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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cedric the Shark Gets Toothache by Kay Carter

Rating: WARTY!

The cover has it right: there is no apostrophe in "Gets", but the interior of the book has the apostrophe throughout. That, coupled with the fact that sharks effectively have their teeth on a conveyor belt and routinely replace old ones which fall out, with brand new ones rolling to the fore, never would actually need a dentist, and the wrong number used when referring to "candy" as "them" on one page meant that this story started out badly in my view. It wasn't a disaster, but I just felt it could have been better written and offered a lot more than it did, and as such I can't recommend it.

Obviously you can’t lecture young kids or go into great detail about tooth decay and so on, but I think there are less simplistic ways you can tell a story like this which will resonate with young children and make a better case. The human body craves fat and sugar from a period in our distant past when such things were hard to come by. Now they're in everything and it’s much harder to direct your kids away from harm while still trying to let them feel that they're not pariahs amongst peers who get treats and drink sodas and so on.

As someone with a sweet-tooth bequeathed to him by rather irresponsible parents, I've fought this all my life, and I would have liked to have seen a more educational and better-nuanced story. I’d like to have seen the point made that copying what everyone else does isn’t necessarily smart, and that while too much candy is definitely harmful, a little bit here and there as a treat or a reward, alongside regular dental visits and routine dental hygiene is not the embodiment of evil!

The story was colorful and definitely made the point that brushing teeth is important, but I think it could have been much improved. That said, this is part of a series, and there are other stories in it which might tell a better tale on thier respective topics.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Little Tails in the Jungle by Frédéric Brrémaud, Federico Bertolucci

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Yes, you read that right - it's tails, not tales! I liked that! I've been largely a fan of the Brrémaud/Bertolucci graphic novel series titled 'Love', a text-free set of stories about life in the wild. I was disappointed with volume three, but I really liked the first two volumes. It makes me happy, therefore, to report another win for them with this volume aimed at educating children about life on various continents.

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.

As usual with this kind of children's book, I'm sorry to report that 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 I'm happy to report we don't see exclusively those things. There does appear the occasional gastropod, arachnid, and other classes such as fish, bird, and reptile are represented. They writers even get the piranhas situated on the right continent this time - something I complained about in my review of the first volume of Love! Here I'd argue that the 'parrot' Chipper and Squizzo saw was actually a macaw, but that's just me being picky!

But I'm not going to let that get in the way of praising this as a charming and educational book. There's a couple (I'd have liked more) of pages at the end that give some detailed information about some of the animals featured - again heavily biased toward mammals, but it's better than nothing. Overall I recommend this as a worthy read for children.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kid Artists by David Stabler, Doogie Horner

Rating: WORTHY!

p114: 'permanent' should be 'permanent'.
"a magazine published an article about him entitled" There was no entitlement here. There was a title: the magazine published an article titled "Keith Haring"!

Note that this was an advance review copy I obtained from Net Galley. Thanks to the publisher for the chance to read it!

What a great idea for a book: talk about the adventurous, mischievous, slightly scary and unusual lives of renowned artists and maybe it will put modern kids' lives into perspective and even inspire some of them to go for it! This is part of a series featuring books on Kid Athletes and on Kid Presidents. I haven't read any of the others, so I can't speak to them, but I'd sure like to see one on Kid Scientists or Kid Engineers. We need a lot more of those than we ever do presidents and athletes.

This one was fine, though. Here we learn of Leonardo da Vinci and the scary shield he painted when he was fourteen, and of Vincent van Gogh who shared Leonardo's love of solitude and nature when he was a kid. We meet the young Beatrix Potter, who had a grisly adventure in Scotland, who kept a coded diary, and who once again, turned her love of nature into her art. Perhaps a love of nature is a defining characteristic, because eccentric Emily Carr shared it, to the chagrin of her sisters, and she got no credit at all for decorative fingernails which are now quite popular! A fellow nature lover was rebel Georgia O'Keeffe, a contemporary of Beatrix Potter. Leah Berliawski not only changed countries but also her name, before she changed her life and became an artist!

The book is replete with such stories: Ted Geisel, Jackson Pollack, Charles Schulz, Yoko Ono, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Claude Monet, Frida Kahlo, Jacob Lawrence, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and last but certainly not least: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso! There are interesting stories for each of them, and many of them led lives which were problematic for one reason or another, but none of them let this interfere with their vision and their dedication. The book is inspirational.

