Sunday, November 25, 2012

Focus: A Memoir, by Ingrid Ricks

A Memoir
Author: Ingrid Ricks
Publisher: Ricks Communication
Publication Date: October 24, 2012
I've never met Ingrid Ricks, but I've frequently found myself wanting to hug her. In Hippie Boy: A Girl's Story, she described her childhood with her exciting but sometimes irresponsible father and her strict religious mother. In A Book of Mormon (And Not So Mormon) Stories, she revealed more about her struggles with her very religious mother and stepfather. In both, she was a master of revealing her vulnerability honestly, allowing the reader to see both her struggles and her strength. But never has she exposed her vulnerability and strength more fully and explicitly than in her new book, Focus: A Memoir, in which she describes her struggles with a genetic disease that has left her legally blind. It's really not fair that someone so nice should be given SO many challenges!

But Ingrid Ricks is anything but self-pitying. Although she is honest about how desperate she felt in the early days of her diagnosis, she also allows herself to see the many blessings that she still does have. I don't mean that in a saccharine, simpering way, like she was lecturing the reader on the importance of daily affirmations to overcome life's challenges because everything is part of a greater plan and isn't life wonderful. I mean she got on a plane and went to Africa as part of a job writing about AIDS orphans in Swaziland and then she felt like maybe her eye problems weren't the worst thing that could happen to a person. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fairies at Bedtime: Tales of Inspiration and Delight for You to Read with Your Child – To Enchant, Comfort and Enlighten, by Karen Wallace and Lou Kuenzler

Fairies at Bedtime:
Tales of Inspiration and Delight for You to Read with Your Child – 
To Enchant, Comfort and Enlighten 
Authors: Karen Wallace and Lou Kuenzler 
Publisher: Watkins Publishing 
Publication Date: November 8, 2012 
I think this type of book would have likely appealed to me as a child: a richly illustrated collection of stories about fairies, leprechauns and other wee folk. I think I would have really liked the stories of magic and make believe that appear only to children who pay close attention. And yet, having read Fairies at Bedtime, I am hesitant to read it to my own daughter. The stories are less about magic and make believe and more about teaching life lessons to children based on encounters with fairies. There are even "affirmations" at the end of each chapter, encouraging children to reflect on the lessons they've learned from each story. There are also sections on helping your child to meditate on various nature spirits, which is, well, I'm not sure exactly who the audience is for that. It seems like it would offend Christian parents and confuse atheist parents (I realize those are not the only choices obviously). But it seems to be aimed at families who have a deep religious affinity for leprechauns. All in all, it takes itself entirely too seriously for my taste.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood, by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (illustrated by Steve Rolston)

Seeing Red:
The True Story of Blood 
Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi 
Illustrator: Steve Rolston 
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 1, 2012 
You really can't go wrong with Tanya Lloyd Kyi! She's the author of several other books for children, particularly specializing in the "so gross but so cool" categories. Her 50 Underwear Questions was fantastic, but Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood is stellar. The book explores all the ways in which blood has been interpreted, misinterpreted, used, consumed, avoided, feared, ritualized and just plain obsessed over. She looks at bloodletting, vampire lore, menstrual myths, human sacrifice, blood spatter and even blood recipes (if someone offers you blodplattar pancakes, think twice!). It's creepy and gross and SO good. It's also really informative. Plus the illustrations by Steve Rolston hit just the right mark between cute and gory. My inner twelve-year-old is salivating over this book! 

Song for Papa Crow, by Marit Menzin

Song for Papa Crow
Author: Marit Menzin 
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing 
Publication Date: August 31, 2012 
With children's picture books, the importance of the artwork can not be underestimated. Beautiful illustrations can take a book from being good to being exceptional. The illustrations in Song for Papa Crow are, without a doubt, exceptional. The collage work almost reminds me of something out of a Nick Bantock book (except that this book is, I presume, two dimensional). It's also a wonderful introduction to many of the birds that are commonly found throughout North America.

My daughter and I often see birds from our windows or when we're going for a walk. Unfortunately, unless it's a crow, a blue jay, a pigeon, a seagull or a robin, I usually don't know what the birds are so I can't tell her much about them. So I love books that teach about other birds that we might see (like finches--I always forget about finches). Plus I like that the crow, whose caw had been annoying the other birds throughout the book, ends up being the hero in the end. 

Another great (and free!) resource for families and educators interested in learning more about common birds the Celebrate Urban Birds kit available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hit the jump for the link and more images from the book!

