Thursday, July 31, 2014

Clara's Crazy Curls, by Helen Poole

Clara loves her curly hair but oh, how she wishes she could have MORE of it. Thanks to some conveniently placed hair growth formula found in her parents' bathroom, she gets her wish and more. Before long she has hair that reaches the sky and all the incovenience that comes with it.

She's like a cross between a Robert Munsch character and one from Dr. Seuss (remember Gertrude McFuzz?). How she managed to get her hair to stay upright as it grew past the ceiling I'll never know.

Magda and I enjoyed this book, though I think Magda found the premise of wanting MORE hair a bit perplexing. She had been growing her own hair out so she could donate it to Locks of Love when she eventually had it cut. After months of dealing with tangles, braids, extra brushing and endless blow drying, the day she got it all chopped off was the happiest of her young life!

For more information about the book, visit Capstone Young Readers. And if you happen to be interested in donating hair to Locks of Love, a wonderful organization that makes wigs for sick children, you can visit

Clara's Crazy Curls
Author: Helen Poole
Publisher: Capstone
Publication Date: January 1, 2014
View on Amazon

Source: NetGalley

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale, by Marjuan Canady (Illustrated by Nabeeh Bilal)

Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale is an "almost" book. I can see where the author and illustrator were going with it, but it didn't quite get there. 

The basic story is that a boy named Winston is eating callaloo, his favourite Caribbean dish, while sitting in his apartment in New York City, when he is suddenly transported to the island of Tobago. And that's when the book gets a little scary. Winston encounters a series of frightening demons and monsters before finally returning home to his kitchen. Upon his return he apparently has learned the value of eating in moderation. Was that what he was supposed to be learning? I guess so. It wasn't all that clear.

I think the idea behind this story (which is based on a play) is that readers are supposed to feel they are transported to another land along with Winston (sort of like Where the Wild Things Are), or that a regular kitchen can have the power of transformation (like Jonathan Cleaned Up and Then He Heard a Sound), but also that we're supposed to learn a lot about the Caribbean islands (like The Drummer Boy of John John). The problem is that the drawings are simple and unsophisticated enough to suggest the book is for very young children, but then the monsters are pretty scary. So the overall message seems to be, "If you eat Caribbean food you may end up in Tobago, which is the scariest place on the planet." I can't help but feel the author intended the book to have the OPPOSITE message. 

Magda's Take:

Magda didn't actually finish this one. We started to read it after she'd had a big lunch and just before she was supposed to take a nap. When she saw that it was about a boy eating a lot of food she declared that she was too full and too sleepy to read this right now. I finished it on my own while she was napping and I'm glad I did because those monster drawings would have definitely scared the crap out of her. (Keep reading to see a couple of the illustrations)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rosie Writes Backwards, by Eva O'Regan (illustrated by Diane Lucas)

I've been meaning to publish a review of this book for some time but I've been procrastinating just a little. Unlike the overwhelming majority of books I review, this was written by someone I know in real life. Sort of. I met author Eva O'Regan at a my local library where she was doing a book launch event for this book (which is when I agreed to review it on my blog) and it turns out she works in my dentist's office.

I'm not one to sugar coat reviews, and I would never give a dishonest review of a book just because I'd met the author (or for any reason really), but, well...if I didn't absolutely love the book then a lukewarm review could be...awkward. I'd probably have preferred to just not review this book at all, but I already said I would, so here goes. (I assure you it's my honest opinion, but I definitely wanted to give everyone a heads up about any connection I have to the author, in case that changes how you assess my review.)

My daughter and I read this book together and it's, um, okay. The idea is an interesting one: A little girl writes backwards and astounds her friends at school. The entire book is written in mirror letters (THE ENTIRE BOOK) so it comes with a sort of shiny reflective mirror paper thing in the back that you're supposed to use to read the words. The idea is that you put the shiny mirror paper against each page and read the reverse image.

First of all, the shiny mirror thing doesn't work that well. It's awkward to read the book under the best of circumstances. I can only imagine how hard it would be once the reflective paper gets scratched, creased, smudged, or worse--lost. And because the book is paperback it's difficult to keep the reflective page at the exact right angle to read the words. Nice idea, but not the most practical execution.

Also, when I say the entire book is written in mirror letters, I mean the ENTIRE BOOK, not just the parts where Rosie is writing. Personally I think it would have been more successful if the main story were written normally, but maybe the character of Rosie could write things in reverse that readers would have to "decode." That's just my opinion.

As for the story itself, I do like the fact that Rosie's backwards writing is treated as a special talent instead of cause for concern. On the other hand, it probably would have been good if there had been a little bit of conflict for the main character to overcome. Did the kids at school think she was weird? Did her parents worry that she had a learning disability? Was her teacher annoyed that she wasn't writing properly? Although Rosie briefly worries about these things, the reaction from everyone is universally supportive. While that's lovely, it doesn't necessarily make for the most interesting storytelling.