The only error I found (short of researching every story for inaccuracies which I'm not about to do!) was the idea that snakes are poisonous? Venomous? yes! But I'm not aware of any snake which, if eaten, will poison you! Not that I've eaten many snakes. Or any for that matter! But that's a common error and shouldn't get in the way of enjoying a book that will, hopefully, encourage many kids to pursue their own vision whether it's in art, literature, or any other field of endeavor. Don't let difficulties wear you down - go for your vision! I recommend this.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The STEM Club Goes exploring by Lois Melbourne, Jomike Tejido

Rating: WORTHY!

With some nice artwork by Jomike Tejido, and enthusiastic writing by Lois Melbourne , this story offers a much-needed glimpse into the world of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which are important and useful fields of endeavor and which need smart people, particularly females, who are under-represented in these fields. We are quickly introduced to Betik, Fran (who has ambitions to become a science and technology reporter), Jenny, Jesse, Nixie, Sara, and Winston, who is interested in marine biology.

Fran is narrating this report as the children are taken by a teacher to interview people in various fields and learn about them. They look at software development, medical care, mining, and several other fields. I'm not sure we got the best perspectives on everything, and it felt to me like there ought to have been more emphasis on the environment, and perhaps on robotics (and it would have been nice to have it made clear that software engineering has applications in fields other than game development!), but on the other hand, you have to deliver something which will keep a child's interest, so as long as we have something focusing on STEM, I'm not going to worry too much about the minutiae.

If I had 'complaints' - other than that the traffic lights didn't seem to be working on page 36! Either that or the cab is going through on red and going straight into a head-on collision with a bus! - they would be very minor. There are some enlarged initial caps used here, which are a pale blue and hard to see. On one page I thought the letter was missing until I looked more closely. Also the double pages don't work in the e-version because you see them in sequence, not as a spread like you would in the print version. But other than that, the layout and general looks of the book were great, and I think it's a worthy read. Its heart is certainly in the right place.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Oxford Portraits Mary Wollstonecraft: Mother of Women's Rights by Miriam Brody

Rating: WORTHY!

I found this walking through the library in the entrance to the children's section, but this is way too dense and involved for young children - unless they're exceptionally precocious readers. It's more of a late middle-grade to young adult read. It details the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley, who was a pioneer in women's rights at a time when women were held in Biblical-style ownership, giving up all rights to their husband upon marriage. They had no rights to property, no right to vote, and no money. If they were even lucky enough to get a divorce from a bad husband they were out of home and gave up their children, and probably would have been shunned by their parents, too,. for "bringing disgrace" upon the family name.

Wollstonecraft had an at best unhappy, and at worst miserable childhood. Her father was a drunk who squandered the family fortune. her mother was unsupportive, and it became obvious to Wollstonecraft that she was going to have to make her own way in life - something she had no problem with as it happened. She tried to start a school with her two sisters but realized quickly that while she loved her sisters, she could not stand to be in that close of a proximity to them for very long!

She eventually became known for her writing and became famous after she published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects in 1792, but her life was never destined to be a completely happy one. She traveled in France during the French revolution and "married" Gilbert Imlay - an American. They were never actually married (she had written strongly against it in Vindication), and they were merely posing as married. He treated her poorly and abandoned her when she became pregnant. She raised her daughter Fanny, alone, but had the help of a servant/nurse whom she hired with her earnings

She traveled in Scandinavia and wrote a series of letters which were also published and won her more fans. It was after her return to England after this that she met (actually, re-met!) the man she would finally feel was her true match: William Godwin. Despite the fact that both of them has written treatises which derided marriage, they married and Wollstonecraft became pregnant with the girl who would grow to be Mary Shelley. But she died a few days after giving birth to Mary at the sadly youthful age of thirty eight.

This biography gives plenty of detail and commentary, and it pulls no punches. It's well researched and includes quotes from letters both written by Wollstonecraft, and written about her. I loved it and recommend it for both adults and young readers - but not too young!

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Tiniest Tumbleweed by Kathy Peach

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a delight. It's a well-written story, charmingly illustrated by Alex Lopez, about a tiny tumbleweed and a tiny sparrow who learn that they don't have to be 'all that' to be everything they really need to be.

Growing up on the diminutive side of the family tree, Tiny Tumbleweed isn't sure she'll ever grow big, and baby sparrow is sure he won't, but they don't give up, they give all and work hard, and soon they're growing and feeling useful. They'll never be as big as their brothers and sisters, but they will be big and they will be useful. The tumbleweed shelters the sparrows, the sparrows distribute the seeds, and it all works for both of them.

