Showing posts with label young children's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label young children's. Show all posts

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hair by Leslie Patricelli


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an amusingly written and colorfully illustrated young children's pasteboard-style book about hair, which I found amusing. I can't speak to whether young kids will find it the same, but my best guess is they will enjoy it. It's the perfect read when you're readying to take them to the hairdresser for the first time. It was actually in a hairdresser's that I found this in a rack for the very purpose of entertaining young visitors. It covers several aspects of haircare and hair interests and I thought it was fun and a worthy read for the intended audience.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an hilarious middle grade (or lower) illustrated sci-fi chapter book about Astra, the only child of a space-traveling family who were put into cryogenic sleep for the 199 year trip to Nova Mundi, the planet where they will live. Philip Reeve, better known for his Mortal Engines series (the movie for which is due out this year - 2018), does a fine job with the writing, and Sarah McIntyre goes to town on the charming, somewhat sepia-tinted illustrations which literally run riot through the story.

Unfortunately, Astra was a bit peckish before settling down, so she headed off to the dining hall to request that the AI there bake her the most scrumptious cake ever - a cake unequalled. It did exactly as she requested. As passengers slept, it experimented with making cakes and eventually created ravenous cakes - not cakes that you want to eat ravenously, but cakes that will eat you! These cakes begin roaming the spacecraft, and poor ardua ad Astra, who wakes early, has to do battle with them.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the spacecraft is drifting off course and is overtaken by multi-eyed pirates who are seeking to rob it of all its spoons. Yes, spoons. Don't give me that - like you have no idea how valuable spoons truly are. You're fooling no one with your feigned ignorance. Can Astra save the day?! Of course she can. Why even ask such a dumb question? Well, to tell the truth, I'm working on my blurb writing skills and they consistently ask ridiculous questions like that. You have to really disrespect the reader to be a successful blurb writer, and treat them like morons, so how did I do?

But seriously, I thought this book was a joy! Some readers might find it a bit trite or silly, or caked with sugar, but I'm guessing the readership at which this is aimed will love it. I did, and I'm not ashamed to admit it! I commend this as a worthy read, and I promise you it's not half-baked.


I Am a Bear by Ben Bailey Smith, Sav Akyüz


Rating: WARTY!

The blurb lies once again. It tells us that "Bear fills his day with food, funny jokes, tricks on his friends" and frankly that latter is all bear does. He zips on his fur coat before heading out - a violaceous fur coat - and spends his day pulling mean pranks on people (animals mostly, but in one case, an actual police officer). Written by first-time-and-it-shows children's author Smith, and illustrated just so-so by Akyüz, this book tells children how to go through life being a dick - and how to swallow a live squirrel whole, in case you wondered. It's not funny; it's not educational, and it's not entertaining. I do not remotely commend this.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Bump in the Night by Edward Hemingway


Rating: WARTY!

This was one of my local library's commendable "Banned Books" which are on display right in the entrance - books that have been banned or challenged in the US. I've reviewed several of them over the last few weeks.

This is one aimed at children and dealing with the fear of the dark and monsters under the bed. I don't know if this author is related to Ernest Hemingway, but with a name like E Hemingway on the cover, I expected more, even though I'm not remotely a fan of Hemingway. I did a parody of his hilarious Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber in my Poem y Granite book of poetry and short stories, the e-version of which is going to be available for free at Barnes and Noble, but other than that I have no interest in him.

As far as this book is concerned, I didn't like it. That's no reason to ban it of course, but for the life of me I could see no reason why anyone would challenge a book like this. Because it's wrong-headed maybe?! I dunno! I can't commend it because I think it took entirely the wrong approach. Rather than let kids know there's no reason to fear the dark (and explaining why people fear the dark), and assuring that there are no monsters under the bed, this book embraces them and pretends that yes, there really are monsters, but some of them are friendly...?

So I really didn't get what it hoped to achieve. It's obvious that a fear like this is irrational (even though in our evolutionary history it was perfectly rational!), but there are rational ways of dealing with such fears, and I think this book took the wrong approach is all.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Little Learning Labs: Astronomy for Kids by Michelle Nichols


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Not to be confused with Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame, Michelle Nichols is Master Educator at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, which I can say I have visited although it was many years ago. I thought this book was great. It's simple without being too simple, instructive, useful and very educational.

It places equal emphasis on fun projects and scientific learning, and some of this stuff was new to me, who thinks of himself a something of a science buff. Who knew you could measure the speed of light with a chocolate bar?! I kid you not, and you don't need to worry if you get it wrong because you can comfort yourself with the chocolate afterwards!

