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

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Onward the Search for the Phoenix Gem by Steve Behling

Rating: WARTY!

This book is rooted on the Disney animation (read 'barf fest') of a similar name. I was curious about it because I've paid zero attention to their animated fare of late, and I began reading it, but was turned off it so quickly all I have to say is that it was not for me. It held nothing of interest and really, I wasn't surprised, When has Disney, the most unoriginal animation studio ever to exist, who has bribed congress to extend copyright law to insane levels to protect its animated mouse, really offered anything of interest lately?

The last good thing they did was Frozen (take that however you want), and even that was still hog-tied to tradition in so many ways. They couldn't even leave that alone, going for a sequel to milk another billion out of the punters. That movie was almost a decade ago and ever since then, all they've done is remakes - live action versions of animated movies from their stable. Disney has never been less animated and this book was one more snooze in a blizzard of tired Disney yawns.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Bright Dreams The Brilliant Ideas of Nikola Tesla by Tracy Dockray

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm definitely not one of these people who thinks Nikola Tesla was a god and worships him, nor do I buy into the inane conspiracy theories that have grown up around him, but I do admire his brilliance, and I have to say that this well-illustrated and sweetly-told story about his life is a great way to introduce children to an important inventor.

It begins with his interesting childhood (it starts at birth! Where else would a biography start?!), and covers his youth and his travels, and follows him to the USA where he really became a name to conjure with. It pulls no punches, either, not shying away from the sad parts of his life and the times where he was exploited by unscrupulous men. The thing was that he was so good at inventing things that he nearly always bounced back.

I enjoyed reading this and the only issue I had with it was the question of his digging ditches. Yes, it's true that for $2 a day he was forced to do this, which he accepted stoically until he could get back on his feet again, but whether those ditches were for Edison's cables or some other purpose is the issue I think it's folklore rather than authenticity which poetically has him do this for Edison's cables. Maybe it was, but I'm not convinced it was specifically for that. There were lots of other reasons for digging ditches back then.

But this is a minor thing that people can disagree about, and it takes nothing away from he overall power and charm of a story that I enjoyed and which I commend as a worthy read for young children.

Just a Stage by Corey Majeau

Rating: WARTY!

This book was entirely inappropriate for young children - or anyone. it had an attitude that the environment is there for the pillaging and wasn't even remotely ashamed of it or apologetic about it.

The story in short is that there's no place like home. A house on stilts is the main character, living on a rock in Newfoundland. The house is described as a fisherman (note the gender-bias), but it's one which fishes indiscriminately, apparently having no use for the fish, but just pulling as many out of the water as possible. Never mind the fact that fisheries are collapsing worldwide because of over-fishing. Just pull them thar fish out as fast as you can.

As if this isn't bad enough, the house gets bored and, leaving its trash on the island, it moves to the pristine Canadian forest which is described not for its beauty but in terms of its natural resources to be exploited: trees, a stream, and plenty of animals. The house immediately starts clear-cutting the forest.

Next it moves to a desert, but presumably there's nothing to exploit there, no even oil, so it leaves. The next location is displeasing because, and without a hint of irony, the house finds it 'dirty'. Eventually, it harnesses a whale (no kidding) to swim back to its original location riding on its back, where it settles on the back of a poor turtle and starts fishing again. WTF? I'm sorry but this book is probably the worst children's book i ever read. It's completely anti-environmental and it sucks. Trump, in active process of rolling back no fewer than 100 environmental regulations, will probably buy this by the truckload for his grandchildren. Me? I actively dis-commend this toxic trash.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Girl Who Fell Below Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M Valente

Rating: WARTY!

This sequel really wasn't needed, but you know there's pressure from Big Publishing™ to milk a successful title for all it's perceived worth. This is why ten years after The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins is coming back to milk it some more with a story that's pretty much the same thing over again. Doubtlessly it will be made into a movie. That's not my world at all. I only started in on this one because I already had it in my possession. If I hadn't already bought it when I bought the first one, impressed by that one's title, I would never have read this.