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum:
The story of a 145-million-year journey from the Jurassic Plains of Utah to the halls of the Smithsonian Institution
Author: Jessie Hartland
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: October 11, 2011
I wish I could go back in time and have Jessie Hartland write an entire series of "How the..." books that I could enjoy throughout my childhood. I would have absolutely loved this book as a child! It's like a cumulative poem (think "The House That Jack Built") about dinosaur bones. It starts with how the dinosaur lived, how it probably died, who discovered the bones, who excavated, cleaned, shipped, assembled and displayed the bones in a museum, etc. It includes all the steps along the way, which is not only interesting and entertaining, it's very informative as well! It's also great to see all of the different jobs there are for people interested in paleontology or museums, beyond just the museum curator or the paleontologist. Plus, there's a bonus page at the end that explains a bit more about the actual dinosaur hunter and paleontologist featured in the book.

Wild Rose's Weaving, by Ginger Churchill (illustrated by Nicole Wong)

Wild Rose's Weaving
Author: Ginger Churchill
Illustrator: Nicole Wong
Publisher: Tanglewood 
Publication Date: October 14, 2011
Wild Rose's grandmother wants to teach her to weave on a loom but Wild Rose keeps finding things to do that are more fun than weaving. She runs through the meadows, watches the sheep and enjoys the beautiful day. When she finally comes in, she sees that her grandmother has created a beautiful rug that shows the meadows and the sun and sky that Wild Rose has been enjoying all day. Rose is moved by the art of the quilt but confused how her grandmother could capture all the colours of nature when she was sitting inside all day, weaving. She asks if she can learn to weave too, but her grandmother tells her she has something "better to do than weaving" just now and goes out to enjoy a rainbow. Only after that does she teach Wild Rose the art of weaving.

I loved this book. I loved the balance between going outside and enjoying nature and staying inside and creating art. I loved the "Little Red Hen" theme of the grandmother asking her granddaughter to help with each stage of the project only to have her refuse, but then be amazed by the end result. And I especially loved the depiction of the weaving itself, an art that is almost lost but certainly not forgotten.

A Color Game for Chester Raccoon, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

A Color Game for Chester Raccoon
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson
Publisher: Tanglewood
Publication Date: May 15, 2012
This is a cute take on a colour book for young children by the author and illustrator of The Kissing Hand and other Chester Raccoon books. Chester and his friends spy various colours in nature, like a white bird, a brown caterpillar, flowers that are "cornflower blue." It's sort of the Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? for the Chester Raccoon series. The only thing--and I'm sure this would not be an issue for the board book--is that the digital copy I received did not have the pages lined up properly so two-page illustrations could not be viewed simultaneously using the "two page view" option on my desktop reader (it showed the second half of one picture and the first half of the next instead). If this becomes available as an e-book, I hope they would correct the page numbering.

A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon
Author: Audrey Penn 
Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson 
Publisher: Tanglewood 
Publication Date: August 15, 2011 
What a fantastic twist on the "afraid of the dark" bedtime stories! Chester the Raccoon is having trouble sleeping but since raccoons are nocturnal, it's the daylight that's keeping him up. He keeps thinking he sees scary things in the sun's rays, the way children might complain of shapes in nighttime shadows. As usual, his mother is there to comfort him and help him relax for bedtime (and dream of nighttime adventures). The text is a simple rhyme that's sure to enchant even very young children. 

Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully
Author: Audrey Penn 
Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson 
Publisher: Tanglewood 
Publication Date: August 14, 2008 
Audrey Penn and Barbara L. Gibson's series of books are lovely and (deservedly) very popular, but perhaps they can't all be as magical as The Kissing Hand. Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully has some good points, but it's not the "instant classic" that The Kissing Hand was. The basic premise is that Chester and his friends are terrified of a mean badger at school who has been bullying them, to the point that event the teacher can't control his behaviour. Chester's mom tells them all a story about a prickly blue stone that is beautiful but painful to touch, a metaphor for the prickly badger. She encourages the forest children to "smooth out the prickly edges" of the badger's mean disposition with kindness. In the end, the children confront the bully and ask him to play, at which point the entire problem is instantly resolved.

Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson
Publisher: Tanglewood
Publication Date: August 15, 2009
I know that Audrey Penn's Chester the Raccoon series is best known for its gentle messages about helping children deal with life's big changes (going to school, moving, having a new sibling) and The Kissing Hand is one of my favourite books for children ever. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that this book was another "dealing with big changes" book. I just wasn't expecting it to be so sad (SO sad!). In Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories, Chester must deal with the death of a loved one. I realize this is something every child has to deal with at some point, whether it's the death of a grandparent or a family pet or some one else close to them. It's a sad, confusing time and it's good to have books available to help comfort children through this difficult time. But, having said that...

The death Chester must deal with in this book is the death of a classmate, which is WAY sadder than I expected from a children's book. He comes home and explains that the teacher said Skiddel Squirrel had "an accident" and wouldn't be coming back to school. I know it's a squirrel and not a person, but within the logic of the book it would be the equivalent of a child dying. I admit, I was quite traumatized. 

There Were Dinosaurs Everywhere! A Rhyming Romp Through Dinosaur History, by Howard Temperley (illustrated by Michael Kline)

There Were Dinosaurs Everywhere!
A Rhyming Romp Through Dinosaur History
Author: Howard Temperley
Illustrator: Michael Kline 
Publisher: KWS Publishers 
Publication Date: October 26, 2012 
What a fantastic book! It's eighty pages of funny and informative poems about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures (my resident dino-geek, Mike, insisted that I make the distinction since not all prehistoric creatures that we think of as 'dinosaurs' were, in fact, classified as dinosaurs). The illustrations are cute and charming, showing dinosaurs in silly situations, like pterosaurs with aviator glasses and a triceratops curled up in bed with insomnia. My three-year-old also enjoyed reading it with me, though it is intended for an older child and would be perfect for any elementary school aged dinosaur lover.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Change the World Before Bedtime, by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good

Change the World Before Bedtime
Authors: Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good 
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing 
Publication Date: August 31, 2012 
Do you have that friend, that super awesome friend who's amazing and sooo hip and soooo good and always recycles and probably knows how to knit and understands the phrase "artisan cheeses" and has her own Etsy store and makes sure her children all volunteer at the animal shelter and always has the coolest fair trade ethically made handbags? She's your coolest friend and she's soooo nice and you don't have a bad word to say about her? And you know how you just want to punch her right in the face? 

This book is that friend. In book form.

A Tale of Two Daddies, by Vanita Oelschlager (illustrated by Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc)

A Tale of Two Daddies
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrators: Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc
Publisher: VanitaBooks
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
This is a simple story about a little girl with two daddies: Daddy and Poppa. When a boy on the playground asks her what it's like having two dads, he wants to know things like "Who tucks you in at night? Which one helps with homework? Which one braids your hair?" The little girl happily explains which of her day-to-day activities are best performed by Daddy, Poppa or both (or, in the case of staying up late or helping her match her socks, neither). The little girl's life is happy, secure and, of course, completely normal. 

I particularly liked that the illustrations were very reminiscent of primers from the 1950's. Normally I'm not a fan of children's book illustrations that look too dated, but in this case I think it's good for the story. It references an idealistic vision of Americana with nuclear families and houses in the suburbs (both children look like they could have stepped right out of Family Circus or Dick and Jane) and subtly reinforces the message that families with same-sex parents fit in perfectly well with this ideal, thank-you very much. I also liked that it wasn't focusing on her not having a mommy, but on how great it was to have two parents who loved her and were each good at different things.

Up Dog, by Hazel Hutchins (illustrated by Fanny)

Up Dog
Author: Hazel Hutchins
Illustrator: Fanny 
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 1, 2012 
I'm not sure if it's quite as clever as Up Cat, but it's still very, very cute. Like Up CatUp Dog is a day in the life of a pet using various plays on the word "up" (perk up, snuggle up, dig up, etc.). I also like the "up dog"'s cameo in Up Cat! Very young children are sure to be charmed by this messy pup and everything he gets "up" to. 

Okay, now can I make my "up dog" joke from The Office?

The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth and I Here For? by Rick Warren

The Purpose Driven Life:
What on Earth am I Here For?
(special 10-year anniversary edition)
Author: Rick Warren
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication Date: November 6, 2012 
The Purpose Driven Life was first published 10 years ago and was a publishing sensation, selling tens of millions of copies. Now the tenth anniversary special edition includes new content, chapter introductions by the author and even online content. Of course, I can't compare any of that to the original since this was my first encounter with the book. Actually, that's not true. My previous experience with the book was in the episode of The Office ("The Fire" from Season Two) in which the characters are discussing their desert island lists and Angela says her top three books would be the Bible, The Purpose Driven Life, and...end of list. So I admit, I was reading this a little bit to see if it offered any insights into the character of Angela Martin.