The book contains a galaxy of simple child-sized 'experiments' which any kid can do and which are certainly not dangerous. Divided into two units: observing, and scoping out the science, the book begins at the vey very beginning - not, not the Big Bang, silly, but at the beginning of the scientific method - making observations and recording your findings. It teaches children how to estimate angles in the sky with a reasonable degree of accuracy, and how to determine east-west and north-south line by means of two simple observations of shadows cast by the sun. It discusses sunrise, sunset, high noon, the Moon's phases, eclipses, and why stars twinkle. All of this begins with simple tests, experiments and observations any child can make, bolstered by the science behind the experiments explaining why we get the results we do and what they mean.

The science takes over with the construction of a pinhole projector made from a cardboard box and aluminum foil, how to detect infrared light, what ultra violet light is, making a solar oven, mysterious glowing water, and of course the very chocolatey speed of light. Does light travel slower in dark chocolate? Never mind, I just made-up that last bit!

I loved this book, I think it's a great introduction to astronomy for young children, with no dusty cobwebbed lessons! It's all fun, all simple, easy-to-understand and well explained, and most importantly, it's tied in to the science in easily grasped ways. You can't get a better science book for kids than this one, and I commend it fully.



The Slow Cooker Baby Food Cookbook by Maggie Meade


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Margaret Meade is a famous name in cultural anthropology, but this is not that Margaret Meade! Maggie Meade is a cook and a mom who runs https://wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com and is the author of The Wholesome Baby Food Guide. This book - an alternative to 'who knows what's in there other than sugar and salt' processed baby foods - contains 125 recipes for creating your own 'I know exactly what my baby is eating' foods.

This section discusses the differences between organic and non-organic, but it makes no mention of cost! Organic is often an excuse to bump the price up and nutritionally speaking, organic food is no better than non-organic food. If you buy fresh non-organic food and wash it, there's no reason to fear fruits and vegetables, and the GMO 'worry' is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned, but obviously there is a variety of opinion on these topics and over use of any chemical is an issue. If you're vegetarian, the question of antibiotics in meat isn't a problem either, but it's definitely something you want to avoid as an omnivore!

Part one asks why make homemade baby food and why use a slow cooker? It covers the fundamentals of homemade baby food, slow cooker basics, choosing ingredients and serving them safely, and feeding your baby solid foods at every stage which also contains an important discussion about allergies. Allergies are being re-evaluated and better understood all the time, and things which parents were once urged to avoid with young children are now becoming more and more viewed as foods which ought to be introduced at a relatively young age to avoid children developing allergic reactions later in life, but obviously these are things you need to discuss with your pediatrician. This book also covers topics such as incorporating baby food making into your routine and tools and equipment needed to do so.

Part two covers slow cooking: single ingredient dishes, fruit and vegetable combinations, beyond applesauce recipes, grain-based cereals, and recipes for fingers, spoons, and plates. Towards the back there are sample meal plans, a list of resources, and a comprehensive index.

I have to say that this book appears to have been designed as a print book from the ground up. The pages are in two-page spreads and are legible on a decently-sized tablet computer, but I'd definitely not try using this via a smaller tablet and certainly not on your smart phone, which to me would be a bit of an inconvenience.

That aside the book is well-written, contains good and concise information, and lots of useful advice - plus, of course, a wealth of wholesome healthy recipes to bring children along from the early milk-diet to the regular world of soft and then solid foods as they mature and become accustomed to new foods. Babies are very adaptable, and introducing new tastes at a young age will circumvent many of the 'my kid hates vegetable X' problems as they progress to the otherwise troublesome twos!

Children need to be loved and cared for, but they are tough and do not need to be swathed in sterility and padding and 'protected' from 'evil foods', even at a young age. Careful introduction of a variety of foods at an early age is a great recipe for raising a healthy child at a healthy weight, who has no fear of new foods, and who eats their greens! I think this book goes a long way towards resolving some of those early food issues and I commend it as a useful and worthy read.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

O is for Old School by James Tyler


Rating: WORTHY!

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

A is for apple is old school. This new look at children's ABC's is da biz! I loved it. There's no reason you can't have fun educating your kids, so why not start with this new look, where A is for 'all good', D is for 'dawg', H is for 'hood' and so on?! The book is colorful, amusingly illustrated, and spot on with the alphabet! I commend it as an original, amusing, and a welcome and different take on your ABC's! Word, Bro!


Simone de Beauvoir by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Christine Roussey


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French author and philosopher, and very close companion of Jean-Paul Sartre. She lived through most of the twentieth century, and left a strong legacy of feminism. She wrote novels, biographies and an autobiography, and she made a lasting impression on literature.

Illustrated simply but colorfully by Roussey, this book tells a concise and easy-to-read story of her impressive life from her well-to-do origins, through her family's loss of fortune, to a decent education, to a life spent as a single woman, giving birth to literature instead of children, by her own choice. She pretty much became a feminist before there were women recognized as such (back then they were called trouble-makers!), and a philosopher long before earning any academic credentials. It just goes to show that girl-power isn't a modern invention!