This little book was very readable on my phone, and so will undoubtedly work well on a tablet computer or in a print version. The illustrations are fun and compliment the text well, and the colors are bright and appealing. There are several pages of useful text at the end aimed at educational use. These pages don't reveal the scientific names of the species, which is FYI, Passer domesticus for the house sparrow.

There are many species of tumbleweed, including invasive species, and they really don't depend on sparrows to distribute the seeds - hence the 'tumble weed' part of their life cycle - the tumbling is a form of wind dispersal in a way, because the weed is blown by the wind, and the seeds (or propagules) drop off as it rolls. Sparrows really have very little to do with it, but it makes for a nice story, so I'm not going to discredit if for that because birds do play a roll in seed dispersal with many other plants. As it is, this is a great children's story and I recommend it.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Counting to Ten and Sharing My Easter Eggs by David Chuka

Rating: WORTHY!

Okay, so I lied! Here's another book about Easter. The print version evidently comes with a free coloring book, which is always great whether you're a kid or not. Come on, don't tell me you've never colored a page in a kids book somewhere or other. It's been a while since I did one, so I'll get right on that as soon as I'm done here. Unfortunately there is nothing extra with the ebook, not even an Easter egg.

This is the third of David Chuka's books for kids that I've reviewed. I didn't like I Love my Dog which I reviewed in decmeber of 2015, but I did like I Love Baby Animals which I reviewed in August of that year, so now he's batting a .666, which is an interesting number with Easter on the horizon!

This book is refreshingly diverse, although there are so many people of color that you can scarcely see any pale faces in there, which is overdoing it a bit. The way to set things straight isn't to swing the pendulum way over to the other side, but to stop it in the middle and leave it there, otherwise it's only going to swing right back and hit you in the face! That said, this book was a delight.

Mom has, perhaps unwisely, given this little girl a basket of Easter eggs to share with her friends, but bless her little cotton Easter bunny, she does indeed share them, and counts them out as she goes. There is a math formula for adding sequential numbers:

Sum from 1 to n =  

n(n + 1)

but this may be a bit advanced for this audience! Substituting 10 for n above though, gives us 55. FIFTY FIVE EGGS?!!! I want some!

The story pursues her distribution of all of those yummy eggs, with colorful pictures and simple rhymes, encouraging children to read it over and count along. If you have some eggs to hand - plastic, hard boiled, or even small toys or Lego's or something, you can distribute then the same way among your kid's plush teddy bears and other cuddly toys. I think this is a charming way to teach counting. But for goodness sake, don't forget to brush afterwards!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Perfect Shade of Green by Brian Barlics

Rating: WORTHY!

From the same team which brought us Brady Needs a Nightlight, which I favorably reviewed in January 2016, this young childrens poetry/picture book is another charmer.

Illustrated charmingly and very colorfully by Gregory Burgess Jones, this is a poetic story about a chameleon who refuses to change her spots – or…well, you know what I mean – is a delight. Cami is so at ease in her own skin, she feels no need to change to match her surroundings. In real life this would be a disaster, but for a children’s story, this is a fun lesson in how to be yourself and not let others tell you who you are. I wish more teenagers would learn that lesson! Unfortunately for them, this is aimed at a much younger audience.

There are some dangers in trying to write the write children’s story to match your teaching aim. For example, this one risks being identified solely as a story about race or specifically about skin color, but it’s about much more than that: it’s about the whole person, regardless of race or color. Cami strolls around at her own pace and is proud of her green glow, so she doesn’t try to hide it, not by dark or by light, not by day or by night, not by flower or by tree, not by bird or by bee! She had very little respect for the chameleon which tries to match the colors of the rainbow, but she had no problem sporting a pink tutu on her travels. That’s her individual choice, too.

I’m not sure that Cami fully realizes that it’s her individuality that shines out far more than her green skin does, but I don’t doubt she’ll realize it as she grows up, strong as she is. I liked this story and the gentle, easy poetry and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Magical Beasts Jigsaw Book: Four Jigsaws From the Land of Magick

Rating: WORTHY!

There's no author listed for this book. It's a big, heavy, fat, sturdy book which has only four leaves, each of which is very thick and which contains a jigsaw which you can pop out and take your time rebuilding. The puzzles are quite simple, with few (~20 or so), quite large pieces so young children (not too young, mind, the pieces are undoubtedly very tasty!) can have a blast. I would have loved a book like this when I was a kid.