In a way, it did. Okay, maybe not that character in particular, but I can see why someone would want this as their desert island book. It's very comforting. I mean, it's full of self-assured sentimentality like "there is a Creator God who loves you personally and made you exactly the way He wanted you to be and has a plan for you that includes every detail of your life and circumstance, even if you don't realize it." This kind of "greater plan" fatalism has been a staple of Calvinists and twelve-steppers for generations. I know many people take solace in this notion that they are special and divinely loved and they don't need to actually do anything in order to be special except simply believe that it's true. Your purpose in life cannot be ascertained by self-reflection, Rick Warren assures his readers. It can only be revealed by finding out what God wants from your life.

Ah, but that's the problem, isn't it? If you truly believe that every individual has a unique path designed by God, and that you can figure out what your God-given purpose is, then surely that's a solitary pursuit? How could you even begin to figure out this purpose without self-reflection? Rick Warren relies heavily on Bible readings, but again, what makes his personal interpretation of the Bible any more valid than anyone else's? Yet he speaks with doctrinal authority. A Purpose Driven Life is less of a spiritual self-help guide or book of affirmations, and more of a theology. Like all theology, either you agree with his assessment of the world or you don't.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Up Cat, by Hazel Hutchins (illustrated by Fanny)

Up Cat
Author: Hazel Hutchins
Illustrator: Fanny 
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 1, 2012 

Oh I loved everything about this book! I loved it as a parent, as an educator, and just as a reader. The illustrations are cute and clever and made me laugh, the concept is simple but actually incredibly smart, and the text is just the right balance between simple enough for very young children but also a little bit sophisticated as well. It's basically a day in the life of a mischievous house cat, with every page being a play on the word "up." So wake up, fill up (food bowl), wash up, but also "turn one's nose up," "up to no good" and--one of my favourites--"fall down but land up." Every page is sure to delight any child or cat lover, but it's also a great way to introduce very young children to the wide variety of ways that language can be used. A word as simple as "up" has a plethora of uses and contexts, but this book makes them accessible, fun and natural. This book ticks all the boxes for me.

Mud Puddle, by Robert Munsch (illustrated by Dušan Petricic)

Mud Puddle
Author: Robert Munsch
Illustrator: Dušan Petricic
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
This has always been one of my favourite Robert Munsch books. It's so fun to read this one aloud, especially with a group of children. They love shouting the "Hey Mud Puddle!" part. But I must say, I'm partial to the original version with illustrations by the immensely talented Sami Suomalainen (if you don't know Suomalainen's work, I cannot recommend his illustrations in Curtis Parkinson's Mr. Reez's Sneezes highly enough!). This newly illustrated version with pictures by Dušan Petricic is...well, it's just not the same. It's odd, but in a way the new illustrations are more dated than the ones from nearly twenty years ago. In the original, the colours are rich, the images approximate (not that they're crudely drawn, just that they are playful and leave a lot to the imagination, which I love) and the rich mud practically oozes off the page. Petricic's illustrations, on the other hand, are relatively detailed but lack the, well, ooziness of the original. It's like the Mud Puddle has already been scrubbed. Fantastic story but my preference is definitely for the original illustrations.

Heaven Changes Everything: Living Every Day with Eternity in Mind, by Todd Burpo and Sonja Burpo

Heaven Changes Everything:
Living Every Day with Eternity in Mind
Authors: Todd Burpo and Sonja Burpo 
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
This book is considered a companion book to the best-selling Heaven is For Real, by Todd Burpo (with Lynn Vincent) about his son, Colton's, near-death experience. I haven't read Heaven is For Real and, to be honest, I had no intention of doing so except that my mother would not stop talking about it! Every time I saw her for nearly a month I heard, "Have you read Heaven is For Real? Have I told you about it? It's amazing!" So when I saw this one available on Booksneeze, I figured I should request it (or else my mom wouldn't let me forget it!).

While I don't share my mom's certainty about heaven, I can see why she found this story compelling. But as a mother of a young child, I found it more terrifying and traumatic than anything else. The Burpos talk about their experience with young Colton, watching him battle a life-threatening illness and spending sleepless nights by his hospital bed. While I admire their ability to cope with this experience with prayer and renewed faith, I still found it hard to read. I definitely do not want to think about parents having to cope with their young child's hospitalization! 