She lived a long and productive life and while I would not agree with the assertion that she "was the first person to write about women making their own choices" (has the author not heard of female authors such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Mary Wollstonecraft and even earlier, women such as Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu?!), she definitely made substantive contributions to what was known back then as emancipation.

I think books like this - part of a series of strong females of history - are highly important for young children - male and female - to read, and this is one more in a series I have been happy to support (with one exception!). I commend this one as a worthy read.


One Day So Many Ways by Laura Hall, Loris Lora


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written descriptively by Hall and illustrated well by Lora, this book is definitely needed. As a reader who tires of so many novels by American authors set in the US, as though nothing ever happens elsewhere in the world, I welcome books which amplify how important the rest of the world is, and illustrate how critical it is to have an awareness and understanding of other nations, especially at a time when we have a president who seems determined to wear blinkers.

Children need to grasp how big this world is and how different and alike other children are. It never hurts to be wise to the ways of the world and this book represents a sterling start, taking us through a typical day across Earth, but looked at through many facets: those of children of over forty other nations.

It begins with the kids waking up to a new day, breakfasting, traveling to school, learning, playing, making friends, having quiet time, enjoying sports and games, traveling home and completing chores, homework and going to bed! It discusses how different each country can be, or how similar, by illustrating each new page with many vignettes of life elsewhere and at home.

Do the Venetians in Italy enjoy the same food as us? How about children in Burkina Faso? In Jining? In Kathmandu? Do they play the same games? Dream the same dreams? Hope for the same things? The stories come from literally across the entire globe, from two-score nations, from Australia to Alaska, Mali to Mexico, Ecuador to England, Ireland to India, Patagonia to Poland and more.

If I had one complaint it would be that the ebook comes as a double-page spread which makes it rather small, even on a tablet computer. It would have been easier to read had these double-spreads been split into individual pages, and I saw no reason why they could not have been. Evidently this was planned as a print book with little thought given to ebook versions which is rather sad. Other than that, I fully recommend this book as a worthy and educational read for all children everywhere!


Monday, October 1, 2018

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, Henry Cole


Rating: WORTHY!

Justin Richardson is a doctor, Peter Parnell a playwright, and Henry Cole an illustrator. How they all came together to create this true story is a mystery to me, but I'm glad they did. There's an ignorant but powerful element out there who believe that same sex relationships are an abomination, and also a choice made by people, although they can never explain why people would make a choice to become victims of the abuse and violence aimed at them by these same vile people who think they somehow have the right to dictate how everyone else should live. Wrong!

And nature itself proves them wrong - very wrong. It's not a human choice, it's a perfectly natural happenstance. Gender isn't binary. It's a sliding scale which can slide one way or another throughout life, and it's not a human thing but an animal thing - and I mean that in a generic sense, not a punitive one. We are all animals, and many animals have LGBTQ members. This book amply demonstrates that by telling the true story of two male penguins who decided they wanted to emulate any reproductive couple.

Roy and Silo (who have their own Wikipedia entry!) are chinstrap penguins who built a nest and tried to hatch a rock. This doesn't work. Rather than have them trying to steal another couple's egg, some inspired and inspiring members of the zoo staff gave them an egg from a cis couple who were not able to hatch two eggs. Roy and Silo successfully hatched the egg and raised 'their' daughter - Tango - successfully. Evidently taking her cue from her parents, Tango herself paired with a female penguin called Tanuzi, although this part of the story doesn't appear in this book.

This book was listed among the top-ten banned books for five years, which is why everyone ought to read it. I commend it. It plays a little bit fast and loose with the true story, but not by much and it's still worth reading even so.


I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings


Rating: WORTHY!

This was on the commendable 'banned books' display at my local library - daring readers to take one of the banned or challenged books on loan! Great idea! Based on a true story (you may notice one of the authors is named Jazz!), this picture (and text!) book for younger children is very well-written and gorgeously illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas.

Thirteen-year-old Jazz (when this book was published) had always been a girl where it matters (in her brain!), but unfortunately was born a boy on the outside. This did not please her, but over time, this crucial difference was understood by her parents and overcome by them as a family so Jazz could be who she honestly felt she truly was. Not every child in these circumstances has that advantage which is why books like this are so important.

This book also had its problems, not in terms of writing or illustrating, but in terms of being listed by the American Library Association as number four among the top 10 most challenged books in 2016. That's how it came to my attention because of the 'banned books' exhibition. This was one of them. It's amazing, amusing, and very sad how people can find books like this so terrifying that they try to banish them so no one can read them. Those are the very people who need to read a book like this, and I'm glad this book exists and I commend it for everyone and anyone to read.


