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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Getting to the Bottom of Global Warming by Terry Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated well by Cynthia Martin and Bill Anderson, this book teaches young kids about climate change, aka global warming. 'Climate change' is a better term because 'global warming' confuses stupid people, who seem to think it means that everywhere will get dramatically hotter. No, it means climate change.

In general, the planet will warm (and has been warming because of human induced pollution), but not everywhere will warm up and become a tropical paradise. It's more a case of extremes becoming more extreme, so while some areas are becoming hotter, others are seeing serious winter storming. On top of that we're seeing flooding from more extreme rainfall and rising oceans, and we're seeing plant and animal life changing in terms of the areas it's normally found. We're also seeing tropic diseases spreading beyond their historical boundaries. In short, it's a mess.

This book features the novel idea of time-traveler, Isabel Soto who is "an archaeologist and world explorer with the skills to go wherever and whenever she needs to research history, solve a mystery, or rescue colleagues in trouble." One has to wonder why she can't fix climate change if she can go back into the past, but it's a lot to ask one person, so I decided to let that pass! Maybe she tried and no one would listen. We've sure seen way too much of that. Yes, Republicans, I'm looking at you.

We have a president who is obsessed with saving coal-mining jobs when he ought to be proposing retraining programs to find work for all those people in sensible and forward-thinking technologies like solar energy which is the fastest rising portion of the US economy, or in other renewable energy employment which will, given resources and time, solve the energy and pollution crisis. Now there's a case of a man who cannot think out of the box and who is obsessively-compulsively offering knee-jerk non-solutions instead of thinking it through, and looking to the future. That's why books like this are important: so children can learn that they do not have to be hide-bound by tradition and blinkered by the erroneous, selfish, and tunnel-vision thought patterns of yesteryear and politicians who, despite being past their sell-by date have nonetheless sold out to corporate interests.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Luz Makes a Splash by Claudia Dávila


Rating: WORTHY!

This author is a Chilean who now lives in Canada, and this is a great children's story about community activism, pollution, and taking charge. It's evidently the first in a series, which consists (as of this blog post) of two books: this one and a sequel called Luz sees the Light, a title which amuses me because light is the very meaning of Luz! Light is the meaning of Luz, Luz is the meaning of light! And on and on like the Neil Innes Beatles song parody he did for The Rutles (aka All You Need Is Cash).

In this book, Luz becomes concerned when there is a drought and she discovers that the refreshing little natural pool she and her friends used to visit on hots days like these, is all dried up! A nearby corporation is responsible. it's been using the water to manufacture its cola product! So yes, corporate responsibility and malfeasance also get a look in here. Luz learns many things about recycling, preserving and protecting water, and how to organize a protest.

The book is quite long and well-written, and nicely illustrated. It tells a smart and realistic story, and it offers an education along the way. I recommend it.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

What are the Odds by Tim Glynne-Jones


Rating: WORTHY!

There's nothing in this book that you can't readily find on the Internet, and some parts in it were hardly more accurate than the average quality of information that's available on the Internet, but there's something to be said for having something like this in the bathroom for visitors to read!

The leaps of faith we see on occasion are a bit scary. For example at one point the author asserts that drug abuse is prevalent in men because 4 out of 5 deaths are men. Wile the result is likely, to my mind, to be true given that men take more risks than women, the conclusion the author draws, if it's based solely on this statistic doesn't necessarily follow the premise. Of course, one can quibble about what one means when one uses the term 'abuser', but perhaps men and women are equally prevalent abusers of drugs, whereas men tend to be more risky in their chosen dosage than women? Things like this made me skeptical about other claims the author made.

Some things were amusingly wrong like, for example, the section on the odds of being left-handed being illustrated by an image of a right hand. Other things were just plan wrong, such as when the author claims that the ratio boys to girls is 1.05 to 1 which means that 1000 girls there is 1005 boys! Nope! My math sucks but even I can see the flaw there. The author himself admits to this mistake three paragraphs later when he correctly translates similar ratio to numbers.

the book talks solely - and briefly in each section - about the odds of things happening and covers a wide variety of topics, mostly related to human health, adventures, experiences, stupidity, and welfare. There's an introduction (which I never read), followed by sections on: Life and Death, Sport, Money, Achievement, Crime, Health, History, Man v. Beast, and A Higher Power. There's nothing that's truly surprising to anyone who is reasonably widely read, but there are nonetheless things which make a reader stop and think, and for that reason I consider it a worthy read.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Secrets From the Eating Lab by Traci Mann


Rating: WORTHY!

