Friday, March 29, 2013

Don't Stop Believin': Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies, by Robert K. Johnston, Craig Detweiler, Barry Taylor (eds.)

Don't Stop Believin'
Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies
Editors: Robert K. Johnston, Craig Detweiler, Barry Taylor
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press
Publication Date: October 13, 2012
I'm not sure I quite get the point of this book. I was expecting a little insight into the ways religious images are used (or interpreted) in various ways in popular culture, like how The Simpsons is one of the few TV families that regularly goes to church or how many of Leonard Cohen's songs reference the Torah. But there was only a little bit of that. Mostly it seemed like a group of people from Fuller School of Theology and other religious colleges were simply asked to write a brief article about their favourite movies, actors or pop stars. Occasionally the connections were made to religion. But many times the connection seemed to extend no further than "I'm a fan of this person and I'm a Christian. Therefore this person is pertinent to Christianity." Micky Mantle and Marilyn Monroe are gushed over for being "idols" of the 1950's, but the religiosity of that "idolatry" isn't very well articulated. Miles Davis is praised for his "cool jazz" while the author laments that Christianity can't be more "cool." 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece, by Roseanne Montillo

The Lady and Her Monsters: 

A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece 
Author: Roseanne Montillo 
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins) 
Publication Date: February 5, 2013 
On one hand, I found this book fascinating and it made me want to learn more about nineteenth-century London and the events that lead up to the writing of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. On the other hand, the reason this book made me want to do more research is that the research that went into this book is so poorly referenced.

Roseanne Montillo starts FAR too many sentences with "many believed" or "some have said" or "critics argued" without properly referencing WHO believed, WHO said, or WHO argued. This may not have been such a big oversight if so many of her claims weren't so fantastic. For instance, at one point she seems to suggest that the myth of the golem, a Jewish monster animated into human form, may have actually happened. I'm sure she doesn't really believe that...does she? She makes similar claims when talking about various experiments done by the "mad scientists" of the 19th century, those who tried to create or resurrect life with human body parts and electricity. While I understand her point that these experiments had a strong influence on Mary Shelley's writing, she sometimes presents the "success" of these experiments in ways that stretch credulity. And her footnotes--if you can call them that--are merely notes for further reading, broad suggestions about which books she used for which chapters, without giving specifics about sources, page numbers, etc. I know sometimes publishers ask that footnotes be cut for brevity, but these were actually longer than if she had just properly annotated her research. Plus, according to her acknowledgements, a lot of her "research" involved conversations she had with people before writing the book.

None of that makes it a bad book, per se. It's just not a history book. It's more of a long one-way conversation with Roseanne Montillo about the things she's heard about Frankenstein, 19th-century experiments, body snatchers, and Mary Shelley. To call it a history book would be like calling an Impressionist painting a photograph. And like an impressionist painting, it gives an approximation of the story she's trying to tell, approaching it in a series of anecdotes, the connections among which is not always immediately clear. Reading it was like spending an afternoon on Wikipedia and clicking all the links I came across. I learned a lot of things, most of which I'll want to verify from more reliable sources, even if I went off on a lot of tangents.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

And the Winner Is...Amazing Animal Athletes, by Etta Kaner (illustrated by David Anderson)

And the Winner Is...
Amazing Animal Athletes
Author: Etta Kaner
Illustrator: David Anderson
Publisher: Kids Can Press 
Publication Date: April 1, 2013 
Such a great idea for a kids' book! It's a sort of "who would win between a..." kind of thing. Do you have those conversations in your house? No? Just me? Well anyway, it's set up like an Animal Olympics, with competitions for weight lifting, speed, high jump, etc., and you can guess who will win each one. Then there's a comparison with how fast/high/far the average human go, so you can see how we stack up against monkeys, cheetahs and fleas.

Now if only we could get animals to compete like this for real...No wait, that sounds like I'm suggesting some sort of weird, cruel circus in which animals are forced to race or lift weights or something. I just mean that it would be cool if we could get animals to WANT to participate in an Animal Olympics. But those fleas just don't have any athletic spirit.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Boom! (or 70,000 light years), by Mark Haddon

The library has this classified as an adult fiction book but it is clearly juvenile fiction--says so right on the back of the book. It's really cute though. I would definitely read it to kids.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I Hate Picture Books! by Timothy Young