Counting birds by by Heidi EY Stemple


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was truly disappointed in this book. It certainly is a good idea to get kids out into the fresh air and exercising as well as hopefully doing something for the environment, but what exactly are they doing for the environment? This is where this book failed for me and why I cannot rate it positively.

There was another minor issue in that this book is designed as a print book and not as an ebook. In the ebook, the pages are presented not as single pages, but as double pages meaning you can only view them two at a time, which means they're small, and you have to fiddle with the magnification to see them optimally. Having them as single pages viewed in portrait format would have helped, but the pages are designed as two-page spreads, so that effect would have been lost. My advice is not to buy this for reasons I will go into, but if you want to buy it, do not buy it in ebook format.

I said above, "hopefully doing something for the environment" because there was nothing in this book to say what the purpose of bird counting is or how it actually benefits the environment or the birds. The original idea, from Frank Chapman in 1900 was that instead of going out shooting birds, which seemed to be something of an insane and barbaric tradition on Christmas Day (I wonder how many doves were slaughtered on Christmas Day by the good Christians with their guns?), he would call upon readers of his magazine to go out and do nothing more than count them, and report their results in to the magazine.

That's great, but if that's all it is: counting, then the logic is flawed. The people who went out counting were not necessarily the same people - and I would argue it's highly unlikely they were the same people - as those who were out shooting. And merely counting was doing nothing to save any birds.

Now you can argue that keeping a yearly tally of birds at least allows us to track their numbers over time, but this is precisely what the author has failed to argue in this book because she offers no justification whatsoever for counting the birds, and there needs to be one for all those children who will ask, as I would have as a child: how is this helping the birds?

Just knowing that, say, bird species X is in decline isn't going to do species X a damned bit of good unless action is taken on that knowledge - and assuming those numbers are reliable. But are they? There was no word on that, either. Nor does a wish to act do any good unless the government can be moved to put protections into place - and good luck with that with the present business-obsessed administration who are determinedly destroying environmental protections as fast as they can and outright lying about pollution and climate change.

This book was some twenty pages long and nowhere in it was any kind of word about exactly how this is helping, save for one tiny, brief, and rather vague paragraph on page fifteen. Now word on how the numbers translate to help or even to a plan to help. No word on what kind of help has been given over the last century. No word on whether it has worked. No word on species saved, if any. No word on how conservation has improved. Nothing.

This is unacceptable and unforgivable, because what it means is that this author is asking us to mindlessly go out and count birds - and that's it! Hey, I do, and you should do it too! That's not rescuing the environment, it's acting like a sheep with its attendant wooly thinking. Don't treat your readers like sheep. Treat them like intelligent human beings and give them solid reasons for asking them to do as you do. It's for this reason that I refuse to commend this book as a worthy read. It falls far too short of where it needed to be.


101 Healthiest Foods for Kids by Sally Kuzemchak


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Divided into four main sections: Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, and Protein-Rich Foods, with an addition section on Spices and Seasonings, I found this to be a great book for ensuring young children have access to healthy and tasty recipes. The book is lavishly illustrated with full color photographs of enticing food. The only thing missing was it not being printed on edible paper - but then the recipe would be gone, so perhaps thats not a bad thing!

The author is a dietician and it shows in how she writes. Each section listed above is divided into a smaller section on a particular fruit or veggie or whatever. She fearlessly lists foods a lot of kids would never dream of eating, because they've never been shown how dreamy such a food can be when introduced early and presented right. Each page not only has information about the nutritional value of the food and the best way to prepare it, but also hints, tips and suggestions on how to overcome that veggie shyness. My only disappointment here was that rutabagas (Swedes) were excluded, but they're so yummy that probably kids snarf them down without any issue, right?

Fruits are an easy sell - usually - but that doesn't mean there's nothing new to learn or even yummier ways to look at them (blueberry banana "ice cream" I'm looking at you!). Protein-rich foods included beef, but since it's alphabetical, it began with beans and is followed shortly afterwards by chickpeas. As a vegetarian I was thrilled by this!

The only overall issue I had was that this ebook advance review copy was clearly conceived as a print book, so the ebook pages were actually double-pages. I had to turn my iPad to landscape to see the whole thing, which meant it was rather small for reading, and it's definitely not something you can do a quick reference to on a smart phone - not without eyestrain or a lot of fiddling to enlarge the image. I'd have much preferred it if each page had been a single page which would have permitted portrait reading and a larger image, but overall I really liked this book and I commend it as a worthy read.


Creative Adventures in Cursive by Rachelle Doorley


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Cursive! Foiled again! This was a great idea, luring children into writing well under the guise of having them create decorative and useful items involving handwriting. There is a score of neat ideas. I found it a little disturbing that while the photographs showed a commendable diversity of children, it seemed to be only girls until the 'painting of the rocks' section showed up and then it seemed mostly boys. After that section the gender mix was more diverse. But overall, it is commendable.