This story was even less engaging than the first, which is entirely unsurprising. It felt like a series of sketches rather than a story - a litany of set pieces which really had no real connection with one another. The basic plot is that September misses fairyland, and jumps at a chance to return, but she finds it a different place to the one she left: her own shadow is now queen of the underworld. She goes by the name of Halloween (now there's an original) and is stealing everyone's shadow.

Why this is even a problem, I have no idea, but of course just like in Peter Pan (yawn), shadows have personalities here. Why September's own shadow is evil, again I have no idea. It makes no sense. Maybe it's explained in the story, maybe not, but I'd be willing to bet that any explanation offered is as limp as a shadow. Fortunately she hasn't yet stolen the shadow of the dragon which September befriended in the first story, so at least she has a friend.

That reminds me of a funny picture taken by comedian Rick Gervais of his wife and tweeted to his followers, and that one image had more soul than this story. I can't commend this any more than I could the first one, and I am done with this author.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente

Rating: WARTY!

I am not a fan of series, but I loved the title of this middle-grade book, so hoping against hope, I bought both it and the sequel since they were on sale at a bookstore. I gave both of the titles a shot, but neither impressed me.

I think I made it about a third of the way through this one, but the story was so rambling and dissipated that it felt like it wasn't so much a story as it was a boring sort of a diary. Apparently the author crowdsourced funding to work on this. I should be so lucky! Then she put it online for free and it was discovered by a publisher, so a success story in that regard, but the story itself left a lot to be desired for me.

Taking a leaf out of wizard of Oz, the author starts her story out on the plains, in Nebraska, though, rather than Kansas, and has her young girl whisked away by a powerful wind, to a fairy-tale land. The child is a 12-year-old named September, who is apparently the only one who can fix a problem. Why this is, I don't recall, assuming it was ever revealed. She needs to recover a talisman, and of course she does and all is put to rights - until of course things necessarily break down in order for a sequel to be written.

The story didn't entertain me despite my gamely plowing into it quite a ways - about a third or so, as I recall. Despite the author's attempts to add whimsy and novelty, it was still your typical story, requiring a cis girl to meet a boy (named Saturday - seriously?) and solve the problem. I couldn't get into it and I cannot commend it based on what I read of it.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Cat and Rat by Melinda Thompson, Melissa Ferrell, Doug Oglesby

Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated sweetly by Doug Oglesby, this is part of a series of books aimed at beginning readers, and this one focuses on short vowel sounds. The book set has 100 or so pages divided into eleven books, and begins with a rat trying to steal a piece of cheese. I'm very fond of rats, not so much cats, so I admit to a serious bias here! I have my own The Little Rattuses™ series which is a about halfway through its run before I move on to something else.

Having seen some of those ambitious subway rats on various videos taking a whole slice of pizza with it, I have to say that this is a very fair rat! It's not taking the whole chunk of cheese, just a small piece. Unfortunately, the cat happens to see this. Rats aren't known for their negotiating skills (except in my series!), but everything seems to work out well in the end for all parties.

The second book focuses on the verb 'see' and follows the story again, repeating that word and inviting the child to see everything in each picture. The third set repeats and amplifies this, but focuses on the rat - see the rat! You can't not see a rat. I found this amusing because just yesterday I was watching an episode of the TV series House, a series which has now run its course, but which was popular and usually entertaining in its time. It featured a rat in part of the story. It was clearly a domesticated rat - not a wild one at all - which was to be expected of course.

Anyway, having seen the rat, we move to book four where we see the cat. Book five introduces a new verb, 'can' and book six focuses on person: 'you'. Book 7, focuses on the verb 'look' and the preposition 'at'. Book 9 covers 'and', Book 10 'stop', book 11 'that', and in each book the sentence structure becomes a teensy bit more complex, slowly leading the child into full sentences, questions, observations, and story-telling. "Can the rat stop the cat? Look and see" and so on.