I Hate Picture Books!
Author/Illustrator: Timothy Young
Publisher: Schiffer
Publication Date: March 29, 2013
I can't think of a single bad thing to say about this book so here are ten awesome things about it: 
  1. It's funny (soooo cute!)
  2. It promotes a love of books (the character doesn't "hate picture books" after all)
  3. It's adorable (see #1)
  4. My whole family loved it (which means my daughter and her dad)
  5. It has fantastic illustrations, including tonnes of pictures of other picture books (and ones I didn't think were even famous)
  6. My daughter owns half the picture books featured in it, which made us all like this book even more (and made us feel smart)
  7. It's by Timothy Young, whom I've loved ever since Shadows on My Wall
  8. It dispels the idea that children "grow out of" their favourite books 
  9. It's all around awesome
  10. Oh and the author is having a contest! (keep reading for more details)
Do you recognize the picture books featured in the illustration below? If you have young children (or are a daycare teacher or children's librarian) I bet you do!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Change the World Before Bedtime, by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good

Change the World Before Bedtime
Authors: Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good 
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing 
Publication Date: August 31, 2012 
Do you have that friend, that super awesome friend who's amazing and sooo hip and soooo good and always recycles and probably knows how to knit and understands the phrase "artisan cheeses" and has her own Etsy store and makes sure her children all volunteer at the animal shelter and always has the coolest fair trade ethically made handbags? She's your coolest friend and she's soooo nice and you don't have a bad word to say about her? And you know how you just want to punch her right in the face? 

This book is that friend. In book form.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Banana Police, by Katy Koontz (illustrated by Kelsey C. Roy)

The Banana Police
Author: Katy Koontz
Illustrator: Kelsey C. Roy
Publisher: Willow Moon Publishing
Publication Date: November 29, 2012
Buy Now on paperback kindle
Buy Now on paperback kindle
Mayor McFroontz has a problem. His jungle community is being overrun by elephants! They're everywhere. They take up too much space in the grocery store. They sit in the front row at the movie theatre. They're VERY loud. Something has to be done! Of course, without the elephants around there will be no one to eat all the extra bananas that grow everywhere. Soon the people of the jungle will have more bananas than they can handle. What will they do?

My daughter and I both loved this book. The exuberant silliness and message of cooperation and community spirit reminded me of Dr. Seuss. And the illustrations hit just the right balance between realism and foolishness (they reminded me a little of Michael Martchenko, who illustrates so many of Robert Munsch's books).

I particularly loved the various things the people in the book tried to do with all of their excess bananas, including banana pizza and banana scrambled eggs. My daughter Magda and I had fun thinking of all the things you can do with bananas (though hopefully NOT the banana eggs!).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mud Puddle, by Robert Munsch (illustrated by Dušan Petricic)

Mud Puddle
Author: Robert Munsch
Illustrator: Dušan Petricic
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
This has always been one of my favourite Robert Munsch books. It's so fun to read this one aloud, especially with a group of children. They love shouting the "Hey Mud Puddle!" part. But I must say, I'm partial to the original version with illustrations by the immensely talented Sami Suomalainen (if you don't know Suomalainen's work, I cannot recommend his illustrations in Curtis Parkinson's Mr. Reez's Sneezes highly enough!). This newly illustrated version with pictures by Dušan Petricic is...well, it's just not the same. It's odd, but in a way the new illustrations are more dated than the ones from nearly twenty years ago. In the original, the colours are rich, the images approximate (not that they're crudely drawn, just that they are playful and leave a lot to the imagination, which I love) and the rich mud practically oozes off the page. Petricic's illustrations, on the other hand, are relatively detailed but lack the, well, ooziness of the original. It's like the Mud Puddle has already been scrubbed. Fantastic story but my preference is definitely for the original illustrations.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Out of the Blue: A Book of Color Idioms and Silly Pictures, by Vanita Oelschlager (illustrated by Robin Hegan)

Out of the Blue: A book of color idioms and silly pictures
It's such a good idea for a children's picture book: an illustrated guide to colour idioms like "tickled pink" and "out of the blue." And the illustrations are gorgeous and the explanations easy to understand. My only criticism is that it doesn't make much sense to do a book like this without explaining the origins of each phrase. Understandably, some phrases may be more difficult to trace back than others, but it would have been nice to see some effort at explaining their roots. After all, many of these idioms are difficult to really understand (and remember) without knowing where the phrase comes from.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Up Dog, by Hazel Hutchins (illustrated by Fanny)

Up Dog
Author: Hazel Hutchins
Illustrator: Fanny 
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 1, 2012 
I'm not sure if it's quite as clever as Up Cat, but it's still very, very cute. Like Up CatUp Dog is a day in the life of a pet using various plays on the word "up" (perk up, snuggle up, dig up, etc.). I also like the "up dog"'s cameo in Up Cat! Very young children are sure to be charmed by this messy pup and everything he gets "up" to. 