So are the ideas. There is a huge variety of options - for both boys and girls together! - to make fun things that will teach elegant writing, and also make useful items such as: greeting cards, seed packets, book plates, stenciled pillow, embroidered napkins, abstract art, cake decoration, and so on.

Provided with abundant hints, tips, illustrations, and photos, the book will talk you through every detail without going into excessive detail, of how to make everything from scratch, including practice warm-up exercises before you even get started! Judged by the faces of the children it was a lot of fun and it also taught concentration and focus! There are also comments from the kids themselves distributed throughout the book about how hard or easy something was, and what experiences they had in doing this work.

I loved this idea and I commend this as a worthy read.


A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories by Angela McAllister, Alice Lindstrom


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a well-written and easy introduction to Shakespeare for young readers, providing a short story version of a dozen plays. Note that it pulls no punches, telling the stories as Shakespeare wrote them, so there's no hiding the murder, intrigue, and double-cross - and there's a lot of it, for fully half of these plays are the tragedies, the other half the comedies. There are none from the 'histories'. Overall, I think this worked well and it strikes me as a great way to get your kids interested in a highly enduring and popular writer.

The book didn't offer anything aside from the plays - apart from a few illustrations by Alice Lindstrom, which I personally could have done without because I did not feel they contributed anything beyond padding. I'd rather have seen some information or commentary added, and there was a small section at the back with a short paragraph on each included play which gave some background details, but it was very brief.

The plays do not appear to be in any kind of order that I could see. For example, Romeo and Juliet was written before Macbeth, yet they're the first two plays and in the opposite chronological order. The plays are these:

  • The Tragedy of Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy. It's sourced from the Holinshed's Chronicles published a decade or two earlier and influenced by the 1590 witch trials in Scotland. It begins with MacBeth coming home from battle to be accosted by three witches who tell him he will become king, while his companion Banquo will be the father of kings but never king himself. In many ways it's just a rejiggered version of Hamlet. MacBeth, rather than wait for fate to crown him decides to hasten things along. He murders King Duncan, leaving 'evidence' that lays the blame on the king's guards (who had been drugged by Macbeth's wife). Fearing the blame trail would lead to them, Duncan's two sons flee, and MacBeth is crowned king, but like Hamlet, he can't overcome his fears and doubts and this leads to a downhill trail of guilt, suspicion, murder, and discovery. The play was essentially a paean to King James and was evidently written (or at least amended) in the aftermath of The Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
  • Romeo and Juliet which ought to need no introduction, is an early play of Shakespeare's once again ripped-off from an Italian precursor as so many of his works seem to be! The story of Mariotto and Gianozza by Masuccio Salernitano is the source, later adapted as Giulietta e Romeo and containing the entire story as Shakespeare appropriated it. The warring family names are perhaps from Dante's Divine Comedy: Montecchi and Cappelletti. It also has parallels in Pyramus and Thisbe which was a play featured in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream also included in this collection.
  • The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark popularly known as just 'Hamlet' is a play that exists in three different versions, having evidently been re-written by Shakespeare several times. Set in Denmark, it tells the story of a young prince set on a course of revenge by his father's ghost, who claims he was murdered by his brother, who now happens to be married to Hamlet's mom, and is king. You know, no one ever explained to me how that worked. Didn't the crown pass from father to son? Why is the uncle the king and not Hamlet? This was written during the reign of Elizabeth the first, and she was queen in her own right, so maybe Hamlet's mom was queen in her own right? This is one of Shakespeare's plays where everyone dies. He seemed to enjoy writing those. As with all his other works, he ripped off this idea directly from the Scandinavian story of Amleth.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream is a fluffy nonsensical story of mixed loves and confusion written around the same time as Much Ado About Nothing. I much prefer the latter. This play is one of Shakespeare's earliest and the opening lines perhaps wisely invite the observer to pretend it's only a dream if they don't like it. Helena is in love with Demetrius who loves Hermia who loves Lysander, but Hermia's father wishes her to marry Ron Weasely...er, Demetrius. Sorry! All this is worked out in the end by Robin Goodfellow aka 'Puck' and his magic potion. Meanwhile a troop of players are practicing a play (Pyramus and Thisbe) which they hope to put on at the Duke's wedding. One particularly self-opinionated player named Bottom becomes the object of Puck's self-amusement as his features become those of an ass (Bottom, ass - get it? Shakespeare was not known for subtlety!). Following Fairy King Oberon's earlier instructions, Puck makes Queen Titania fall in love with this ass. This is one of Shakespeare's few plays which he did not rip-off from some other source.
  • The Tempest is thought to be the last play Shakespeare wrote and sees him once again returning to the magical as a once again an exiled Duke (cf As You Like It!) gains a belated revenge - of a sort. There is no single source that Shakespeare used for this one, so it's more like his own work for a change.
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Ripped-off from yet another Italian source (The Deceived Ones), this is a comedy once again featuring twins as in The Comedy of Errors which features two sets. Shakespeare himself was the father of twins: Hamnet who died as a child, and Judith who lived to a ripe old age. In the case of this play the twins are Viola and Sebastian, who become separated when their ship wrecks. Thinking her brother has died and hoping for a better life as a man, she takes her brother's male identity, but calls herself Cesario, and becomes a trusted confidante and companion of Duke Orsino, while at the same time falling for him. Meanwhile, thinking his sister dead, her brother starts life anew and ends up encountering her accidentally, but not before confusion has been set in motion as Orsini sends Cesario to court Olivia, who of course has no interest in Orsino, but who falls for Cesario. So once again we get the same old Shakespeare routines we've seen so many times before. As it happens I like this play and it is, methinks, my favorite along with Much Ado About Nothing.
  • The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a direct rip-off of Un Capitano Moro, aka A Moorish Captain by Cinthio, and from which the name Desdemona was taken directly. The trouble-making Iago, who is the Don John of this story, feeds poisonous untruths to his boss, Othello, who had failed to promote Iago in his military unit. Iago sets his boss against his wife and eventually causes Othello to suffocate his wife and then upon learning too late of her innocence, kill himself.
  • As You Like It is believed to have been written in 1599 and tells the story of Shakespeare's famous Rosalind (Romeo's soon-ditched 'undying live') and her cousin Celia, who flee her cruel uncle's court and move into the Forest of Arden where others are also in exile. Arden, situated in almost the geographical center of England (not far from where I am from!), is now no longer a forest worth the name. The story is somewhat confused because while Arden is in England, the play is set in France, yet the Forest of the Ardennes lies in Belgium and Luxembourg! Shakespeare was very confused! He was one of history's most famous rip-off artists. If he were writing today he'd be doing young adult trilogies galore. He took this tale from the source story for what later became known as The Tale of Gamelyn.
  • The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was written around the same time as As You Like It and Hamlet and despite its title, is really more about Brutus and his plot to assassinate Caesar, whom he thought was bad for Rome, but really, would you want to see a play named 'Brutus' when you could see one named 'Julius Caesar'? I think people would rather see a play named 'Popeye' than one named 'Brutus'! Shakespeare took his story from Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's 'Lives' retaining many folk tales that had no historical provenance (such as the 'Et Tu Brute' line, which Caesar never said) as well as compressing events for the sake or performing them on a small stage.
  • Much Ado About Nothing! I read somewhere that in Shakespeare's time that last word in the title would have been read as 'noting' and therefore was a double entendre. If you take note, you'll notice that the importance of being noted, or of failing to take note, is at the forefront of this play. Beatrice makes mention of marking (i.e. paying attention to) something in her exchange with Benedick, and shortly thereafter, Claudio and he make mention of noting Hero. Written roughly around the same time as A Midsummer Night's Dream, this play was perhaps taken from Orlando Furioso (Furious Orlando) by Ludovico Ariosto and from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. In a sense it's very much like Midsummer Night's Dream in that there's a meddlesome interloper and mistaken identity. In this case the meddler is Don John, Don Pedro's evil brother. The absurdly-named Hero is besmirched by trickery and the original 'fighting couple who fall in love' (Benedick and Beatrice), which is such a staple of cheaply-written modern romances, begin at odds and even fall in love here.
  • King Lear is another tragedy taken from semi-historical sources about the ancient English character known as Leir, and he also took the character of Cordelia from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. The tragic ending was displeasing to so many that an alternative happy ending was later used - and for many years before the original was restored to favor. Shakespeare's play appeared about a decade after a comedy written about this same king who was believed to have reigned in the eighth century BC.
  • The Most Excellent Historie of the Merchant of Venice dates to the end of the sixteenth century and is considered a comedy, but with high dramatic content. It's a direct rip-off of Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino. Pecorone is an Italian word related to sheep (pecora), not to be confused with Percorino which is a type of cheese made from sheep's milk; so the meaning here is someone who is weak willed or easily led and no doubt refers to Antonio being sorely abused by Bassanio. Bassanio is a dilettante and profligate who wants Portia, and who persuades Antonio to loan him 3,000 ducats to spend on pursuing her. Antonio has no liquid assets at that moment so he secures a loan from Shylock - the one and original, but because of his racist remarks, Shylock forces him into a deal whereby Shylock will get neither money nor goods if Antonio defaults. Instead, he will get a pound of Antonio's flesh from around his heart! Bassanio correctly chooses the casket from three which Portia offers, only one of which contains her picture, and so gets her hand, but if it were that simple why does he need 3,000 ducats?! Anyway, Antonio's ships flounder and Shylock calls in his loan! Fortunately, Antonio is saved by the skin of his teeth when Portia and Nerissa in disguise as a male lawyer and 'his' clerk bale Antonio out.