The pieces are brightly colored, and each jigsaw is cut exactly the same way, so that you could even mix up all the pieces and make some wonderfully psychedelic art work. On the back of each jigsaw puzzle page is a bit of a story about magical adventures, so there's reading to be had, too. The new book is rather expensive however, so I'd recommend finding this used somewhere. I recommend it for fun, and let's face it, that's all you really need!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Stand Up and Whistle by Phyllis Perry

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a very short (less than 90 pages!), well-written and educational story about two young girls who embark upon a quest to save some local wildlife. I had some issues with the story, but overall, I consider it a worthy read for the age group, which is middle grade.

Out to photograph prairie dogs for a school research paper, Jeannie and Mary Joe discover that the place they are photographing is going to be leveled and the prairie dogs (which are of course not dogs, but a form of burrowing ground squirrel related to squirrels and ground hogs) are scheduled to be exterminated. They decide to do something about it. I liked that the author evidently knows what she's talking about when she describes the prairie dogs, so it's very educational in that regard, and also in how to make a an official and grown-up protest about a problem.

This story was realistic in many ways. I would have expected no less given that the author is a resident of Colorado and there was a scandalous business from which this novel is no doubt taken, regarding the wanton slaughtering of prairie dogs, and the building of malls and the shameless, but predictable behavior of degenerate local government officials.

The evidently Nazi-trained City officials of Castle Rock in Colorado aided and abetted the extermination of a large prairie dog colony with poison gas pellets, but it's not only prairie dogs which suffer from this chemical warfare. The annihilation was done in spite of offers to relocate the animals and the city officials lied about it, as though they could not wait to see the animals bleed out.

This story seems to be heavily-based on that real life massacre, but it has a happier ending - although it's not always roses, and so is more realistic than pure fiction in how it plays out. There is also a side story about confidence building in Jeannie's best friend Mary Jo. That came with some baggage as I shall discuss, but I liked that the story showed the girls, particularly Jeannie, the main protagonist, to be thoughtful, smart, capable, and willing to work and research. Jeannie was brave in facing the "bad guys" - the property developers. She was a commendable protagonist.

I think this will be enjoyable for age-appropriate readers, but I have to add as an adult that there were some problems with the story which some kids might pick up on. I know my kids would have. The first is the rather hypocritical stance of the girls, who are not vegetarians (as judged by their consuming sloppy joes!), yet here are fussing and cooing over these cute prairie dogs. it's not just cute mammals which are threatened by humans. I felt the girls were hypocritical in that they give not a thought to the daily and routine slaughter of the cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens and fish that they themselves eat! I'm not going to fuss over this because the story has other virtues, but this kind of thing is worth keeping in mind from a writer's point of view.

Another thing which bothered me was when Jeannie went to protest the poisoning along with some other people, her parents did not accompany her! I felt that was wrong, and implausible. Either that, or it portrayed her parents as callously hands-off. Maybe kids will not notice this, and I know on the one hand it showed that Jeannie was strong and willing to go it alone, which was commendable, but it made her parents look really bad and uncaring, to me. If they'd had some important function they had to attend and could not get away from, then it would have been more realistic than just simply abandoning their daughter to her fate!

One last thing is nothing to do with the author, and everything to do with Big Publishing's longstanding cluelessness when it comes to book covers and illustrations. It's long been my theory that very nearly all book cover designers have no clue what's in the book they are photographing or illustrating for, and this one was a prime example. In the story, it's made quite clear that Mary Jo is overweight, and she's outright described as "fat" at one point. This is commendable, not that she's overweight, but that we're not being fed a trope diet of runway models for characters in a story! So far so good.

There is the trope 'let's ditch the eyeglasses and give you a quick makeover, and you'll be beautiful and popular', which I didn't like at all. I think it's the wrong message to send to young people, and especially to send to young girls, who are already bombarded with those shameless messages from the cosmetic industry. The right message to send is that if you're eating healthily and exercising some, then you're just fine as you are. We should not be sending messages saying you need to be pretty to be worth anything. On this occasion, I was willing to overlook that because it was a minor portion of a story which had other important messages in abundance.

That said, neither the cover nor any of the books interior illustrations gave any indication whatsoever that Mary Jo was even mildly overweight, which was disgraceful. I don't hold this against the author. She had done her job in this story. It was the artists and illustrators who sold out to popular norms. This is why I will never let anyone other than myself publish anything I write!

But that's a personal peeve. Aside from the illustrations, and with a nod to the issues I raised, I think this novel is a worthy read for the readership it's aimed at, and I recommend it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Webster's Manners by Hannah Whaley

Rating: WORTHY!

I've had a lot of fun with the Webster series of young children's books which started out by teaching web etiquette and safety, and have now migrated in this volume to things electronic. In a series of rhymes, Webster gets to learn what to do with anything noisy that flashes or beeps.