Okay, now can I make my "up dog" joke from The Office?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Up Cat, by Hazel Hutchins (illustrated by Fanny)

Up Cat

Author: Hazel Hutchins
Illustrator: Fanny 
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 1, 2012 

Oh I loved everything about this book! I loved it as a parent, as an educator, and just as a reader. The illustrations are cute and clever and made me laugh, the concept is simple but actually incredibly smart, and the text is just the right balance between simple enough for very young children but also a little bit sophisticated as well. It's basically a day in the life of a mischievous house cat, with every page being a play on the word "up." So wake up, fill up (food bowl), wash up, but also "turn one's nose up," "up to no good" and--one of my favourites--"fall down but land up." Every page is sure to delight any child or cat lover, but it's also a great way to introduce very young children to the wide variety of ways that language can be used. A word as simple as "up" has a plethora of uses and contexts, but this book makes them accessible, fun and natural. This book ticks all the boxes for me.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Big Cat, Small Cat, by Ami Rubinger

The idea behind most of Ami Rubinger's picture books for young children is that kids will love filling in the blanks of the read-aloud rhymes. In Big Cat, Small Cat, I'm not sure all of these pictures are obvious enough for children to guess the rhymes, but it's cute.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dog Number 1, Dog Number 10, by Ami Rubinger

This is a counting picture book from the author of Big Cat, Small Cat and I Dream of an Elephant. It may not have quite as much whimsy and magic as the colourful Elephant, but the rhymes are easy and predictable for young children.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Dream of An Elephant, by Ami Rubinger

Buy Now on
Buy Now on
In this beautiful picture book for preschoolers, each page shows an explosion of colour, one page for each colour of the rainbow, accompanied by a predictable rhyme that kids can fill in:

Friends all around--what a popular fellow! I dream of an elephant, whose color is--

I normally don't review picture books (though I've certainly read enough of them!) but I do love these Abbeville Press books. So pretty!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Alphabet Everywhere, by Elliott Kaufman

In this gorgeous 32-page picture book (making it the perfect size for children--ever notice how almost all preschool books are 32 pages long?) Elliott Kaufman transforms everyday scenes into magic by capturing "natural" occurrences of letters in the everyday world. A bridge becomes the letter W, a door handle the letter B, a swirly lamp post the letter J. It's charming and inspiring. Each page has a handful of different photos to represent a letter of the alphabet. Some are easy to see--like the mosaic tiles that spell out the letter F--while others are trickier--like the twin silos that form the letter M, but only if you look at the negative space above and around them.

I've seen photos like this sold as individual prints (Groupon always seems to have deals for them) that you can purchase in groups to spell out a word or a name, but it wasn't until I saw the whole alphabet laid out like a charming coffee table book did I fully see the appeal. I can't wait to show my daughter these photos. Maybe she and I will go on an "alphabet hunt" nature walk with a camera in hand.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Song for Papa Crow, by Marit Menzin

Song for Papa Crow
Author: Marit Menzin 
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing 
Publication Date: August 31, 2012 
 With children's picture books, the importance of the artwork can not be underestimated. Beautiful illustrations can take a book from being good to being exceptional. The illustrations in Song for Papa Crow are, without a doubt, exceptional. The collage work almost reminds me of something out of a Nick Bantock book (except that this book is, I presume, two dimensional). It's also a wonderful introduction to many of the birds that are commonly found throughout North America.

My daughter and I often see birds from our windows or when we're going for a walk. Unfortunately, unless it's a crow, a blue jay, a pigeon, a seagull or a robin, I usually don't know what the birds are so I can't tell her much about them. So I love books that teach about other birds that we might see (like finches--I always forget about finches). Plus I like that the crow, whose caw had been annoying the other birds throughout the book, ends up being the hero in the end.

Another great (and free!) resource for families and educators interested in learning more about common birds the Celebrate Urban Birds kit available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hit the jump for the link and more images from the book!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Muddled-Up Farm, by Mike Dumbleton (illustrated by Jobi Murphy)

Muddled-Up Farm
Author: Mike Dumbleton 
Illustrator: Jobi Murphy 
Publisher: Star Bright Books 
Publication Date: March 15, 2013 
(First published by Random House Australia, 2001) 
"On a hill far away with its own special charm is a wonderful place called Muddled-Up Farm."