Is this a blank page I see before me? Out, out damned text! I ran into a couple of issues with this advance review copy. The most serious of these was a problem - in two different downloads of this book - in that p82 (the last page of As You Like It), and also pps 98, 99 (in Much Ado About Nothing) were all completely blank - no text at all! I assume this will be fixed before the final copy is published. This was viewing the PDF format file in Bluefire Reader on an iPad.

Double, double, toil and trouble! The other issue was more of an annoyance in that the pages are presented as double-pages, meaning you have to tip your tablet over to landscape view to read them - and therefore at a smaller magnification than you'd be able to if they were presented as individual pages you could read in portrait view. To me this was an annoyance and a sign of yet another book being conceived as a print book and suffering for that in the ebook version. You definitely don't want to try reading this on your smart phone! Not smart!

Other than that I enjoyed these very much and I commend this collection as a worthy introduction for youngsters new to Shakespeare.


Sunday, September 2, 2018

Tib & Tumtum by Flora Grimaldi, Nicolas Bannister


Rating: WARTY!

This is a Calvin and Hobbes wannabe and it fails. It also has elements of Minecraft in it in that this area looked like a series of giant stacked flower boxes straight out of Minecraft's lack of design workshop. I learned later that it was supposed to be a cliff! The art other than that, by Bannister, wasn't bad. The stories by Grimaldi were boring and uninventive.

The story is of Neanderthal kid Tib, who has a birthmark in the form of a red splash around his left eye. Other kids constantly make fun of him because of this. He's friends with a dinosaur (the Hobbes of the duo) named Tumtum, which animal his mother detests because she thinks it's dangerous. Well, it is to bird chicks, because this one poor nestling who fell out of the tree was swallowed whole and eaten by the dinosaur without a second thought.

The entire graphic novel is a series of one page cartoons retelling the same stories of cruelty and stupidity and bullying and loneliness over and over. The kid is bullied by his peers, or he plays with the dinosaur. His parents are largely absent and don't seem to care how miserable the other kids make him. The story is a disgrace and therefore warty.

Anyone who thinks humans and dinosaurs ever lived at the same time in history is a moron, period. I'm not going to recommend a book that panders to that while at the same time offering nothing to ameliorate it and make it worthwhile suffering this fictional lie. If it had been a sabertooth cat for example, in place of the dinosaur, it would have made more sense, but I'm guessing that the authors didn't do that because it would have shown exactly how much of a cheap rip-off of Calvin and Hobbes this book truly is.

The book doesn't even attempt to teach any history with all of the people having a modern mindset and using a modern vocabulary. All the author did was to take the laziest way out possible: put modern people into stone-age times, add an anachronistic dinosaur and hope people will (literally) buy it, without making any attempt to offer anything original, educational, inventive, fresh or new. Why not rip off the kids? It's pathetic.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Fishtale by Hans Bauer, Catherine Masciola


Rating: WARTY!

Read acceptably by Adam Verner, this turned out to be a boring audiobook that had initially sounded interesting. The story is of this oddball family whose mother loses her wedding ring to a particularly hungry fish, which has bitten her finger and won't let go. Before it could be caught and made to barf up the ring, the little fish is eaten by a cormorant which in turn, while chasing another fish, is eaten by a much larger catfish in the shady water. It's rather like a nesting doll or maybe like the layers of an onion, but this doesn't mean the missing valuable is an onion ring!

The main character (maybe - I really couldn't tell from the story) is Sawyer Brown, whose Mississippi family has a catfish farm. After his mom is bitten by this ring-hungry fish, she gets sick, and sawyer decides that this is connected with her ruing the ring. Naturally he has to go on a quest to get it back. It was at this point that I lost interest in the story. It may well appeal to a younger audience, but I've read many stories aimed and younger audiences and enjoyed them. This one just piscined me off. There really wasn't anything in it to pull me in (the big fish notwithstanding!), even when I tried to see it through younger eyes than mine.

I can't therefore recommend it based on the 25% or so I listened to. One problem I had was keeping all the characters clearly defined in my mind. This may have been because I was driving while listening, and when I drive my primary focus is on the road, but the morning drive is usually quiet and uneventful and I don't usually have this problem, so I can't help but think this was because my mind was wandering for no other reason than that the story simply wasn't engaging it.


Matt the Green Cat by Jenny Mitchell, Abira Das


Rating: WARTY!

I wasn't impressed with this. The story, written by Jenny Mitchell, and illustrated colorfully but lazily by Abira Das, is supposed to be about accepting differences, but the cat really isn't different: it's just paint-stained, so that it's green instead of ginger. Perhaps this isn't going to be noticed by young children, but it bothered me.

