Showing posts with label educational. Show all posts
Showing posts with label educational. Show all posts

Friday, June 2, 2017

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon, Johanna Hantel

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a subversive book designed to encourage children to read by telling them how to get out of reading, or to make it look like they're reading when they're really not. Of course, to learn all these tips and tricks, the kid has to read the book!

The book is bright and colorful (imagery by Johanna Hantel), but there are no illustrations in it; just a lot of words, but not too many. The words are funny too, and the ideas are amusing, so it would seem to me that this book will admirably serve its purpose, and I recommend it.

You can get a really good look at the interior here: It's more of a look than I'd feel comfortable giving to anyone about a book of mine (that was this short), but it's there if you want to take a look! or at least it was when I first published this.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Basher Basics: Punctuation by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher

Rating: WORTHY!

Part of a series which covers a wide variety of educational topics from science to writing to music and math, and so on, this small volume looks like a children's book on the outside, but it really isn't - not unless that child is writing intelligently. Once they're ready for a nudge to the next level, this book will get them there. And it wouldn't go amiss as a gift for older writers too - not a few of them published ones!

Again I'm unconvinced of the value of the illustrations by Basher, but younger children might like them. Each page covers a different aspect of punctuation, in some detail, but not too heavily. The text is larger so it makes for easy reading both in seeing it and in following it. I recommend this for anyone who is interested in better using language - which ought to be all of us.

Basher Basics: Creative Writing by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher

Rating: WORTHY!

This is part of a series I'd never seen before. It evidently started out with science books and now has also branched into writing. These look - from the cover - like young children's books, but fortunately my blog has nothing to do with covers, which are all glitz and slick packaging. Mine is about what's between the covers: writing, and if you look past the cover, you'll see why I like this book. These are not for the very young, but any child who has taken their first steps into creative writing can benefit - as can many adults, including not a few published authors!

This book is a how to of getting started, and of understanding all aspects of creating a story. Each topic fills only one page of fairly large text, so there's not a lot of heavy reading, but what is there cuts straight to the chase. Frankly, I am unconvinced of the value of Basher's illustrations, which tend to obfuscate as much as illuminate, but the writing itself is where the value is here. I recommend this but it will be useless without a companion volume which I also review today: Punctuation!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau

Rating: WORTHY!

My wife may leave me for confessing this in public, but I'm in love with Argyle Fox! But this is not one of those fatuous YA romances. No! It's based on understanding and respect! And yes, I confess a prior bias: I love not only foxes, but the entire concept of them and the mythology and folklore that surround them.

The day is very windy outside (as it whimsically illustrated by author Marie Letourneau), and as Argyle looks out of his window, he longs to go play in the wind. Argyle's problem though, is that he's not a very good listener. Every time he makes a plan - to play cards, pirates, knights in a castle, and so on - he's warned that it won't work in the high wind, and the warnings prove true and dire!

So while I would have liked to have seen Argyle learn the adult trait of being able to listen in place of his childish willfulness, I have to approve of three other things in this fox's tale. The first is his mature trait of steadfastness. He's determined to achieve his goal and is willing to work at it, even as he seems to fail often. The second and third are both tied to his thoughtfulness. When he finally realizes that his game plan isn't working, he first of all cleans up after himself without having to be told, keeping his forest neat and tidy, and then secondly, he sits down and gives the problem some hard thought - until he finally does come up with a plan that will work on a windy day!

I liked these traits and they way they were shown in this story. I also liked Argyle, and I recommend this as a worthy read, and a fun and instructive story that can be well made use of as a teaching tool, and a fine example (eventually!) of good behavior for children to follow.

Friday, February 17, 2017

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris, London Ladd

Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by the curiously-named London Ladd, this memoir is aimed at children and was written by MLK's sister, who wasn't there at the Lincoln Memorial rally in Washington DC that day he made his dream speech, but who had traveled with him on many other trips.

That day, she was home taking care of their parents, but she watched the story on TV, and it's clear from her writing how proud she felt of her brother and how much she loved him. It's depressing to think how she must have felt that day he was shot. There is now a stone marker at the Lincoln memorial identifying the place from which he delivered the speech. It's tragic that two people, one white, one black, and who were so influential in freeing people from slavery should both have been murdered, and are now memorialized in different ways at the same location.