The books are highly structured and repetitive, which helps a child put everything into a clear context, and not just learn the word, but really understand what it means. My kids are way beyond these books now, and this is my first experience of this style of 'book-leaning', so I can't speak from personal experience of using this method, but to me it seems smart and logical, and I commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada, Mae Besom

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the other book I read by the artist Besom and writer Yamada. In this one, the story is again about a young kid who has this idea. It looks weird, and people point at it and make fun, claiming it will never go anywhere, but no matter what he does, the kid can't seem to shake it and this idea not only stays with him, it starts following him around everywhere!

I can relate to this big time! Once a story idea get into my head I have a hard time letting it go. Sometimes the idea is so bizarre, it's probably better to let it go, but if I did that with everything, I'd never have written Cloud Fighters or Cleoprankster. Of course there are also times when the idea just catches me in the right mood at the right time and I drop everything and run with it. Not that that typically gets me anywhere, but the exercise is good for me!

Printed in large format hardcover and with great big illustrations, this was another fine read from this pair, and I commend it.

What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada, Mae Besom

Rating: WORTHY!

It's time to look at a couple of print books I discovered (although I'm sure others discovered them before I!) that really were quite charming. Beautifully illustrated by Besom and written with passion by Yamada, the story here is about this young kid who espies a chance fluttering around him, but he's too afraid to take it.

Nervous, unsure, fearing of failure, he lets it go, and even though other chances come by, he grows very reticent to have anything to do with them, but then he begins to fear something worse: that no chance may fly his way again, so he resolves to grab the next one in both hands. What happens? Well, I guess you'd have to read the book to find out!

Printed in large format hardcover and with great big illustrations, this was a fine read and I commend it.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Felix After the Rain by Dunja Jogan, Olivia Hellewell

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Written sensitively by Slovenian author Dunja Jogan who also illustrated this book, and translated into English by Olivia Hellewell, this is a story about carrying too much baggage, represented literally by poor Felix, who has this huge dark suitcase he feels forced to carry around with him, and every time something goes wrong, the weight of it gets worse, but as he travels, and worries he might not be able to pursue his dreams while dragging this heavy weight around with him, he learns that he can let his baggage go. It's a beautifully told story and finely illustrated, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Birds of a Feather by Vanita Oelschlager

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is described as "A Book of Idioms and Silly Pictures" and it certainly is! It takes some phrases that are so commonly used that people don't even think about them anymore, and takes them quite literally, so the dog, for example, really is barking up the wrong tree and the cat is quite happy about that! Ants in your pants doesn't make anyone happy, and goosebumps are just embarrassing!

I've enjoyed nearly all of the Vanita Oelschlager books that I've read, so I was happy to see this one available for review and I didn't regret it. It was fun, engaging, amusingly illustrated, and goofy enough to be entertaining as well as a little bit educational. I commend it as a worthy read.

But I Need Your Help Now! by Bryan Smith, Lisa M Griffin

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Illustrated in fine style by Lisa M Griffin, this book aims to teach younger children how to appropriately attract attention when they encounter a problem or need help. Young Isaac is in the second grade, and evidently his parents somehow failed him somewhere along the line, because he can't seem to determine how properly to attract attention when he needs it. Part of his problem is that e has trouble judging how critical a situation is. Naturally, everything is important to him, and when he's struggling at school with a math problem, he just yells out. Later he causes a problem at a store, but at school the next day when there's a real emergency, he tries following the patient procedures he was reminded of the previous day and still gets it wrong!

It's just not Isaac's day, but he learns. Each new situation is examined in Bryan Smith's steady text, and the appropriate course of behavior is highlighted. It turns out there isn't a fixed rule, and you have to make judgments on the fly! This is why it can be so trying for young children. Isaac finally begins to learn these important truths. The book explains simply and patiently and takes the reader through permutations, each of which is designed to teach a little something, adding up to a big something: an improvement in a child's behavior.