Illustrated with amusing pictures of the Webster spider family (which curiously has canines and only two eyes while retaining eight limbs!) and told in neat little rhymes, this story will hopefully educate your kids as to when electronics need to be subsonic. There's a lot to learn though, so you may have to read this to your child many times before they (hopefully!) absorb it all. You could turn this into a memory contest. I recommend this one.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Just like Me by Nancy J Cavanaugh

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an advance review copy that I got from Net Galley and for which I am very grateful to NG, the author, and the publisher for a chance to read. This was a great novel. There were some issues (when aren't there?!), but those were relatively minor and overall I consider this a very worthy read, and I enjoyed it immensely even though it certainly wasn't written for my age range!

The middle-grade novel is - refreshingly - not about your usual privileged white girl. It's about a Chinese girl who has been adopted into an American family. She has two acquaintances who are in the same shoes as she: adopted from China and living with American families. Whereas Julia seeks to embrace her new life, her two acquaintances, Avery and Becca also want to embrace their Chinese heritage.

This was where the first false note was struck for me. There was a huge dissonance between this theme of embracing one's heritage on the one hand, and the fact that all three girls, despite being born in China, did not have Chinese names. Avery, Becca, and Julia? Really?! There was no respect for their heritage there. Even if we assume that their American adoptees chose new names for them, could not those names have been Chinese? Just as badly, this was a slightly (yet not overbearingly) religiously-themed story. The camp was a Bible camp, but thankfully, the religious portion of it was very subdued. The problem I had with this was that most people in China are not Christian, yet this was the religion being imposed upon all three of these girls. Where was the respect for their heritage there? So those were two issues I had, but as I said, they were not deal-breakers for me, just issues which I felt could have been handled a lot better to avoid a suggestion of hypocrisy with regard to the theme of the story. There's far more to cultural heritage than adopting hobbies and affectations, and learning a language!

That said, I enjoyed the story because it felt authentic. It;ls base don the author's own experiences at camp, as the camp's music choices might suggest! The story was fun, amusing, entertaining, and moved at a good pace without feeling hurried. I enjoyed Julia's narration, even though I am not a fan of first person PoV stories. Her PoV felt realistic, and the argumentative nature of these girls, Julia and her Chinese "sisters" being crammed into a cabin at camp with three other girls, two of whom were rather snotty and elitist, was highly amusing, if a little disturbing now and then. Madeleine and Vanessa were over-achievers
who saw the win as all-important. Their foster-care 'cousin' Gina, who for me was the absolute favorite character, was a much more relaxed person who wanted to have fun at camp and didn't care if she was a winner or not.

Because of this tension, the girls start out the camp contests with a negative score! The tension continues to build until the girls are put on camp punishment and made to wash dishes after dinner. What happened then was hilarious and a real tension breaker, and you could truly feel the interpersonal relationships starting to turn around at that point, but they're still not out of the woods - so to speak. The story has delightful ups and downs and felt quite realistic.

That said, I've never been to one of these camps, and I have to say that I'm glad of it, if camps are like this. This was supposed to be a Christian camp, but it came off more like a prison camp. There was very little forgiveness and turning of the other cheek going on here, neither from the camp attendees, nor from those who ran the camp, which seemed rather hypocritical to me. Neither was there any attempt at all by the camp staff to teach these children anything about making friends, getting along, or amicably resolving disputes. It was all crime and punishment, and an endless run of competitive sports, like that's all there is in the world. I was saddened to think there may be camps like that, but it did make for an amusing atmosphere of us against them oppression, like some World War two stalag or a Soviet era gulag story! The punishments were punishing and seemed very un-christian-like to me. They did serve a purpose, however in the story.

So I had some issues, but overall, this story was great and I whole-heartedly recommend it for the appropriate age range (and a bit beyond!).

Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown by Bob Pflugfelder, Steve Hockensmith

Rating: WARTY!

I enjoyed the first volume that I read in this series which I reviewed back in March 2015, but this one fell flat for me. there were multiple problems with it. One which I am not counting against it is the poor presentation in Kindle's app for Android phones. Kindle has the suckiest app imaginable. Not every novel suffers from its depredations, but disturbingly many do, and this was one of them. The formatting was horrible, with text randomly exhibiting large font in the middle of nowhere, or small font likewise, or random caps in titles, and oddball numbers appearing in the middle of the text, which seemed to be page numbers. The fact that there was an annoying number of frivolous footnotes didn't help, either. Please note that this was an advance review copy, so perhaps the formatting problems will be resolved before the final version emerges. Here's an example of how it appeared:

Uncle Newt’s hairless cat Eureka jumped onto75


the dining room table,
Here's an example of the page numbers being mixed up with the footnotes, making a complete mess:
“In the past month, we’ve rescued77 a little girl from kidnappers, 5 defeated an army of robot robbers, 6 captured a ring of spies, 7 and thwarted the sabotage of both a major museum 8 and a big Hollywood movie. 9
The Kindle app on the iPad was just as bad. The Bluefire reader version on the iPad was fine.