The cat says "moo," the goat says "woof" and the farm inspector has had enough! He is determined to make sure all of the animals sound as they should, but after making them practice...uh, it doesn't look like he could. All right, that's enough rhyming. 

This brightly illustrated silly farm book was a big hit with my three-year-old, although she did say she considered it a "sad book" because "the animals still didn't know how to talk like they were supposed to." I'm not sure I agree that it's a "sad" book (perhaps Magda is a tad dramatic, as many three-year-olds are) but I did agree that it could have used a more satisfactory ending. Not to ruin the ending of this preschool picture book, but the animals neither learned to talk as they should by the end, nor did they proudly proclaim their "muddled-up pride" or whatever. But I digress.

Not sure if you want to add yet ANOTHER farm book to your toddler's collection? I hear ya. But this one's bold illustrations in secondary and tertiary colours, plus its mixed up silliness, are enough to make it a strong contender for shelf space in your little one's library.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Crazy Man, by Pamela Porter

I loved it so much I'm not sure where to begin. It was the first novel-in-verse I've ever read and finished--it was beautiful, breathtaking, touching, sad, heartwarming, funny, sweet, poignant...and also easy to read and lacking in the pretension I had found in other novels-in-verse I had tried to read in the past. Truly one of my favourites of the year!

(Note: I first read this in 2006)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon

Author: Audrey Penn 

Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson 
Publisher: Tanglewood 
Publication Date: August 15, 2011 
What a fantastic twist on the "afraid of the dark" bedtime stories! Chester the Raccoon is having trouble sleeping but since raccoons are nocturnal, it's the daylight that's keeping him up. He keeps thinking he sees scary things in the sun's rays, the way children might complain of shapes in nighttime shadows. As usual, his mother is there to comfort him and help him relax for bedtime (and dream of nighttime adventures). The text is a simple rhyme that's sure to enchant even very young children. 

A Color Game for Chester Raccoon, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

A Color Game for Chester Raccoon
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson
Publisher: Tanglewood
Publication Date: May 15, 2012
This is a cute take on a colour book for young children by the author and illustrator of The Kissing Hand and other Chester Raccoon books. Chester and his friends spy various colours in nature, like a white bird, a brown caterpillar, flowers that are "cornflower blue." It's sort of the Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? for the Chester Raccoon series. The only thing--and I'm sure this would not be an issue for the board book--is that the digital copy I received did not have the pages lined up properly so two-page illustrations could not be viewed simultaneously using the "two page view" option on my desktop reader (it showed the second half of one picture and the first half of the next instead). If this becomes available as an e-book, I hope they would correct the page numbering.

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, by Andrew Blum

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet
Author: Andrew Blum
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 29, 2012
The internet really IS a series of tubes! Well, sort of. In this fascinating look at the history and--even more unusual--geography of the internet, Andrew Blum takes us behind the scenes and among the cables that make up the information superhighway. A fantastic read that I picked up months ago and forgot to write a review for until recent pictures of Google's data warehouse jarred my memory (hit the jump to see).

Monday, March 4, 2013

50 Underwear Questions: A Bare-All History, by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (illustrated by Ross Kinnaird)

Apart from the fact that kids love these entertaining fact books with cartoon drawings and "Did you know" boxes, and apart from the fact that all kids find underwear hilarious, the history of underwear is just plain interesting. It's perfect bathroom reading for the whole family.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood, by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Seeing Red:

The True Story of Blood 

Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi 
Illustrator: Steve Rolston 
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 1, 2012 
You really can't go wrong with Tanya Lloyd Kyi! She's the author of several other books for children, particularly specializing in the "so gross but so cool" categories. Her 50 Underwear Questions was fantastic, but Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood is stellar. The book explores all the ways in which blood has been interpreted, misinterpreted, used, consumed, avoided, feared, ritualized and just plain obsessed over. She looks at bloodletting, vampire lore, menstrual myths, human sacrifice, blood spatter and even blood recipes (if someone offers you blodplattar pancakes, think twice!). It's creepy and gross and SO good. It's also really informative. Plus the illustrations by Steve Rolston hit just the right mark between cute and gory. My inner twelve-year-old is salivating over this book! 

50 Climate Questions: A Blizzard of Blistering Facts, by Peter Christie (illustrated by Ross Kinnaird)

I love these "infotaining" fact books for kids, but this one is a little strange. The "question" part of this entry in the 50 Questions series is random, like an afterthought. Questions like "Question 16: Did barn dances come later?" only make sense after you've read the chapter and aren't very helpful when skimming a table of contents. It has lots of interesting information but it isn't really a "question and answer" book.