I have to say that I'm a little suspicious when I see a book about dieting or health and the author has a string of letters after their name. You never see highly-regarded science authors like Stephen Gould, or Carl Sagan, or Richard Dawkins doing that. In this case, it's just PhD which all too often in these situations seems to stand for PinheaD judged by some of the crap I've seen published accompanied by initials, but in this case, Traci Mann is not only completely legit, she's smart, perspicacious, interesting, and full of useful information and ideas.

She's the leader of the Mann lab at the University of Minnesota, which despite some slightly less than PhD English ("We are a psychology laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Traci Mann, that focues [sic] on how people control their health behaviors" is a going concern, testing out why people behave the way they do vis-à-vis food and dieting and fads.

This book is subtitled "The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again" and though I've been fortunate enough never to have felt like I had to go on a diet, it's convinced me that I now never will because diets are useless and pointless, serving only to enrich the fat wallets of those fatheads who devise these idiotic and ultimately fruitless schemes.

Why don't diets work? They do in the short term, but with very rare exceptions, people always put the weight back on, and sometimes more than they shed, because your body is predisposed to keep you within a certain weight range, usually of thirty pounds wide, and no matter what you do, you will have a hell of a time in trying to nudge it out of that zone. Biology, advertising, evolution, and other factors are all against you.

That sounds depressing, but the author also offers a better reason not to diet: you are not necessarily unhealthy even if you are deemed 'overweight'. If you're eating healthily and exercising, it doesn't matter what your weight is, because your overall health and life expectancy is going to be the same as those skinny people you seek to emulate so much.

One thing I (and evidently other reviewers) had an issue with is that on the one hand, the author says we have this weight range we tend to stay within which is why dieting is pointless, but on the other hand, there has been a steady increase in average weight among Americans over the last few decades. How is this possible if we have this natural weight baseline that makes it just as hard for us to seriously overeat as it does to shed weight?

The author doesn't seem interested in trying to reconcile this discrepancy in her reporting. Is her 'weight range' shifting upwards, and if so how did this happen and doesn't it overturn her claim that we have an immutable range for our weight, within which we're stuck? Is this weight range very large, which means there is hope for people who do want to try to shed many pounds? Genes do not change this fast, so is there an epigenetic factor in play here? Or is there something wrong with her whole philosophy? It would have been nice to have seen this addressed if not resolved.

The book is in four parts with several subsections: 'Why Diets Fail You', 'Why You Are Better Off Without the Battle', 'How to reach Your Leanest Livable Weight', and 'Your Weight is Really Not the Point'! You can't argue with the science or the clear information and suggestions laid out here. I recommend this book not only because it offers sound advice, but as an interesting read about weight, health, and dieting, and also about psychology and societal pressures.

The book isn't perfect by any means, but it takes a rational approach, and offers simple and scientific advice on what works and what doesn't, and tips on how to make what works, work for you. I've seen a lot of negative reviews of this book complaining about how it talks about your leanest livable weight but never tells you how to calculate it. These reviewers completely missed what had been said earlier! You don't have to calculate anything, because you're already in your weight range. It's your baseline! You can lose a few pounds within your range by eating healthily and exercising, and you're there. No calculation required!


Friday, September 22, 2017

The ABC Animal Picnic by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is an advance review copy. In honor of full disclosure, I should say that I while I am not a personal friend of the author's, I was asked by her if I would review this one, and I freely confess that I was happy to do so having had on balance, such a good experience with her books in the past.

It would be easy to favor this one for the sake of past positive perspective (get used to the alliteration - it's in the book!), but I honestly believe she would not appreciate it if I did so on that basis, and I certainly would not rate a book positively were it one I had not felt was worth reading. Fortunately for both of us, she made it very easy for me to not only really like this one, but to feel sure it was a worthy read in terms of educational value for children.

It was gorgeously-illustrated to begin with, which engendered positive feelings about it before I had begun really getting into it. The illustrations - by the author - truly are remarkable. I know a few graphic novel artists who could take a page of out Janina Rossiter's artbook! I wish I had her talent.

Whereas many children's artists are content to draw simplistic pictures, these line drawings of assorted animals, and they were very assorted, were very realistic. Usually you get only mammals in a book like this but while fish and amphibians were not present, the often neglected insects were represented, as well as one from the even more often neglected, yet crucially important Annelida phylum. We also got molluscs and even Cnidaria! Try saying that when you have an allergy going on! These drawings honestly would not have looked out of place in a Victorian-era natural history book, although they were rather more playful here, than you'd find in a book like that!