The author writes passionately and very descriptively, bringing the stories to life, and the memories powerfully to mind. I thought it sad that the text of the speech wasn't included here, though, but it's easily found online, at places such as The Martin Luther King, Jr Research and Education Institute, and it's also available on You Tube I recommend this book for young children, to teach them an important piece of history in a struggle that sadly is still forced to continue to this day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Little Tails in the Savannah by Frédéric Brrémaud, Federico Bertolucci

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'd been a fan of the Brrémaud/Bertolucci graphic novel series titled 'Love', a text-free set of stories about life in the wild. For me that series went downhill, the stories no longer interesting, and even the art suffering, so I gave up on it. I gave the first in the Little Tails (not Tales!) series a try and I thought this was much better. Aimed at young children, adventurous and educational, this is a colorful series for young children that's worth the reading time.

Chipper and Squizzo are two little animal characters who take trips in their cardboard box airplane (something young children can readily emulate with any old cardboard box you have lying around). This part of the story is line drawings with a splash of monochrome color; it's refreshingly simple and will probably appeal to young readers, especially when its contrasted against the gorgeous full color images of the various animals they encounter.

The animals featured are biased toward mammals, and largely situated on land (we humans are a very class conscious society aren't we, even when it comes down to biological classes!), but there is the occasional foray into non-mammalian characters. Unfortunately the snake is described as poisonous when it ought to be described as venomous (you can withstand eating a snake because it's not poisonous, but you definitely don't want to be bitten by a venomous one!). Outside of the mammals, we get one beetle, two different birds, and two different reptiles, and that's it! There's nothing about plant life at all. I'd like to see that change. Since it's an airplane they have, why not a book on birds? Or how about a cardboard submarine next time, so we get to visit some ocean life?

Overall, though, the series is engaging and attractive, so I recommend this as a worthy read for young children.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dream Big by Kat Kronenberg

Rating: WORTHY!

Set in Africa this was a colorful, fun, and inspirational book which encourages children that if they truly believe in their dreams and don't let negative people stop them, they will get their wish, like the caterpillar who wanted to fly, and the tadpole who wanted to hop and jump, and dance, and the flamingo who wanted colorful feathers.

Even the nay-saying baboon is forced to accept that he can dream big for his wish and it will come true. I liked the story for the colorful and entertaining artwork by Stephanie Dehennin, the fun characters, and the positive message.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Fox and a Box by Tanja Russita

Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with A Pig, a Fox, and a Box by Jonathan Fenske, this consists of three short, illustrated stories with very simple text designed for young readers. The stories are fun and repetitive, aimed at getting the kids to get the words. The stories revolve around learning what an unusual new pet is, finding out what's wrong with someone's nose, and learning what the fox found in the box.

I couldn't stop thinking about that viral internet song, Box in a Box which was written and sung by the talented Leah Kauffman and acted in the video by Melissa Lamb & co, but it has nothing to do with this book. That's what happens when catchy rhymes get in your head, I guess! This set of stories though, is fun and seems eminently suited to achieving its aim, so I recommend it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Love Vol 4 by Frédéric Brrémaud, Federico Bertolucci

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've been following this series from the start, but I think it's now time to part ways after two disappointing volumes in a row. After the first two volumes (The Tiger and The Fox, I found I didn't like the third one, The Lion. The problem for me is what seems to be a steady deterioration in the artwork, and a complete lack of growth in the series.

I didn't mind that the original was rather brutal in places, and I even let slide the fact that we were erroneously shown piranhas in Africa. I was happy with the second volume because it seemed to indicate that the authors were interested in varying their plots and telling real stories, but with the third volume, not only was the art poor compared with the first volume (where it was particularly good), the series also seemed to be taking a distinct turn toward the gory, and this doesn't interest me - especially given how much it betrays the series title! This trip down mastication lane not only continues, but is deliberately ramped-up with this fourth volume excursion into prehistory, featuring endlessly predatory dinosaurs, some of which probably would be unlikely to be found together in history, at least based on extant fossil finds.

This is an ongoing problem where predators are featured, particularly of the prehistoric variety. We see it in TV shows and movies all the time: the portrayal (and betrayal for that matter!) of predators as constantly hungry, and dedicated to unnaturally and persistently hunting prey which they normally either do not encounter, or simply don't bother within real life. Yes, a really hungry predator will go after pretty much anything that might make a meal, but most of the time, predators - even warm-blooded ones - are doing nothing!

