professional writer) wants to help children deal with An Important Issue or teach them A Valuable Lesson (capitalized because this is always the MOST important part of the book) and decides to do so with cute little animals because why not? Isn't that what children relate to? They won't even realize how much they're learning because the story is JUST SO MUCH FUN! Except it isn't. The books I'm talking about are so heavy-handed with their message and so sloppy with their writing that good storytelling is often abandoned and it's difficult to enjoy the story on its merits without feeling you're being lectured. I hate that there are so many examples of this.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm suggesting that Porcupette Finds a Family is such an example.

In the story, Porcupette, a baby porcupine, is left orphaned after her mother goes out for food one day and doesn't come back. She feels understandably distraught. She's still so young and needs a mother. Luckily she is adopted by a mother bear and treated as one of her cubs even though, of course, she is not. The description sounds heartwarming and, by all rights, it should have been. There are PLENTY of "animal adopted by another animal and feeling different and awkward but still loved" stories. There are even a few fantastic "porcupine feels bad about being so prickly and wonders if anyone will love him/her" books out there (if you haven't read Mr. Fine, Porcupine, do).

But where this one misses the mark is when Porcupette immediately starts questioning if her mother abandoned her because of something she had done wrong, if she was such an unlovable child that her mother left her on purpose. While this might indeed be something that foster children worry about (the book's obvious target audience) it makes a lot less sense coming from a porcupine. And it's kind of a downer. At several points in the book my three-year-old piped up with, "That's silly. Her mother didn't leave her. She's probably just dead!" Because OBVIOUSLY that is the most logical conclusion to a missing porcupine. Even my three-year-old knows that.

But Vanita Oelschlager isn't really telling a story about forest animals. She's telling a story about foster kids. The problem is that the allegory loses its power when it stops making sense as a good story. It has to work on both levels for it to work at all. And above all, good storytelling can not be abandoned.

I understand the power of literature in dealing with difficult situations, particularly in childhood. Believe me, I do. In my personal and professional life I have read thousands of children's books, and have had many occasions to rely on books specifically written about difficult situations. But the best ones must be, above all, good stories and well-written books. And that's especially true with the animal allegories. Because if Vanita Oelschlager wanted to write a book that dealt with the particulars of abandonment, foster care or adoption, she certainly could have done so using human characters talking about real situations. Instead she chose to write about porcupines. This suggests that the story holds up on its own, both as an animal story and as a story with a message. But this isn't Stellaluna or The Ugly Duckling or even Mr. Fine, Porcupine. Although her good intentions are obvious, this is not a book I would recommend.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mouse House Tales, by Susan Pearson (illustrated by Amanda Shepherd)

Mouse House Tales
Author: Susan Pearson
Illustrator: Amanda Shepherd
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date:
Source: Edelweiss
View on Amazon:

Mouse House Tales is divided into two "tales"--the first, a classic "animals helping animals" story when various forest animals come together to help Mouse build a new house, and the second a "mystery."

In the first part, Mouse needs a new house so Wren, Spider, Goat and others come together to help her build one. Spider spins curtains. A bird offers an eggshell for a chair. Goat offers cheese...insistently.

Although I think the story would have been better if the animals had real names (why are so many characters in children's books named 'Dog' and 'Cat' and 'Horse'?) it was otherwise very good.

The second half of the book is a little strange. Mouse is settle into her new house when she is awoken by mysterious sounds. Thinking she has a ghost, she sets out to trap it--again with help from her friends--but it turns out she actually has another mouse in her house (this was the "mystery"). A wandering mouse named Malachi Gimcrack, or Mack for short (why does HE get a name?), has been breaking into her house to sneak food. But Miss Mouse tells him he can stay and the book abruptly ends. (Was there supposed to be a third story? I feel like there was.)

This book is charming and had my three-year-old and I talking about it even the next day. Here's what Magda had to say:

Magda's Take

"I liked that Mouse House mystery book. It was a good book. It was really great how all the animals helped each other and no one tried to eat each other, like the mouse and the bird didn't even try to eat the spider. It's good that there was no cat in the story or he would have caught them all!

The goat was a little mean or a little rude because he kept saying, "Let's eat some cheese! Let's eat some cheese!" when they were doing stuff. He kept trying to wander them off [she means distract them] from building the house.

I like the part where the bird gave an eggshell for the mouse to live in. That was really sweet. 