Creating Children's Artwork Quilts, by Shannon Gingrich Shirley

Creating Children's Artwork Quilts
Author: Shannon Gingrich Shirley
Publisher: Schiffer Books
Publication Date: November 30, 2012
What a lovely idea! Like most parents, I have stacks and stacks of artwork from my child and big plans to DO something with them, but...well, there they sit in stacks. I've tried putting them into spiral-bound book (the book quickly expands beyond closing due to the thickness of all the construction paper and collage pieces, plus the tempera paint flakes off everywhere). I've made plans to scan them all and have them printed in a photo book (an excellent idea that I just have to make time to actually DO). My utility closet doors look like a mini art gallery (the fridge couldn't handle all the 'masterpieces'). I know I have to start throwing them away, but I want to keep SOME. But maybe I could do something special with the more memorable ones? Enter Shannon Gingrich Shirley.

Creating Children's Artwork Quilts is full of ideas for transforming children's art into long-lasting keepsakes. The instructions are easy enough to follow that I feel I could probably do most of the projects described, even though I've never made a quilt and I'm not that "crafty." But crafty, well-organized people would probably do a much better job with these projects. I think what it would really be perfect for is a project for my very talented mom to make a keepsake with her granddaughter's art. Hmmm...I could give her the book for Christmas and then GET an artwork quilt from her next year. Perfect!

Hit the jump for images from inside the book!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Twas the Night Before Christmas: Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century, by Clement C. Moore (illustrated by Elena Almazova and Vitaly Shvarov)

Twas the Night Before Christmas
Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century
Author: Clement C. Moore 
Illustrators: Elena Almazova and Vitaly Shvarov 
Editor: Pamela McColl 
Publisher: Grafton and Scratch Publishers 
Publication Date: September 4, 2012 
Buy Now on (Hardcover)

It's not often that I get to write a review for a children's book that's so controversial it gets featured on The Colbert Report's "Blitzkrieg On Grinchitude" segment. Though to be fair, Stephen Colbert doesn't feature many children's books at all, other than I Am a Pole (And So Can You!). But the new edition of Clement C. Moore's classic Christmas tale, Twas the Night Before Christmas, edited by Canadian anti-smoking advocate and book publisher Pamela McColl, has been making headlines all over the place. The controversy stems from the fact that she has edited out the lines about Santa's smoking:
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teethAnd the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath
Pamela McColl has long been an advocate for smoking cessation, and has worked with Allen Carr of Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking. Her reasoning is that it's probably a good thing to limit the amount of positive reinforcement of smoking that children are exposed to, so maybe it was time for Santa to give up the pipe. This has, apparently, blown people's minds. The backlash has been huge! 

For me, it's kind of a non-issue. I have multiple copies of the book in my house, I've enjoyed it since I was a small child and I now read it with my daughter. But if I'm being honest, I've been editing that line for Magda the last two years. She's not old enough to read it herself yet, so I can absolutely understand why parents would be interested in getting the "smoke free" version for their kids to have for years to come, particularly if the kids are reading it themselves. I'm not so "horrified" or "incensed" or whatever some of the other reviewers are saying about the edit. 

I'd also like to point out that classic literature gets edited, abridged, reinterpreted and re-worked ALL THE TIME. Just this month I've reviewed "baby versions" of Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick and Alice in Wonderland, to name a few. It's not that controversial! 

I will say this though. Apparently the print edition of the book has a "Letter from Santa" explaining the changes. I received a digital review copy and it wasn't included in the file. But here's what's on the Amazon product page:
A letter from Santa Claus: In this special twenty-first-century edition, select lines have quietly slipped from the pages. Here at the North Pole, we decided to leave all of that tired old business of smoking well behind us a long time ago. The reindeer also asked that I confirm that I have only ever worn faux fur out of respect for the endangered species that are in need of our protection. This includes my dear friends the arctic polar bears.
Wait, what? Santa's wearing faux fur now? Okay, I call bull$#*! on that one. Santa lives in the FAR NORTH. He can't wear faux fur! He'll freeze to death! Also, no one said he wore POLAR BEAR fur! There are plenty of furs that Northern peoples wear that are humanely killed, not over-hunted, and are from animals that are also used for meat and bones. Not all fur comes from mink farms or "my dear friends the arctic polar bears." I mean, if Santa's going to give up fur and not freeze to death, he'll probably have to switch to those high-tech mountain expedition fabrics that people wear on oil rigs in Alaska, which just ruins the whole look.