I first foolishly tried reading this on my phone where I read most of my books, but it was only available on the Kindle app. Why publishers of children's illustrated books make this insane choice, I do not know. Amazon's crappy ebook conversion process produces not a Kindle book, but Kindling! It mangles anything and everything that isn't plain vanilla text. This is one of many reasons why I personally boycott Amazon. Pictures are often cut up into shreds, but in this case, even on an iPad where there was more screen real estate, the Kindle app screwed-up everything. The pictures appeared with no text in them, and blank speech balloons, and the text was assembled above and below the image. Not all of the text is there. At one point I read, "Make eye contact, raise appropriate - approach." Raise appropriate what? I didn't find out that until I read the book in the Bluefire Reader app on my iPad, where it was rendered perfectly.

I commend this as a worthy read in everything except Kindle format!

The Secret Explorers and the Lost Whales by SJ King

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

The secret explorers are a group of young children who investigate the natural world and help right wrongs. It's a series, so not all the kids go on every mission. They each have specialties and are selected because of what they can bring to making the mission a success. In this one, my first encounter with this series, Connor and Roshni are the underwater crew investigating why a pod of humpbacks seem to have lost their way. In process of pursuing the investigation, they encounter problems and issues that need to be worked through, and learn things about ocean life.

I was disappointed in this book for two reasons. While I appreciate its aim of trying to engage young people in developing an awareness of the natural world and the human-caused problems it faces, the natural world really needs to be left alone. The problem isn't the natural world, it's decades of human callous indifference to it that has caused the problems, and this is where efforts need to be applied. A Band-Aid and an aspirin isn't going to work where major heart surgery is urgently required. And you know, there's not a lot of point in saving one pod of whales if the Japanese or American Indians are going to hunt and kill them anyway.

The other problem I had with this ebook is that it simply did not work. I'm talking technically here. The book hung up on me around fifty percent in and crashed the entire app. I tried it in two different apps: Bluefire Reader, and Adobe Digital Editions. Both of these normally work perfectly, but this book failed at the same point in both apps, which tells me it's the publication, not the app. Just now, before I finalized this review, I tried it once more on both of those apps and the book wouldn't even open in ADR. It hung up the app. In BFR, it opened, but immediately hung the app.<.p>

I don't know if it's the intention to put this out as an ebook, or if that's simply how review copies were distributed (for my sins, I'm not the sort of reviewer who gets the hardback copy!), but given the poor quality of the e-copy, which prevented me reading half of it, and my misgivings about the priorities being set in this story, I can't commend it as a worthy read. Your mileage may differ.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Jesse Owens by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Anna Katharina Jansen

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Jesse Owens was someone deserving of the sobriquet 'legend' but somehow, he was forgotten far too soon to enjoy it. had he been white, that might not have happened, but had he been white, his blazing trail across the athletic world would carry far less weight than it does.

Something this book doesn't make clear is that his actual name was James Cleveland Owens. He went by 'JC', but when he was inducted into his new school, the person writing down the names didn't understand him and thought he was saying 'Jesse'. The name stayed with him ever since.

He grew up in a large family - ten children, which is far too many for poor parents to support, but had he never been born he could never have made the impact he did. He was notable for his running speed even at an early age, and his gym teacher was so impressed with him that he allowed him special training privileges so he could fit his athletics in alongside his work - work that was necessary to help support his family.

He became renowned in his own lifetime after he set three world records and tied another at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, something that's been described as "the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport" and which has never been repeated by anyone.

Perhaps his biggest triumph was sticking it to Adolf Hitler at the 1938 Olympics. While the dictator of the Aryan race, who considered black people to be inferior, sat and watched, Owens won four gold medals. Hitler couldn't even take pride in the fact that in an early case of sponsorship, Owens was wearing German running shoes made by the founder of the Adidas athletics-wear company!