That stuff was annoying, but the real problem here was not the formatting; it was the content. The story really wasn't very good, and it had a depressing amount of dumb to it. Parts of it were quite amusing, I grant, but nowhere near enough to carry this. Perhaps children with low expectations might find this entertaining, but I know that my kids would not find it appealing and they are only just outside of the middle grade age-range at which this is evidently aimed. To me it felt far too simplistic for modern sophisticated audiences, even young audiences, and there's not enough going on to keep them occupied. The gadgets the kids can build, which I felt was one of the strong points of this series in the other volume I read, were rather limp here. Two of them for example, consisted of a solar hot dog cooker which to me seemed a bit dubious (it's not wise to risk eating under-cooked meat, for example), and a balloon-powered ping-pong ball "cannon" which might be fun to play with, but which has nothing to do with solar power.

Some of the writing was not very smart, either. For example, consider this exchange:

It was bought for her by someone named Louis Quatorze.”
“Louis Squatorzi? What the heck kind of name is that?” Silas said.
Now we can see how Silas would have possibly mispronounced the name like he did if he had read it, as we are doing, but he didn't, he heard it. It would not have sounded like 'Louis Squatorzi' unless their uncle, who spoke those words, was a complete moron. Perhaps he was; he certinily behaved like it at times, but this felt far more like a case of a writer reading what they wrote instead of imagining it being spoken.

One thing which really bothered me was the lifestyle these children were leading, which seemed completely at odds with the environmental message which was supposedly being sent. The message was be kind to the environment, yet they were still tooling around in gas-guzzling and fume-emitting vehicles. There was no mention of electric or hybrid vehicles here, but the worst thing was these children's diet - they consumed a non-stop conveyor belt of junk food, which was frankly disgusting, and not the kind of thing I want my kids to be reading. If there had been some 'valid' reason for this - like they were captive and starving, and had no access to anything else, then I can see that sliding by, but this seemed to be their routine daily diet and it was highly inappropriate. It also detracted from the environmental message in that these kids evidently didn't know how to take care of themselves and eat healthily, so how on Earth could they take care of the planet? What kind of message does it send that this is supposedly a science-based story, and yet the sciences of biology, biochemistry, and health care are so abysmally neglected?

But based on the overall quality of the story, I honestly can't recommend this novel.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Eye of the Drone by Rebecca Merry Murdock

Rating: WARTY!

I've had mixed results with this author and this is the second of three novels with which I was not very impressed. I didn't like Rocco's Wings (note that this isn't a part of this series), which I reviewed in March of 2015. I did like the first volume in the Wild Cats series, which I also reviewed in March of 2015.

This is the second volume of the series, and is also an advance review copy for which I was grateful for the opportunity to take a look at, but which for me fell short of the glory of its predecessor. I applaud the idea behind this series, which is to educate young readers of the plight of wild cats, many of which are facing extinction, and I do appreciate that a good way to approach this is to tell an adventure story, in this case, one in which two young people get out and explore. For me though, this one took completely the wrong approach and let a serious and important topic devolve into complete fantasy. The wild cats which it was supposed to be about became pretty much an unimportant footnote or afterthought to the children's ever more implausible adventures, which included an encounter with a magical fairy who was disguised as a butterfly! It was too much for me and I think it sent this series along an unfortunately frivolous road from which it won't be able to return. The wild cats deserved better. I cannot in good faith recommend this volume.

The Spider on the Web by Lee Jordan

Rating: WORTHY!

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 89% of sexual solicitations were made in either chat rooms or instant messages and 1 in 5 youth (ages 10-17 years) has been sexually solicited online (JAMA, 2001)

I liked the way this was presented (and note the wording of the title - 'on' the web, not 'in' it) - a poetic warning to young children that the world wide web does indeed have spiders of the most monstrous kind - the people who crawl along the threads looking for easy prey.