Matt the cat is green. His mom was repainting the wall in one of the rooms in their house (so kudos for allowing that a woman can paint rather than defaulting to the dad!), and Matt got splashed. Rather than put him in the tub and wash him off, everyone seems to suddenly accept that Matt is now green and is stuck with it.

This struck me as weird also! The rest of the story is then about Matt parading aimlessly around and being accepted by everyone he meets with no issues. I don't think that quite gets to the core of the matter! Unless the author's intention as something quite different from what I thought it was (color-prejudice), which is quite possible.

I had a problem with Matt in that every picture of him was pretty much the same - like the artist could paint only one perspective. I swear his head was reused several times and never once does he look at the reader. This gave him an air of arrogance and superiority which mitigated strongly against the air of affability with which the author seemed to want to imbue him. Again, it's for young kids ands maybe they won't notice, but why take that chance?

The worst problem with this book though is that the image wouldn't shrink to fit the iPhone I first read this on unless the iPhone was in portrait position in which case it was way small. it was way small anyway, so I looked at this book on my iPad and had the very same issue! It's not just the iPhone, it's Amazon's crappy failure of a Kindle app - yet again!

It was really annoying too, because picture was always larger than the screen which meant that often, the text wasn't visible. You either had to pinch the picture to reduce it and hold it to read the text, otherwise it would spring right back to oversized, or you'd have to slide the picture up and down (the width was fine, it was just the height that was off screen since my phone isn't square but rectangular!) until you found the text to read it.

Amazon doesn't care. They're so big, they don't have to care! Why waste effort on improving a free app when they can frustrate you through their incompetence to buy a device instead? This is one more reason why I thoroughly detest Amazon.

So, in short, I cannot recommend this, and I wouldn't advise selecting this book to read at all unless you do have some sort of tablet computer to read it on that's bigger than a phone.


Woody Saves the Day by Harvey Storm


Rating: WORTHY!

How can I not like a book which has a title character whose name so closely allied with my own?! Yes! Biased review coming up!

Woody is a mouse who rules by fear. He has a secret which makes other animals try to placate him with gifts, but life at the top can be a lonely one as Woody discovers, until along comes Rocky the fox, who is caught in a downpour and finds shelter in this strange and forbidding cave. Rocky discovers Woody's secret and urges him to come clean. Honesty is the best policy (as neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris pointed out in his very perceptive - and honest! - book Lying). Woody decides to take the plunge and face whatever it brings - and good for him!

This book is interesting and useful, and a good idea. The story is simple and the images colorful and illustrative. The only oddball thing I encountered was this sentence: "...and there was a terrible noise that made his wool stood on end." The verb tense is wrong and foxes do not have wool! They have a type of hair commonly referred to as fur, in keeping with all other members of the dog family. This made me wonder if English is not the author's first language and if his name is a fake one! C'mon, hurricane Harvey Storm?

That's a minor problem though, so overall, I commend this book as a worthy read for young children - and even a few adults who might be inclined to tell stretchers.


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WARTY!

Newbery award winners have been such consistent disappointments that I refuse to read them anymore. This was an exception only in the sense that it became one by dint of the fact that I'd read some DiCamillo books recently and enjoyed them. I decided against my better judgment to give this one a try, but all it did was serve to prove my case! The book was not helped by the fact (and I didn't realize this when I requested it at the library) that the original print version is illustrated. The 'The Illuminated Adventures' part is very tiny on the audiobook cover, and I'd thought 'illuminated' was merely metaphor anyway, so the important question here is: why on Earth was this book turned into an audio book? Shame on the publisher.

The story is about Flora Buckman who vacuums up a squirrel named Ulysses. I tell ya, if I had a dime for every time I've done that! What is it with squirrels and vacuum cleaners for goodness sakes? Just 'cause it's called a Dyson Ball doesn't mean there's dancing, you squirrels! The Kenmore Elite Pet friendly doesn't involve any petting! The shark navigator doesn't actually guarantee safe passage through shark-infested carpets! That's more of a pest control issue, quite frankly. And a side-defect of buying deep carpets I might add....

Anyway, the squirrel magically develops super powers and Flora becomes the side-kick. And no - this isn't the most bizarre plot I've ever read - or thought of for that matter! The blurb calls this "a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters," but we all know 'back cover blurb' is another term for outright lying. It almost made me yell out loud for crying out loud. That right there should have warned me off it. I avoid books where the blurb says it hosts 'wacky' or 'zany' or 'eccentric' characters. Again I mistakenly made an exception! More fool me!

I gave up on this after listening to only a few minutes of Tara Sands reading this. This marks the fourth audiobook I've listened to which she also read, and only one of those four have I actually liked. This was not that one and I cannot commend it at all. No more books with the initials FU!