I think at the end when the mouse who was a girl kept hearing that "creeeak creeeak" it was just the other mouse who was a boy who was making all that noise. Then if Mouse's house got broken again the boy mouse could help her fix it this time."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bear in Underwear: Goodnight Underwear, by Harriet Ziefert (illustrated by Todd H. Ziefert)

Bear in Underwear: Goodnight Underwear
Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Todd H. Doodler
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Source: Edelweiss
View on Amazon

There have been so many books and products inspired by Margaret Wise Brown's classic Goodnight Moon but this one is one of my new favourites. It's true to the inspiration but it's silly enough to give your little ones the giggles. Plus it's like the bedtime story version of "shaking your sillies out," giving kids a chance to laugh and point out all the problems the poor camping animals must face in order to get comfortable enough for sleeping but then it brings it back around to them all settling in to bed. It's a great bedtime story, especially for kids who are familiar with Goodnight Moon, or who enjoy camping, or who giggle at the word "underwear."

Scroll down to see lots of illustrations from the book!

Magda's favourite part: When they finally got comfortable inside the cabin and went to sleep.

My favourite part: The same!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How the Meteorite Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland

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Source: Edelweiss

How the Meteorite Got to the Museum
Author: Jessie Hartland
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: October 8, 2013

Huzzah!! When I read Jessie Hartland's previous book, How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum (Blue Apple Books, October 2011), I was so excited about it that I said I wished she would write a dozen more like it, explaining how other things got to where they were. I believe I suggested, "How the Hamburger Got to Your Plate" or "How the Book Got to the Library" but I figured she'd be able to come up with much better ideas than that. And she did! Yay!

Like her previous book, this is a cumulative rhyme similar to "The House That Jack Built" that explains first what a meteor is and then all of the people along the way involved in getting it from the spot where it fell to the American Museum of Natural History. "This is the dog who barked at the meteorite," "This is the teenager whose car was hit by the flaming rock," "This is the geologist who validated the find," "This is the exhibits team who prepared the display," etc.

At the end of the book there is also more information about the real life geologist (and real life teenager's car) depicted in the book, with photos. That was my daughter Magda's favourite part since she was very concerned about the poor teenager's car being ruined when a meteorite fell on it. But Jessie Hartland assures us that the teenager (who would be in her late 30's by now) was able to get more than enough money from the sale of the meteorite and the car to buy herself a new set of wheels.

If you'd like to learn more about Jessie Hartland and her books, I highly recommend checking out this interview on Pen and Oink in which she takes us inside her studio to look at her projects, her inspiration and her projects. Hopefully one of those projects is the next "How the ___ Got to the Museum" book!

Jessie Hartland in her studio, via

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Night the Moon Ate My Room!, by Jesse Wilson

The Night the Room Ate My Room!
Author: Jesse Wilson
Publisher: Tate Publishing
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Source: Goodreads
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Oh dear. I can tell that author Jesse Wilson loves this book dearly. Not only did he promote it on Goodreads (which is where I first heard about it, and how I won a free giveaway copy--thanks again) but when he sent me a copy I saw that he had also sprung for the matching bookmark. This book is his baby. Not only that, but his author bio lists his job as giving "educational performances of The Night the Moon Ate My Room for schools." Eek! This book is his life. So I'd hat to tell him I didn't love it.

In fact, if your name is Jesse Wilson and you're reading this you may want to just stop right now. Go get some tea, take a walk, then come back and look at a different website altogether. Okay?


The truth is I hated this book. There's so much I hated about it I don't even know where to start because it makes me feel a little mean. But here are the main criticisms:

First, the book is such a clumsy allegory that even the author of the "Footprints in the Sand" poem would be like, "Whoa! Pull back a little!" It's like if you took a Mitch Albom book (say, Five People You Meet in Heaven) but stripped away all the sentimentality and relatability and all the things that make you care about hte character, and all you were left with was "The Lesson." Or if you took a Roald Dahl book (like James and the Giant Peach, for example) and surgcally removed all whimsy and clever writing until all that remained was...well, still better than this book, quite frankly.

Don't believe me? Well how about this. Even though the book is over 120 pages long he never bothers to give the main character a name. It's not all told in the first person either. Most of it is a third person narrative in which he refers to the hero of the story as simply "the boy."

Few things irritate me more than authors who are so intent on "teaching a lesson" that they forego good writing, good editing or good storytelling in order to focus solely on "the message." I find it insulting to the target audience and to the target buyers, teachers and parents. Because do you know who doesn't have to sacrifice good storytelling in order to impart a lesson? Good storytellers. And Jesse Wilson is not one.