This was an intriguing and educational book for young kids, and I commend it fully.

Jean-Michel Basquiat by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Luciana Lozano

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've read a good many of these mini-biographies for children, and enjoyed nearly all of them. This one is no exception. It tells the story of this renowned American artist of artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent.

Illustrated nicely by Lozano, the book covers the growth of the artist from his early days drawing at the age of four, through his introduction to human anatomy via a book he read when he was sick one time, to his rebels years, and his later collaborations with Andy Warhol. Even someone who died tragically young can have a lasting influence on what comes later.

Mountains by Charlotte Guillain, Chris Madden

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

It's unfortunate to be reviewing this when a soldier is missing, not many miles from here at Fort Hood, who shares a very similar last name to the author. The book though is nothing to do with the military. It takes an interesting idea and runs with it with great success.

The perspective of the environment and wildlife as viewed from the summit and environs of some of the world's most impressive mountain ranges is a good one, and it's pleasing to see that this book doesn't forget, as so many do, that there is, believe it or not, a vast world outside of the borders of the USA.

Illustrated beautifully by Madden, the book begins in the Himalayas, a name taken from the Sanskrit meaning simply, the abode of snow. We learn as we visit each new locale, how it quite literally arose, and what lives there, and how magical the engagingly differing coloration is between the animal life, the plant life, the water sources, and even the very rocks themselves. We also learn what climate change is doing to all this planetary glory.

From there we move to Iceland, land of ice and fire, and thence to the Alps, home of a poisonous salamander! We zoom across to the Andes, which are on the end of the Wristies...just kidding. But we do visit the Andes and say "Hi!" to the vividly pink flamingos and the superior-looking if slightly lazy appearing vizcacha. From there it's on to Japan and the majestic Mount Fuji.

Afterward we visit the Rockies and the amazing assortment of birds as well as the beautiful blue of a glacial lake. If you find this stunning, then prepare to be over-stunned when we end up at the rainbow rocks of northwest China, which is, I have to say, is perhaps the only environment that the artist does not do justice to. Although, to be honest you'd have to be a candy manufacturer to really do justice to the amazing rainbow rocks.

The book was entertaining, educational, beautifully written and illustrated, and a fine introduction to these widely-varying slices of life and environments on Earth. There's also a heart-rending appeal at the end from the author to protect our mountains. While the mountains are solid and seem in no need to protection from anyone, the environments they support are fragile. I hope everyone feels the way the author does, or will soon come to do so. I commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Backward Science by Clive Gifford, Anne Wilson

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

The title to this book is rather misleading in two ways because for one, there's nothing backward about it really. There are almost thirty sections which deal with advances in science or, mostly, with inventions. They begin with asking what life was like before the discovery, and how the change came about and was developed. The other way is that it's less about science per se, than it is about invention.

The chapters are short but fascinating, and they cover a wide variety of topics, from smart phones and DNA profiling, to assembly lines and gunpowder, and textiles and steam trains. The book doesn't shy away from naming the inventors, so we see, unusually, several women mentioned as well as some people of color. Unfortunately people of color do not appear in the illustrations very much. Those consist mostly of white folk. I'm not sure why.

Some of the inventors might not seem familiar to you, for example if you think that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb (nope!), or that William Hoover invented the vacuum cleaner. Nope. Had the original inventor of a practical home vacuum cleaner not sold everything to Hoover, we might well be spangling the rug today, not hoovering it!

This book was fun, knowledgeable, and nicely-illustrated by Wilson. I commend it as a worthy read.

Art Workshop for Children by Barbara Rucci, Betsy McKenna

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book's aim is "to Foster Original Thinking with more than 25 Process Art Experiences," 'process art' being the work itself rather than any specific end result. Art for art's sake, you might say. The book was smart and fun, with a lot of images to illustrate the text and some of the cutest quotes from the young children who participated in various activities.