The book is aimed at helping children with their ABCs, so each four-word sentence alliterates on the key letter. The first, for example, is Andy Ant Adores Apples. I don't normally do this, but I'm going to give a huge spoiler here: the last letter is Z! There I did it! Can you guess which animal that is? I also loved the British spelling of Yoghurt, although I am sure she didn't put that in there for my benefit!

Each illustration is set in a brightly-colored background that looks like water-color, and it makes the image even more striking. There are commonly-known animals and much lesser-known ones which was appreciated, and they were not all tied to mammals, although those were prevalent. To be honest, I'm quite sure that one of them is mythical, although I am equally sure that many of us wish it were not!

So overall I am happy to rate this as a worthy read and recommend it: buy it for the educational value, Keep it for the artwork. If you can interest your kids in learning to draw like this, then you will definitely kit them out to have a career as a children's book illustrator, graphic novel artist or whatever they want! The sky isn't even the limit - and isn't that what we all want for our children?


Friday, September 15, 2017

Phones Keep Us Connected by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, Kasia Nowowiejska


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great little children's book about the history of phones, including how they work, and how they've been developing and changing over time. It's done in a simple (but not too simple!) and colorful way that will allow any child of the appropriate age range to understand it.

It includes simple instructions to make your own phone (the cup and string method!) and ways to experiment with your design to see if your 'improvements' make it perform better or worse. I think this is a pretty darned good book to get your kids interested in science and experimentation as well as educate them about a small, but ubiquitous piece of technological history. The book is diverse and fun, and nicely done. I recommend it.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ink in Water by Lacy J Davis, Jim Kettner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a long comic, but an easy read. The art is black and white line drawings and gray scale art which has a sweet watercolor texture to it - perhaps because so many images show it raining! Initially I had mixed feelings about it, because it had a 'been there done that' feel to me - not that I've been there and done that, but like I'd read this story before - like it was reiterating. But it's a very personal story, and even if you have read 'it' before, you haven't read this one, and it's an important story which bears repetition, not least because it has such a positive outcome.

Lacy J Davis fell into a destructive eating spiral after a broken relationship, but this was not one where weight went up. Instead, it went precariously down. The story continues in this vein, exploring her life afterwards, in all its ups and downs, advances and set-backs, sparing no details, and hiding no sin. For that alone I commend it as a worthy read.

I'd like to have seen this better illustrated in the artwork, because while some of the art was really engaging, some of it was rather rudimentary, so it felt a bit patchy throughout, and I think this lessened the graphic impact of what happened here: the images for 'before' and 'after' and finally, 'later after' had too much in common to make a really arresting impression.

When you start out with an improbably skinny 'cartoon-like' character in a story about an eating disorder, it's a bit self-defeating. It's really hard to convey the extent of the problem in your illustrations when your character starts out already looking anorexic before the problem begins! I felt that a little more realism in the drawings would have contributed significantly to the impact of the story.

Additionally, I'd like to have known where the roots of that potential to fall were grown and why they went the way they did given the apparent tripwire for the break-up, but that was not shared with us, assuming it was even known. Yes, we know the proximate trigger of this problem, but if there's something falling, that kinetic energy came from somewhere, but this 'somewhere' went unexplored. Given that this was supposed to be a teaching tool inter alia, I felt that this was an omission which should itself have been omitted. It was one of several omissions, and I think the work would have been stronger had these holes been filled.

Another such hole was when a friend died. This person had been an important and ongoing part of the story, but the death was passed over rather quickly, and (unless I missed it) we never did learn what happened other than it resulted in a death. We did see the negative effect of it, but this part of the story was solely about the author. I felt it ought to have been also about the friend as well. This omission felt unkind given how important the person had been.

I felt that more attention should have been given to medical aspects of this disease, too. Doctors were in and out of the story, but they were always 'walk-on' parts. Nowhere was there any talk of how much the medical profession can help with problems like this. Nowhere was there talk of therapy or psychiatric attention, either to say it couldn't help or to say it could. It was almost as though none of this was ever considered, and I think this was a dangerous omission, cutting out healthcare consultations almost entirely, as though they have nothing to say or contribute.

Being a personal story is both a strength and a weakness for this comic, because we got the author's first-hand PoV, but we also got nothing else. For a book that aims at least in part to be a teaching tool, I think this handicapped it. Maybe it doesn't work for you, but who are you to say it would not work for someone else? I think a great teaching opportunity was missed by not being more expansive and offering possible alternatives to what this writer chose for herself, even when she made poor decisions.