They hunt only when they're hungry, and when the hunt is done, they're done, and they go back to their sedentary life until they're hungry again. Their usual prey wanders past them all the time when they're in this mode, and they really don't care. To depict the dinosaurs as constantly chasing down food is not only wrong, it's boring. I have to ask: do these two authors have no other story to tell than that of one animal ripping another apart? If that's the case, as it seems to be, then this series is of neither interest nor use to me. At any rate, I cannot recommend this volume. I wish the authors all the best in their career, but it's not one I shall be following anymore.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga by Koji Aihara, Kentaro Takemura

Rating: WORTHY!

This was educational (somewhat), humorous (particularly in the bathroom humor department, be warned), and entertaining, but it's really much more of a satire on manga than ever it is a how-to manual, although it does offer a surprising number of tips and suggestions.

Under the guise of explaining how easy it is to draw manga, the two authors/artists offer a commentary on the state of Japanese manga, what motivates it, and which trends are hot and cold, taking potshots at everything out there, including themselves. The line-drawing artwork is pretty decent and quite varied, and some of the stories they tell are pretty amusing. There is a distinct tendency towards bathroom humor and there is some quite explicit nudity depicted, so this isn't the book you want to give young children who may be displaying a flare for, or an interest in, comic book illustration.

That said I found it amusing and interesting and I'd recommend it for anyone who has a broad mind and is interested in manga.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Dalmatian in a Digger by Rebecca Elliott

Rating: WARTY!

I really can't approve of a book for young children which shows such dangerous and destructive behavior, although I do thank the publisher for this advance review copy.

I can understand the impulse to write a book for young children about heavy machinery. Who isn't impressed by the power of these machines we've built? They're loud, and colorful and mighty, and they're especially impressive to children, but when you get right down to it, such machines could equally be defined as destruction machines as they are typically defined as construction machines, right? I think it's interesting how we choose to consistently define them positively when what they really do is remake nature in our urban image.

It's a necessary evil, I admit, but I would question how necessary. I think it's arguable that these are not the answer to everything. In relation to this specific story though, all we are really celebrating here is the mindless destruction of a virgin forest by these machines, for no better purpose than to build a tree house, which in the end seems to make use of nothing that these machines have done! So why was this pristine forest pillaged and razed?! I think it sends entirely the wrong message to a young generation.

It's a bad precedent when we as a race are destroying our climate through our thoughtless activities, to present as a positive thing, the destruction of nature in so frivolous a fashion, but the sad thing is that this isn't even the worst problem with this book. We have here four very dangerous (if useful) machines: a bulldozer, a crane, a dump truck, and an excavator, and the young Dalamation, who stands in as surrogate for our own child here, is shown clambering all over them as they operate. Seriously? There is no warning to be found anywhere how dangerous this is, or how the kid should stay clear.

I think it's a mistake to show children playing on machinery like this and and especially thoughtless to show them on these things when they're actually working! If you wouldn't show the kid holding a working chainsaw, then why show this? I can't recommend this book. I really can't!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Lila and the Crow by Gabrielle Grimard

Rating: WORTHY!

Young Lila is new in town. With her darker skin, jet black hair, and onyx eyes, she might have felt different, but on that first day she has no thoughts of anything but making friends. It's not to be. Once one kid starts the chant that Lila's hair is dark as a crow's feathers, it seems her dreams have been broken. No matter how she tries to hide her differences, the kids find new ways to tease and bully her.

When her despair is at its peak, she realizes this crow, which seems to have been following her around, is really trying to tell her something. When she finally, truly, looks at the bird, she sees something new there - something she never saw before, and it's this insight and her determination not to give up which finally wins her the friends she has dreamed of.

This is a beautifully illustrated book in watercolors, with well-written, heartfelt text, and a fine story to tell. I loved it.

Gracie Meets a Ghost by Keiko Sena

Rating: WORTHY!

Thus was a fun story originally written in Japanese, but which translates well in any language. Gracie is a smart bunny. She gets herself some eyeglasses (what they say about eating carrots isn't all true. Carrots are good for you, but they can't fix poor eye genes!). Now she can see very well, and has fun playing outdoors with her friends, but she's also a bit irresponsible, and ends up losing her eyeglasses. She knows where they probably are, but it's dark when she goes there, so her task seems doomed to an almost zen-like paradox! Without her eyeglasses, how can she see to find them?!