Here's what my daughter had to say:

Magda's Take:
Will I have to know how to write backwards when I start school? I know how to write most of my letters, but I don't know how to write them backwards! Is my teacher going to ask me that? Also, why does the teacher in the book look exactly like the mom in the book? Do you think the illustrator was just drawing herself? The grownups all look the same. That's strange..

Mom's Note:
Magda is right about the adults in the book looking a lot alike. I hadn't noticed that!
As for her fears that she'll "have to" write backwards when she starts school, I've assured her she won't! But it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to me that the author didn't include a parent resource page at the end about reverse writing, dyslexia, etc. Even a brief note on her website would have been great. Again, just my opinion.

Book Details:
Rosie Writes Backwards
Author: Eva O'Regan
Illustrator: Diane Lucas
Publication Date: September 2013
View on Amazon

Source: review copy from author
Visit Author's Website

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cock-a-Doodle-Oops! by Lori Degman (illustrated by Deborah Zemke)

Who doesn't love a good barnyard tale about animals hatching a plan? In the vein of Click Clack Moo and the Minnie and Moo series, Cock-a-Doodle Oops! is the story of animals who know more about running a farm than their farmer. Well, sort of.

When Rooster goes on vacation for a week (which Farmer McPeeper doesn't seem to notice) the other animals must take turns doing the morning wake-up call. Since none of them can master the rooster's "cock-a-doodle-doo" Farmer McPeeper (who is quite a deep sleeper) ends up sleeping for the whole week. He is grossly unqualified for his job.

Told in non-annoying rhyme (always a bonus for parents) and with delightfully expressive illustrations (Deborah Zemke can get a lot of attitude into cartoon eyes), the book follows each day of the week that Rooster is away. Each morning sounds almost--but not quite--right. There's "cock-a-doodle SQUEAL," "cock-a-doodle MOO," and "cock-a-doodle BAAAA," well you get the idea.

Magda's Take:
"I loved this book! I loved everything about it. I especially liked that the animals were trying so hard to say "cock-a-doodle-doo" but really they were doing pretty well for a sheep and a pig and a cow. I mean just getting the "cock-a-doodle-baa" part is still pretty good! But I think there might be something wrong with that farmer. How can you sleep for a week? It was a good idea at the end when they just called him on the telephone. Those animals are smart."

Keep reading for more details about the book and a peek inside!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Don't Turn the Page, by Rachelle Burk (illustrated by Julie Downing)

If you only read one book about a porcupine baby who reads a story about a bear cub who reads a story about a porcupine baby all year, it should be this one. It's a book within a book, a story and a meta-story, and it's all kinds of adorable!

Sami is a baby porcupine (or is she a hedgehog? Magda and her dad hoped she might be) who doesn't want to go to bed (because she's not even tired!) but she and her stuffed bear do want to read a bedtime story. Just don't call it a bedtime story (because she's not even tired!).

The book they read is about a little bear cub who is getting ready for bed. He gathers his stuffed porcupine (hedgehog?) toy and settles in for a book. And the book he's reading is this book, the one about the porcupine (hedgehog? porcuhog?). So meta.

I just adored this book. It reminded me a little of Snatchabook, another story about forest animals and their bedtime stories. Big thanks to the publicist for sending this one my way!

Magda's Take:

Magda--So do you think the bear in the story and the porcupine know each other in real life? Like, are they friends and their moms wrote this book for them?

Me--I don't know. Maybe.

Magda--I mean "real life" in the story. I know it wasn't really written by a bear.

Me--I know what you meant.

Magda--But then, would a porcupine and a bear cub be friends? A porcupine is pretty tiny compared to a bear. And if it's a hedgehog, that's even smaller!

Me--It's a mystery, honey.

Magda--It really is.

Don't Turn the Page!
Author: Rachelle Burk
Illustrator: Julie Downing
Publisher: Creston Books
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
View on Amazon

Source: I was sent a copy by the publicist--thanks, Samantha!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Big or Little? (Board Book edition), by Kathy Stinson (illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell)

Kathy Stinson's (Red is BestThe Man With the Violin) new book, Big or Little? is about an experience that every parent of a toddler or preschooler can relate to: your child feels (and behaves) like a big kid some of the time, but also feels (and is treated) like a little kid other times.

Helping in the garden makes him feel big. Being able to reach the elevator button makes her feel big. But then she has to go to bed when she's not even tired, or he tries putting on a shirt and the sleeves end up in all the wrong places, and it's back to feeling small.

It's the constant struggle of being a toddler (as The Honest Toddler will attest).