I'm am most definitely not a fan of prologues or epilogues, and I avoid them like the plague. This comic had both, I'm sorry to report and as usual, neither was contributory. Had I skipped both I would have got the same from the comic so my advice is to cut them out and save a few trees. All the prologue did was rehash the 12 step program. I'm not sure there's anyone left on planet Earth who doesn't know what that's all about, so I saw no point to the prologue. Al the epilogue did was show us half-a-dozen pages of the author typing at the computer, or of the same rain we saw in the prologue, so this contributed literally nothing. Once again I rest my case for ripping prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions, epilogues, and after-words out by the roots, and save some tree roots.

That all said, overall I did enjoy the story because it was brutally honest, it did not offer an easy, magical solution, and it did not flinch from talking about difficult issues. I'm not convinced the four-letter expletives or the uncensored nudity contributed anything to this particular story, but again, it was honest, so I guess it came with the territory! The best thing about it and what recommends it most, is the positive outcome, which is always a good thing when trying to encourage others to take positive steps to overcome disorders like this. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Princess in My Teacup by Sally Huss


Rating: WORTHY!

Sally Huss has almost consistently turned out, in my experience, works of originality, upbeat attitudes, educational in equal measure with colorful and bright, and with fun rhymes to boot. Thus one merely continues her proud tradition.

One could argue here that this is aimed at white female audiences, and plays heavily into the Disney Princess syndrome, which are negatives, but we cannot have every book flooded with every type of person and every kind of wish for our children. There simply isn't room. One simple theme, well-presented with one simple message is fine, and it's up to parents and guardians to seek and pursue diversity by buying (or checking out of the library) a diversity of books! It's really not rocket science! Please don't always expect all options to be covered in one short children's book!

This little girl begins seeing a princess in reflected surfaces: a cup of tea, a bowl of soup, a filled bathtub, and so on. The princess always wants her to do something. The things she wants her to do are always aimed at helping other people: befriending them, being nice to them and thoughtful of them, and each time she does this, the girl helps and thinks she's seen the last of the princess, but the princess never leaves her. I think perhaps you know why. This was delightful, short and easy read, and I recommend it.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Tucker's Apple Dandy Day by Susan Winget


Rating: WORTHY!

I adore this author's name! I've always been fond of 'Susan' and I had to wonder of this one whether or not she might wing it with her writing? If so, it works! This book was the polar opposite of Dinosaur Kisses and exactly what a young children's book should be. A warm fuzzy story with warm fuzzy characters, beautifully illustrated in sweetly warm, fuzzy autumnal colors!

Tucker gets to visit a farm on his school field trip, and they all get the chance to pick their own bag of apples to take home, but Tucker is so busy helping others to get their share that he never has chance to get any for himself. All the people he helped, though, rally around and donate a few of their apples to him so he gets a few for himself after all. It's beautifully told story about the selflessness of helping others without expectation of a reward, and it's delightfully illustrated. I fully recommend this one.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Auma's Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This story is set in Kenya, a nation of almost fifty million people, mostly Bantu and Nilote, but an assortment of many others, too. It sits on the east coast, right below the spike that's known as the Horn of Africa. Kenya is home to Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old Homo erectus fossil. It's also home to the third largest AIDS population in Africa, but it's one that of late, has seen some success in battling this deadly infection.

This was a depressing story about the appalling AIDS epidemic in Africa which hosts about 15% of the world's population, but is home to almost seventy percent of the world's AIDs victims. This story makes that cold statistic real in both mind and heart as it tells of the life of young Auma, a child who was not thought likely to survive birth, but who grew smart, strong, and ambitious. She wants to be a doctor, and sees her performance at track as a ticket to getting the education she needs to follow her dream, but the powers that be want to see her neutered by being married off at fifteen.

We learn of her harsh schooling, and her living conditions which are primitive to us, but sadly all-too-normal for too many African children. Auma never loses her way, though. She is determined and steadfast, even when AIDS, which the locals euphemistically and with rather gallows humor label 'Slim', comes calling at her door, first taking her father and then seeing her mother fall ill.

It's good that Auma has the stamina of an athlete, because this isn't a US TV show where everything is wonderfully wrapped-up in thirty minutes, and all familial spats are resolved with joyful outcomes. This is Africa - a terra incognita to us spoiled-rotten westerners, and Auma's story is about the real world, not about the cozy fictional one with which we proudly cosset our so-called civilized selves.