Unexpected aid comes from an unlikely and mischievous source. I think it would be fun to tease a child and stir-up their imagination with questions of what's likely happen when the eyeglasses find their way back onto Gracie's nose! But maybe this isn't a bedtime story! It's more like a wake-up and enjoy the sunshine story. I liked this book and the resolution it came to, and the artwork was fine: very pleasantly fluffy. I recommend this story. There are many lessons to be learned here.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press by Diana Childress

Rating: WORTHY!

This book is a fine example of why print books are refusing to roll over and die in the face of ebooks. There is no ebook that can stand spine to spine with a book like this one! Ebooks are spineless! This one has heft and weight, and is a solid piece of work in more than one way. Convenience is really all ebooks have to offer, so you have to ask yourself, do you feel literary? Well do you, punk? Sorry! Sorry! Got carried away there. But ask yourself this: if you're having someone over for dinner, would you do your grocery shopping at a convenience store?

This book, despite being small, actually feels heavy. It's glossy and feels wonderful to hold in the hand. It's bright and clear, and flawlessly printed and illustrated. None of your crappy Kindle app disjointed images and choppy, mismatched text lurks here. With this book, you can feel its individuality and personality in your hand and display this on a shelf. You own this and you can give it away or bequeath it to a relative. It's a good solid book!

But what of its content? Well that stands up to scrutiny too. It's very well written, simply but not idiotically. It's knowledgeable and full of interesting sidebars with bits and pieces which round out and fill out the overall story. For all of his fame, surprisingly little is known about Gutenberg. By digging around in some very well-kept ancient records, it's possible to piece together a coherent and quite detailed story of what he was up to and how he went about his inventive business making leaps from one technology to another. He was able to see things in a new way and come up with something never before seen, and which had a huge, huge impact on the world.

It's a pity that there isn't more, but what is known is here, rest assured, and as far as budding writers go, I can't think of a better book to read or to give to someone than one which gives us a clear and educational history of how this man set us free and made possible what all we hopeful writers do today. I shall be looking for more books by this author.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Moo Knows Numbers by Kerry McQuaide

Rating: WORTHY!

I've been in love with Midge and Moo since I reviewed Lost in the Garden and A Day With Moo back in February 2016. In this one - another in a series of 'adventures', Moo helps children count from one through ten which is really easy route to find if you can just put your finger on it....

The illustrations are, as usual, adorable, and Moo's indispensable presence helps keep thing moo-ving. This is very much his book, starting right with number 1, the one and only Moo! there's color and action, and the pictures look great and the text is readily readable on my smart phone, so it will always be there to entertain your child even if the tablet is left at home. The print book is probably sweet, too, but I haven't seen it. If you're looking for a simple counting book for a young child, you can't do better than this one, especially int he adorability stakes (or steaks, if you want to get technical about Moo...).

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Book of Feelings by Tracey Ross

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher! Note also not to confuse this one with My Book of Feelings by Desiree Kelley, which is evidently a book of poetry but which I have not read.

Here's a useful book for young children to have. The author explores and discusses what feelings are and how they might feel inside (fluffy or sharp), and what to do about them. I read this in the Adobe Digital Additions on a desktop computer, where it made me feel fluffy, and both on my smart phone and on an iPad. In both of those cases I used Amazon's crappy Kindle app and the book looked awful. My feelings about that were very sharp!

I haven't seen it as a Nook book, but my gut feeling about that is that it would be a lot better than what Kindle can do. But in absence of any real knowledge of that, I'd recommend buying this one as a print book to be safe. This kind of book is definitely not designed with the e-world in mind; they're designed for print, let's face it, and because of certain features in this particular one, a print book seems like the best way to go even if it's more expensive. Read on for more details!

The author begins by discussing what kinds of feelings you might have, and explains how you might get to feel that way. She also discusses the fact that you might have these feelings and not quite know why, or that you might have several mixed feelings. She then goes on to talk about what you might do to let feelings out in non-harmful ways. There's also lots of space to write down your own feelings and draw yourself experiencing them! That might be a bit hard on a tablet computer (unless your kid is unsupervised and has access to a Sharpie...), but in a print book it would be useful, and might even help a child to deal with those sharp feelings, too! I loved this book. It's a great idea, a useful tool, and is really good to look at except on the Kindle app!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Abigail the Whale by Davide Cali

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a wonderful book which takes a positive-thinking approach to bullying. You can't control what other people do (although you can influence it for better or for worse!), but you can control how you see what they do and how you let it affect you.