Whew! I'm glad I asked him to leave the room before he read that.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Black and Bittern Was Night, by Robert Heidbreder (illustrated by John Martz)

Black and Bittern Was Night
Author: Robert Heidbreder
Illustrator: John Martz
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2013
Source: NetGalley and Edelweiss
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What an unusual book! It reminds me a little bit of the Dr. Seuss meets The Nightmare Before Christmas, with all the adorable spooky skeletons trying to take over the holidays. In this case it's "skel-a-mug-mugs" who are trying to scare everyone in town so that Halloween is cancelled. It almost works when the "tall-bigs" lock up their "doorholds" and "drapefolds" and won't let their "tyke tots" out to trick-or-treat. Luckily the kids know better and sneak out to out "splook" the skel-a-mug intruders. The nonsense rhyme with made up words and silly tongue twisters is hard to read but surprisingly easy to understand.

It would also make a good exercise for elementary school aged children to try to figure out the silly poem's meaning. Poetry can be a bit daunting and inscrutable for some, and what better way to take on the task of deciphering poetry than to practice on a silly rhyme about skeletons at Halloween?

My daughter Magda had fun picking out all of the children's Halloween costumes ("Look! A wolf! I wonder why he doesn't have any candy?") as well as the silly skeleton features (some were wearing glasses, others suspenders). She was so amused by the silly rhymes and charming pictures that she forgot to be scared by the spooky "splooks."

Magda's favourite part: When they were trying to go in the houses but they couldn't get in. The pictures were so funny.

My favourite part: Don't laugh, but I really liked it because it reminded me of Plants vs. Zombies.

NOTE: I borrowed the "Magda's favourite part/My favourite part" idea from a great children's book blog called Read It Daddy. It's written by a dad from the UK with his daughter Charlotte and features "Charlotte's best bit" and "Daddy's best bit" in each review. You should definitely check it out. It's all kinds of awesome.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Loula is Leaving for Africa, by Anne Villeneuve

Loula Is Leaving for Africa
Author: Anne Villeneuve
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Source: NetGalley and Edelweiss
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Loula has had enough! Her triplet brothers are loud, stinky and driving her crazy! She's decided she's going to Africa. She doesn't know where that is, but she knows that it's very, very far away. So she packs her bags (her bunny, her tea service and her best drawing), tells her opera singer mother and her moustache-crafting father (is that a job?) that she's leaving. Then she's off. Luckily her chauffeur is actually paying attention and he spends the day with Loula, taking her on a "ship" (the town car) to "Africa" (the park), using their imaginations to have a day long adventure.

Magda ADORED this book. I'm sure we've already read it twenty times. When I asked her what her favourite part was she told me about ten different things. Here are the highlights:

Magda's favourite part: "I really like the name 'Loula.' But I liked how the driver called her 'mademoiselle' because that's like a fancy thing to say. And I like how they go to the park and have a picnic and stay out really late even after it starts to get dark. But why were Loula's brothers stinky? Were they really stinky? Did they just need a bath?"

My favourite part: Oh the eccentricities! The hipster haberdasher father, the opera diva mother, the little girl with her own chauffeur, the absurdity of the whole premise. I love it! It reminded me of those Eloise books about the little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel. It's like stepping into a whole different world by reading about this little girl's life, which is sort of the point of the story anyway. So good!

I don't know much about author/illustrator Anne Villeneuve except that she wrote/drew a wordless book called The Red Scarf, but I hope she considers giving Loula her own series. I think my daughter would happily read 30 more books about this little girl!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cozy Light, Cozy Night, by Elisa Kleven

Cozy Light, Cozy Night
Author: Elisa Kleven
Publisher: Creston
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Source: NetGalley
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This is sort of a book of seasons with each page finding "cozy" things about each time of year. It's a great book to snuggle up--nice and cozy--with a little one and read before bed.

It's also a book you could read again and again because each page is filled with such detailed pictures. There are children playing, dogs running, butterflies fluttering, snow falling, stars twinkling, cats pouncing, and more.

It's also nice to see the same word used in so many different contexts. It really deepens the understanding of the word, which is lovely.

Magda's favourite part: "I like how they keep saying cozy everything. It reminds me of Cozy Little Book Journal!"

My favourite part: I have to agree with Magda. I'm a sucker for a book that has "cozy" in the title. But I also love the rich illustrations with lots of details to explore.