The book begins before any children are on the scene, discussing the kind of area that works best for the artistry to take place in, and the kind of supplies and materials that might be needed or useful, including the indispensable art cart!

Next up is the detailing of the 25 or more art projects which include frame paintings, muffin tin prints, cotton swab mini watercolors, self portraits where you paint the kids face and then slap paper on it, peel it off, and see how it looks...I'm just making that up! There's not such thing in this book! It does cover self-portraits though, along with paper bag collage painting, still life with a donut (I am not making that one up!), paint mixing, folder paper art, cardboard box robots, milk carton houses, tree branch painting and a host of others.

The projects don't have a specific end point. They're about the doing, the experience, the learning. Of course there is an end result, but whether or not the result is what was aimed at is far less important than the journey there - working with the paint and materials and enjoying the trip.

This book was fun and educational, and it has some really good advice about process art, and kids just plan having fun in a stimulating and fruitful environment. I commend it.

Nasla's Dream by Cecile Roumiguiere, Simone Rea

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

When I was a kid, me and my younger brother slept in bunk beds, with him on the top one. One night I was lying awake when something dropped to the floor, and I reached to pick it up thinking it was one of his plush toys that had fallen down, but the thing reared up. It freaked me out until I realized it was the cat which had evidently been up there on his bunk and just jumped down. Way to weird out a young kid!

Nasla has a similar problem and she never does discover what it is, but in this book aimed at reassuring young children that the things which might give them some cause for fear at night are not really fearful at all, some equally strange things take place.

Lying in bed in the dark and decidedly not going to sleep, Nasla is concerned about this little yellow circle of light on top of her wardrobe, which is where she keeps her old toys now she's feeling grown up. So is this light coming from her elephant? Her broken hippo? Is it somehow caused by moonlight? The more Nasla contemplates it, the more fantastical are the images that go through her mind and her ideas about how she might ease not her own fears, but those of her toys.

Eventually, of course she does fall asleep and that's when we readers discover what it was. I enjoyed this book, and the imagery, artistry, and imagination that went into creating it. I commend it as a worthy read.

Thank You, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez, Seng Soun Ratanavanh

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Charmingly written by Galliez and illustrated beautifully by Ratanavanh, this children's book - apparently part of a series - has Miyuki finding her grandfather exercising with Tai Chi in the garden. Being an inquisitive child, she immediately peppers him with questions.

He answers them all patiently if not always directly, and when he moves on to meditation, Miyuki is anxious to join him - if only she can figure out what it is. Her grandfather patiently leads her through the garden looking at various things and contemplating them. In doing this he is showing her how he meditates rather than explaining it to her.

Miyuki's grandfather's idea of meditation is evidently not so much of the transcendental kind as it is of the kind promoted by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius when he wrote: "Of each particular thing, ask: What is it in itself? What is its nature?" In doing this she learns a greater appreciation of the natural world and learns to look around her and discover for herself rather than simply seek pat answers from others.

I found this book delightful and relaxing, and I commend it as a worthy read for young children.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Nut That Fell from the Tree by Sangeeta Bhadra, France Cormier

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a fun children's book written in sweet rhyme by Bhadra, and illustrated with color and flare by Cormier. Based on the pattern set up by Randolph Caldecott in his 1878 children's picture book The House That Jack Built, this could almost be a prequel to it. It's also reminiscent of the 1952 song, "I Know an Old Lady" by Rose Bonne and Alan Mills.

This book begins with a nut which fell from a tree - an acorn to be precise - which passes through the possession of several forest critters such as a rat, a blue jay, a goose, a raccoon, a bear, and on until it finally comes to rest in a place it can grow, where the grown tree provides a nifty site for a tree house! I enjoyed the rhymes and the beautiful illustrations and I commend this as a worthy read.