Predatory behavior towards children on the Internet is a serious problem, and sharing this nicely illustrated and safely scary story takes children though some of the ways these people can get to know children sufficiently to perhaps tempt them to meet irl (in real life)rather than simply in the virtual world. It's told in rhyming lines, grouped with amusing illustrations in bright colors, which describe the tricks that are used and the people who try to safeguard internet users from these people. Even witches aren't safe.

This represents a fun way to approach teaching your child(ren) how to think smartly when using the web, and how to be careful, because people are not always who they say they are. I liked this and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Internet Safety
Risk Factors for and Impact of Sexula Solicitaitons Online
Childhood Abuse, Avatar Choices, and Other Risk Factors Associated With Internet-Initiated Victimization of Adolescent Girls

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Brady Needs a Nightlight by Brian Barlics, Gregory Burgess Jones

Rating: WORTHY!

This story, part of the 'Fundamentales' written in poetic quatrains by Brian Barlics, and illustrated quaintly by Gregory Burgess Jones

This is scary tale to tell 'e, of Brady Bat, a nervous nellie. It matters not if dark or light, Brady is shut down with fright! What can he do, he has no clue! Then one dark and scary night, young Brady Bat, he sees the light! Renewed now is his constitution, because of Brady's bright solution! There. That's done me in for a week or two!

I really liked this story, although I would have liked it better if Brady had first approached someone else with his fears. I don't think it's a good idea to send any kind of message to a child that she is on her own, and that friends, parents, relatives, guardians, older siblings, teachers, and so on aren't really of any help. The story still could have had these people fail to come up with a remedy, and Brady could have gone on to find his own amusing solution. Here's a spoiler, to clue you in: luciferase, luciferin!

One thing about this that I thought was great fun was that the bats are often shown hanging upside down (of course! what self-respecting bat doesn't enjoy a good diurnal inversion?), so if you read this to your child and have the kids it opposite you, they will see the bats standing up. I don't know why, but for some reason that amuses the heck out of me!

One caveat is that the text is way small. I can't speak for a print version of this, but it was only just legible on an iPad, and completely useless on a phone. I don't recommend asking an older person to read this to your kids unless the have great eyesight or a really good pair of eyeglasses! Why so many writers make their text so small in children's books, I cannot fathom.

On the iPad the pages are less than four inches square, and yes, you can enlarge them, but that's a pain to have to keep dicking around with the page size to read small text and then view the whole image. Part of the problem was that the pages in the iPad were laid out end to end like a film strip rather than as pages, and sometimes they became "sticky" and wouldn't swipe. When I tried enlarging them to fit the screen size, they tended to scoot to one edge of the screen instead of staying centered. I don't know what's up with that. I do know that Amazon has created a really crappy ebook reader with its Kindle app, so I wouldn't blame the author or (for once!) the publisher for this snafu. I can say that if I were going to buy this for some kid, I'd get the print version, not the ebook - except not the one Amazon is asking almost eight hundred dollars for!

Despite these issues, I did like this little book, and I consider it a worthy read.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Lily and the Paper Man by Rebecca Upjohn

Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated very nicely by Renné Benoit, this young children's picture book (with lots of text!) is the story of Lily and her haunting encounter with a down-and-out guy who is selling newspapers. I read this in Adobe Digital Editions on a desk-top computer, which made for an odd read since the book isn't really set up for electronic format. It shows both pages side-by-side which, unless you switch it to full screen, makes for very small images and smaller text. It definitely wouldn't work on a smart phone!

That said, the layout was wonderful, and the text readable, and the images delightfully colored and drawn to appeal to young eyes. I loved the self-righteous pigeon sheltering under the newspaper as the story began, and the almost Santa-like beaming face of the paper man at the end of it. Lily is walking home with her mom in the rain, and this is how she happens to encounter this guy - old, slightly menacing-looking, grizzled. She literally bumps into him, and decides she wants to take the bus home the next day so she doesn't run into him again. He definitely made an impression on her!

The problem arises when it snows, and Lily can't stand the thought of riding the bus with fresh snow on the ground. Of course, she encounters the same man, selling his papers, and looking like he's freezing with his thin jacket, holes in his shoes, and no socks. He doesn't seem threatening any more, and he may even have winked at her. Suddenly her mind is preoccupied with thoughts of the paper man, his clothes as thin as paper. She develops a plan.

This is not a Christmas story as such, but it's heart-warming enough to be one, and it's really well told. It's actually better that it's not a Christmas story because charity shouldn't be confined to one season. I consider this book a very worthy read.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Webster's Friend by Hannah Whaley

Rating: WORTHY!