I noted that some other reviewers have set this story in the 1980's, but (and I admit I may have missed it) I got no sense of when this took place at all from the actual writing. There are no temporal markers in the small village of Koromo: neither cell-phone nor landline, neither flat-screen TV nor any sort of TV or radio. There's no electricity, no running water, unless you count running down to the river and then boiling the water you bring back. There is no sense of an outside world because the world was the village to these people and very few left it.

They did talk about AIDS and HIV though, and those names did not come into use until the mid-1980s, and would doubtlessly not have been in common use in Africa until later, despite HIV first arising there. So saying this was set in the 1980's seemed to place it a bit too early to me, especially since there are, in Auma's story, medications available even in Kenya, to help combat the effects of AIDs.

The amazingly-named author, who is an associate professor at Shippensburg University (she has a doctorate from Tennessee State) grew up in Kenya, and she talks of paying for school education. Since 2003, education in public schools in Kenya has been free and compulsory, so it would seem that the story takes place sometime in the nineties at a rough guess, but in the end it really doesn't matter, because the problem is the same regardless of when the story actually takes place.

In terms of the presentation, this was another ARC provided via Amazon's crappy Kindle format, which is probably the worst medium (aside from mailing a hand-written copy! LOL!) for presenting a review copy, I urge publishers not to use Kindle format, but instead to go with PDF or with Nook format, both of which are significantly superior to Amazon's sub-standard system.

Overall, the layout of the book was good, but true to form, Kindle screwed-up the image which was used as a section divider in this novel. Instead of it being a small rectangle between sections of text, it occupied a whole screen on my phone. It did better in the Kindle app on an iPad, although why there is a difference between the two, I cannot say - except that they are both using the same crappy Kindle app!

The other instance of Kindle's poor formatting was where I read this: "Good morning, Class Seven," Mrs. Okumu greeted us." The children responded, "Good morning," but the one 'Good morning' was superimposed atop the other instead of being on the next line! I've never seen that before. I have no idea how it even happened. But like I said, these are not problems with the writing or the plot, so they weren't an insurmountable chore to deal with (and certainly not in comparison with what Auma had to go through!). It was a reminder of how Kindle simply isn't up to handling graphics of any kind and in some instances, plain text! That's not on the writer or on the story though, so it doesn't affect this review.

The only writing issue I encountered was a trivial one, but it did stand out to me. At one point I read "My legs burst forward, dashing to save Mama from Akuku. I sped ahead, my heels kicking up fresh dirt." The problem with this is that your heels don't touch the dirt when you're sprinting! Like I said, trivial, but everything is worth expending some thought on when you're a writer. Overall though, this is a worthy read and (I have to say this!) I urge everyone to read it and weep.

I liked this story and recommend it as essential reading. We can't forget about this. We can't forget that while we wallow in pampered luxury, there are others - far too many others - who struggle every day. Even without the disease, Auma's existence was precarious and heart-breaking. The disease was like a bully playing cruelly on an already deprived life, yet Auma never broke under the weight of this brutal burden she carried. This story is well-worth reading and ought to be required reading.


Friday, July 21, 2017

The Bridge of the Golden Wood by Karl Beckstrand, Yaniv Cahoua


Rating: WORTHY!

It's time to review some children's books again! This one was rather an oddball story - a business primer for young children! The story is intended to show how a money-making an opportunity can arise from helping people. I felt it was a mixed message - and a little too pat, but who knows, if it inspires some kids to make a little something for themselves, and help people into the bargain, then maybe it's not so bad, so I'd recommend this as a worthy read.

For some reason it's set in China, in a time before modern. An inventive child who has a reputation for imaginatively recycling and re-purposing, is walking by a creek one day when he encounters a woman he's never seen before. She was bemoaning the fact that there was debris from the trees in the water, blocking the fish from feeding. The woman tells the boy she sees trouble and treasure in one place. The boy locks onto the treasure portion of that, but he doesn't see how clearing the path for the fish can lead to a reward. The book tells how he finds out. This is where the 'pat' comes in: his solution is a little too rewarding and convenient - improbably so, but this is how he begins to make money to support his family.

The book contains a page or so of suggestions and tips about ways a child might make some money for themselves by providing a service. The story is very short (only eight pages overall) and is more illustration than text. From a slightly cynical point of view, it really isn't all that inspiring, but like I said, I'm not about to stand in the way of someone who might get a winning idea from reading this, so I recommend this on that basis!


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: http://www.hqtrs.co/i-hate-reading. 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.