Abigail is overweight and she loves swimming, and there, at the crux of these two contentions, is her problem: people make fun of her at the pool, and call her Abigail the Whale. She makes a big splash and it's not seen in a positive light by her classmates. I was tempted to wonder why the teacher didn't berate her classmates for their bullying and their mean 'fun-making', especially given that he's the one who turns around and introduces her to positive thinking, but I doubt young kids will be quite that analytical! It would have been nice had he said something to the other kids, though.

But this is about Abigail's problem, not the teacher's, and Abigail is smart and considers this new addition to her armory seriously. Once she tries it out and finds that it works, she embraces it whole-heartedly and starts to enjoy life again, and not just at the pool. I liked the way this book offered something for the child to do, and a way to think positively about herself. It's very simplified here, but maybe this will sow a seed or two which will grow, flourish, and blossom strongly later in children's lives. I love the illustrations by Sonja Bougaeva, and the book's overall tone.

I Am Josephine (and I Am a Living Thing) by Jan Thornhill

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

"Inspired by science and nature writer Jan Thornhill's many classroom visits, this book is intended to help children recognize themselves as part of the natural world, with an emphasis on how all living things share similarities."

This was a great book which teaches a little taxonomy along with exhibiting a fun young girl who is the very embodiment of life. Josephine compares and contrasts herself with everything around her. Is she like this or different from that? In her comparisons and contrasts, we learn that she's a living thing (and definitely full of life!), and an animal, and a mammal, and a human being. We also learn what some other animals and plants are, as she skips and dances through her colorful world examining everything. The book is a joy to read and a delight to look at, and is educational to boot, with some interaction where young kids can search and count. All in all it's a great little book and I liked it very much.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Star Light Star Bright by Anna Prokos

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

Illustrated nicely by Dave Clegg, this is one of an educational series for young kids. This particular volume is about planets in the solar system. Others in the series are about dinosaurs, Antarctica, volcanoes, seeds, and your own back yard!

Jackson and Wyatt wish upon a star, and find themselves in a cozy spacecraft with their dog pal and a license to explore the solar system. Starting with the baking heat of Mercury, they fly ever outwards, growing ever more chill, but learning some fun facts about each planet as they go. But don't worry, they return safely and get to bed on time!

The story is simple and straight forward, with brief interesting facts about each planet, snappy enough to command attention without overloading young brains. It's got adventure and a tiny bit of danger, and is a worthwhile read for young kinds to learn about how fascinating and alien our solar system is. There's a little index at the back, along with suggested further reading, and a short fact file. Great illustrations bring the planets home to young minds and hopefully stimulate a bit of a scientific interest for later in life.

A Gefilte Fishy Tale by Allison and Wayne Marks

Rating: WORTHY!

This might sound weird (then anyone who knows me will know this is par for the course), but a couple of days ago the term 'gefilte fish' was going through my brain. I know not from whence it came. Not on that day, but a few years back, I saw a greeting card in a store that featured 'gefilte fish' as part of a nonsense good wishes recital and I blame that for originally fixating it in my brain where it's been lodged comfortably ever since.

I know at some point - and assuming I live long enough - that it's going to come out in a story. All this, anyway, to indicate why I thought it was a good idea to read this young children's book beautifully illustrated by Renée Andriani, and rhymed to perfection by the Marks brothers, er, husband wife team! Although frankly, it might have been written by the Marx Brothers.

Bubba Judy buys a jar of gefilte fish, and all is well until they get it home and find they cannot get it open. This also turns out to be jar for the course as they resort to an assortment of friends to help undo it, and all of them fail. What's to become of it? Well you'll have an interesting time finding out. In addition to the story, you get recipe for gefilte fish mini muffins, which frankly sounds disgusting to me, but maybe they're nice. There's also an original song by Wayne Marks, Margie Blumberg, and Gavin Whelehan, and a very welcome glossary for the Yiddish-challenged, which includes me most of the time, although fans of Mel Brooks movies might recognize some of these words. I recommend this one for a fun read for kids and an educational experience!