I've had some success with the Hannah Whaley Webster books. They're simple, fun, and educational, and instructive, particularly this one which, in a sweet and non-threatening way discusses online misrepresentation. Webster, being a spider, likes to hang out on the world-wide web.... You know I cannot hear that phrase now without hearing it in the voice of Peter Cullen as he sounds when portraying Optimus Prime.

Webster loves to dress up, of course, so when he goes online he thinks it's the same kind of thing, and disguised by his computer, 'wearing' it like a costume, he can be whatever he wants. This gets him into trouble, and one exaggeration leads to another, as he puffs himself up to his new online friend, until his friend decides he wants to meet him! Fortunately, it all turns out fine in the end - and in a surprising way. I liked this, I appreciated how a potentially difficult topic was represented in a very cool way, and a valuable lesson was learned.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Beautiful, Amazing Magical Ballet by Mary Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of a really fluffy set of children's books written, I suspect, by a mom about her daughter. The books are available in a set of three which is how I got them. The drawings - presumably by the author herself, since no artist us credited, are completely charming. The book was very readable and charmed even a curmudgeon like me, so I don't doubt it will delight children. Note that this is very much a girl's book however (there's a lot of pink here, too!), and as such it's unlikely to interest many boys, especially older ones, unless they're particularly interested in what girls get up to when boys aren't around.

The pictures were colorful and sharp, and the drawing was perfect for the intended age range. The text was simple without being dumbed-down, and there was a real story going on. I read the book on my cell phone and it was perfectly clear and legible, but one thing I missed out on is that you cannot get the double-page spread when you read the book in electronic format. You get each half of the double page on a separate screen which ruins the effect. I've encountered this same problem with graphic novels when reading them on a tablet. I think publishers and writers really need to understand that you can't write a half-way book like this - it needs to be written either for e-format or for print. It can't straddle both unless you create two separate editions, one dedicated to each format.

Keeping in mind the intense discipline, pain, broken toe nails and even broken toes that are in store for anyone who truly wants to take up ballet seriously, I recommend this for a fun read. It entertained me, as Mia goes off to her first ballet lesson and makes quite an impact - literally. This story is very imaginative, taking us inside Mia's thoughts and illustrating them for us. It bothered me that there were quite literally no boys in the ballet class. Even though this is clearly aimed at girls I think it's important not to stereotype in this manner. Boys can and do enjoy dance and ballet and it seems a bit exclusive to not even depict them. We're never going to have real gender equality as long as children are routinely subjected to this kind of subtle "brain-washing" and passive exclusion/inclusion.

Other than that I found the book as charming as the first and I recommend it, with these issues in mind.

Not Just a Princess by Mary Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of a really fluffy set of children's books written, I suspect, by a mom about her daughter. The drawings - presumably by the author herself, since no artist us credited, are completely charming. I read this book on my cell phone and it was perfectly clear and legible, but one thing I missed out on is that you cannot get the double-page spread when you read the book in electronic format. You get each half of the double page on a separate screen which ruins the effect. I've encountered this same problem with graphic novels when reading them on a tablet. I think publishers and writers really need to understand that you can't write a half-way book like this - it needs to be written either for e-format or for print. It can't straddle both unless you create two separate editions, one dedicated to each format.

That said, the book was eminently readable and charmed even me, so I imagine it will delight children. This is very much a girl's book however, so while very young children will enjoy it regardless of their gender, as your boy grows older, he may not find this as engrossing. The pictures were colorful and sharp, and the drawing was perfect for the intended age range. The text was simple without being dumbed-down, and there was a real story being told here.

Mia is a feisty and self-possessed little girl who has a very active imagination. She's not in a princess mood today however - anything but. She's a lioness at breakfast, snarfing down her cereal. Note that 'lioness' is the author's term, not mine. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. While lioness is a technically accurate appellation for the female of the lion species, note that it's only the lion, really, that gets this distinction. Yes, there is tigress, but it's rarely used. There isn't cheetah-ess or leopard-ess, or a cat-ess (you have to go to Tom and Queen - or maybe even quean for a feisty cat) . I wonder why? For animals, it doesn't bother me so much, but when human females are subject to the same treatment, it smacks of genderism to me. I'm very much against adding 'ess' to a word and declaring that the confine of the female of the human species. Why actress? Why not just actor? Why authoress? Shephardess? Progress? Am I kidding with that last one?). It's worth a thought.

Moving along now, I recommend this story overall, because although she was typecast with lioness and cowgirl, Mia steadfastly refused to be otherwise constrained, taking on a variety of personas through her day, and even in her dreams. I didn't doubt that she would live her dreams as she grew up. This book is also available in a trio of Mia books.