I say that parents will relate to it, but I can't guarantee that kids will admit to it (even though these are things they go through ALL THE TIME). When I read it to Magda I asked what things made her feel big or little. She said, "I'm four, Mommy. I'm BIG. FOUR IS BIG, Mommy." She probably just didn't want to admit to anything, in case it was a trick question to get her to take a nap when she wasn't tired.

Big or Little?
Author: Kathy Stinson
Illustration: Jennifer A. Bell
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: January 9, 2014 (Boardbook edition)
(Originally published March 1, 1983, by Annick)
View on Amazon

Source: NetGalley

The Honest Toddler
(my review)
Red is Best
The Man With the Violin
(my review)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm (A New English Version), adapted by Philip Pullman

The Grimm Brothers are having a real moment in pop culture right now. There are numerous movies and television shows with dark fairy tale themes, including one simply called Grimm. There's the Grimm trilogy by Adam Gidwitz. There's even a take on The Three Billy Goats Gruff called The Bully Goat Grim. And then of course there's this new collection of Grimm fairy tales by Philip Pullman.

I say "new" but of course the stories are very old. The Brothers Grimm themselves did not originate most of these stories, but gathered them from many sources, travelling around listening to tales. So Pullman warns us not to be too precious about the "right" version of these stories.

"A fairy tale is not a text," he says in his introduction. Each storyteller who repeats a fairy tale has the liberty--nay, the obligation--to tell it in his own way with his own embellishments. In this collection, Pullman has striven to stay true to the spirit of the original fairy tales rather than worrying about the exact wording or details.

He's also included a lot of stories that I had never heard before, such as "Hans-my Hedgehog." I was excited about that one because my daughter, Magda, is in love with a hedgehog character that her father created for her in a series of stories (which are sadly not available outside of our house, as much as I'd love to see him publish them). The Grimm Brothers' take on a hedgehog was, uh, less charming. In true Grimm fashion, it was a little horrifying. I didn't tell Magda.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm
A New English Version
Author: Philip Pullman (adapted by)
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
(Published by Viking November 8, 2012)
View on Amazon

Source: NetGalley

A Tale Dark and Grimm
(review coming soon)
In a Glass Grimmly
(review coming soon)
The Grimm Conclusion
(review coming soon)
The Bully Goat Grim
(review coming soon)
Grimm (TV)
Once Upon a Time (TV)
Maleficent (2014)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cupcake Cousins, by Kate Hannigan (illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes)

I read this to Magda, who is four, and she loved it, but the target audience is probably around ages 7-9. It's a great chapter book overall, with just a few minor problems (in our opinion).

First of all, at nearly 300 pages it's quite long for a children's chapter book. Of course some of those pages are recipes or illustrations, but still.

Second, most of the characters have flower or plant names (Rose, Willow, Violet, etc.) but since it's hard to come up with plant-themed boy names, the little brother in the book is called Sweet William. Although I've seen that conceit used to great effect before (have you seen the movie The Hanging Garden? It's great), it did get very annoying that he was called that Every. Single. Time. Not once did they just call him William or Will. Does it say Sweet William on his birth certificate? Also, it didn't help that he was the worst character in the book. He was five but he acted (and was treated) like he was two, in that nobody ever reprimanded him for all of the horrible ways he screwed everything up. My four-year-old was a little insulted by how useless the five-year-old in the book was.

But on the plus side, the characters of Willow and Delia (the so-called Cupcake Cousins, though they seem to make everything BUT cupcakes) are great. And I loved that Delia comes from a mixed race family and it's NBD. Willow likes the fact that even though they have different hair and skin colour, she and her cousin still look a lot alike and have the same eyes. In real life, lots of families and extended families are racially diverse, but that's something you almost never see represented in children's books. I liked that a lot.

Cupcake Cousins
Author: Kate Hannigan
Illustrator: Brooke Boynton Hughes
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
View on Amazon

Source: NetGalley

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pig and Small, by Alex Latimer

Oooh I love Alex Latimer! My whole family absolutely fell in love with Lion vs. Rabbit and now he's on our permanent watch list. As in, we always watch for any new books by him and try to get them as soon as possible. Well he has a new picture book coming out in August and we're all so excited! (We're especially excited because I got an advanced digital review copy from NetGalley--yay!)

Pig and Small is the story of a pig (Pig) and his new friend, a tiny bug named Small. They enjoy each other's company but it takes them a while to figure out what kinds of activities they can enjoy together without their size difference being a problem. Small tries knitting a sweater for Pig but it's far too little. They try hide-and-seek but Pig can't find Small for days. They try playing chess but it takes too long for Small to move the pieces. They're starting to worry that it's hopeless.

Luckily they figure it out and a beautiful friendship is born. Awwww.

I read this with my four-year-old, Magda, and she and her dad (who was listening from across the room) both had the same reaction. They both thought that Small reminded them of the character of Very Small Beetle, one of Rabbit's "friends and relations" from The House at Pooh Corner. Very high praise indeed!

Magda also pointed out that in the scene in which Small tries to play chess, his opening move is to (try to) move the queen, which isn't a very good opening play so his game of chess probably wouldn't have gone well anyway. (Magda's dad has been teaching her to play chess and both of them are always excited when they see chess mentioned in story books.)

Pig and Small
Author/Illustrator: Alex Latimer
Publisher: Peachtree
Publication Date: August 1, 2014
View on Amazon

 Source: NetGalley
Author's blog
Publisher's website

The House at Pooh Corner
Chess Teacher

Lion vs. Rabbit
(my review)
The Boy Who Cried Ninja
(review coming soon)
Penguin's Hidden Talent
(review coming soon)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

There Was an Old Sailor, by Claire Saxby (illustrated by Cassandra Allen)

I do love cumulative rhymes in the style of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and this is a particularly good one. The old sailor swallows a krill, a jelly, a fish...all the way up to a whale (at which point he burps them all up and sets sail).

The illustrations are delightful--which is especially important when you're doing a variation of such a familiar, well known rhyme--and the book even ends with "fishy facts" about each of the creatures the sailor swallowed.

When I was a daycare teacher, I certainly sang the original song plenty of times, and also sought out the many variations available as picture books. One of my favourites was There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow, by Lucille Colandro, who has made a career out of writing variations on the same theme. 

So I was surprised that when I read this book to Magda she wasn't familiar with the concept. "Why did he swallow a whole squid? Where did he get the seal from? How is that even possible??" Did I really never sing "There Was an Old Lady" to her before? 

After we read this book, we watched a video of the original song on YouTube and she appreciated the rhyme even more. I also noticed that one of the comments on the video said that the song is actually great for teaching various blended consonant sounds (catchswallowed, fly, spider, perhapswriggled, etc.) which I never thought about, but it's absolutely true! And since this book stays very close to the original rhyme except changes which creatures are being eaten, this book is also great for practicing consonant sounds. Actually, it includes even more combinations than the original because of the krill, squid, whale, etc. Nice!

There Was an Old Sailor
Author: Claire Saxby
Illustrator: Cassandra Allen
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date:
View on Amazon

Source: NetGalley


There Was an Old Lady
Who Swallowed a Fly,
by Pam Adams
There Was an Old Lady
Who Swallowed a Fly,
 by Simms Taback
There Was a Cold Lady
Who Swallowed
Some Snow,
by Lucille Colandro
There Was an Old
Lady Who Swallowed
Some Books!
by Lucille Colandro

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Best Book in the World, by Rilla (Rilla Alexander)

Whatever the "best book in the world" is, it's not this. This book is okay, it's nice, it's fine, but it's not superlative.

Like many of the Flying Eye books I've encountered it seems to have been created by someone who loves art more than they love children. I"m not saying it's a bad book or inappropriate in any way, I just think the main (and nearly the only) focus of the book is on the artwork, and the words and story are of little consequence. 

If you love the artwork, you'll love the book. But, as with other books from this publisher, I'm not as enamoured of the artwork as the publishers seem to be. Meh.

The Best Book in the World, by Rilla Alexander
Published by: Nobrow / Flying Eye Books (July 8, 2014)
View on Amazon

Source: Edelweiss
Rilla Alexander's website


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Endangered and Extinct Mammals, by Jennifer Boothroyd

Conversation with my 4-year-old:

Magda: Mommy, if you were in the forest and you met an animal that was endangered, would it poison you?

Me: Uh...what?

Magda: Like would it swoop down and kill you, like right away?

Me: Would what? What kind of animal are you talking about?

MagdaEndangered animals. Are they really poisonous or something?

Me:, honey. Endangered means the animal is in danger, not that they're really dangerous.

Magda: In danger of what? Dying?

Me: Yeah, dying out, becoming extinct.

Magda (giving a knowing nod): Oh because they're really old.

Me: Sigh. Just a second. I think I have a book on the computer that can explain this better than I am...

And so it did. Magda now has a better understanding of the meaning of "endangered" and "extinct" (I hope, at least) though I suspect she still thinks the dinosaurs all died of old age at the same time (this book only deals with mammals, so dinosaurs weren't covered).

This book is a good entry to the topic of endangered animals, though the section on "how you can help: was maddeningly vague. I don't think the author sufficiently explains how being sure to recycle your water bottles will prevent pandas from dying. I know Magda had a lot of followup questions, so I'd recommend a trip to the library, museum, or at least the internet after reading this.

Endangered and Extinct Mammals
Author: Jennifer Boothroyd
Series: Lightning Bolt Books ™ — Animals in Danger
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication Date: February 1, 2014
View on Amazon

Source: NetGalley
Publisher's website