Okay, I'm glad I got that off my chest. 

Anyway, the illustrations are cute and the book is otherwise exactly the same, just with the smoking lines omitted. I think you probably already know if you'd prefer this edition or one of the originals (which are still readily available, so there's no need to panic, other reviewers!).

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own

Balloon Toons: Pooltime, by Ethan Long

Balloon Toons: Pooltime
Author: Ethan Long
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
This cute, inoffensive comic book style story would be perfect for an elementary school aged child during the summer break. It's a day in the life of three friends--an elephant, an alligator and a bird--as they try to stay cool at the pool. Only the bird should probably watch her back in case that alligator gets hungry... There's not much to say about this book. It's a solid B-. Nothing life-changing or even that challenging for an early reader, but it's cute and funny. Plus, there's even a little bit of word play at the end. 

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from Blue Apple Books through Edelweiss (Above the Tree Line). I was asked to write an honest review, though not necessarily a favourable one. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Balloon Toons: Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies, by Daniel Cleary

Balloon Toons: Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies
Author: Daniel Cleary
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: October 25, 2011

You know how sometimes when you go to a family restaurant and the kids' place mats have little games and comics on them, and they're always really lame but it doesn't matter because they're just going to get covered in ketchup in a minute anyway? This book reminds me of those comics. It's cute, but not that cute. It's funny, but not really. And honestly, considering it's about dust bunnies under the couch uniting to try to take over, it's more than a little disgusting. Ick.

It is, however, the best excuse ever to re-watch the cat in the shark costume on a Roomba! You're welcome.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from Blue Apple Books through Edelweiss (Above the Tree Line). I was asked to write an honest review, though not necessarily a favourable one. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

You May Also Like:
Shark pet costume/hoodie
iRobot Roomba
Balloon Toons: Dinosaurs in Space
Rhyming Dust Bunnies

Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice, by Jack Wang and Holman Wang (based on the classic by Jane Austen)

Cozy Classics: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Authors: Jack Wang and Holman Wang 
Based on the book by Jane Austen 
Publisher: Simply Read Books 
Publication Date: November 15, 2012 
Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat. Some of you are huge Jane Austen fans. You know who you are. Of course you do, you're not ashamed of it. There are millions of you. And among you Jane Austen fans, many of you have a child in your life. Maybe it's not your own child, but a niece or a nephew, a friend's baby, a neighbourhood kid who waves at you on the way to work. Whatever. The point is, you will buy them this book. It's just a scientific fact. There's no way around it, really. It's freaking adorable, for one thing. Look at that felt doll on the cover! She has mud on her skirt and everything! You'd be crazy to think you can resist the charm of that. It's like weapons-grade cute right there.

Now parents: be prepared. If you have a friend or a relative or a chatty co-worker who loves Jane Austen, even ironically (whatever that means), you will most likely be receiving this book at some point. Don't be alarmed. It's cute and harmless...although I will admit that it's a little disconcerting to see a felt doll with cleavage.

Hit the jump for more pictures from the book!

Cozy Classics: Moby Dick, by Jack Wang and Holman Wang (inspired by the classic by Herman Melville)

Cozy Classics: Moby Dick
Authors: Jack Wang and Holman Wang
Based on the book by Herman Melville
Publisher: Simply Read Books
Publication Date: November 5, 2012
The illustrations for this simple board book were created with possibly the cutest little felt creatures I've ever seen. I want them all and I want to play with them and snuggle them and make them talk. Having said that, it's not like your child will really learn anything about Moby Dick and some of the single word text that accompanies each picture are fairly abstract (the word 'leg' next to a felt peg leg, the word 'find' next to a sailor in a crow's nest, etc.). On the other hand, who cares? These classics-as-board-books are really more for the adults anyway (my daughter has received several "baby versions" of friends' favourite books and from an adult perspective, it's thrillingly adorable! If you have a young child and a friend who loves Moby Dick, expect to see this book under your tree at Christmas.

Hit the jump for more pictures from the book!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius, by Harriet Ziefert (illustrated by Barroux)

My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius
Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Barroux
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: September 13, 2011

Barroux's paintings are lush and lovely and are sure to capture the imaginations of readers young and old. In My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius, a young boy who loves to paint comes home to find his dog has been trying out some painting of his own. Barroux's illustrations for this book were inspired by the artwork of Paul Cezanne, and the book includes end notes about Cezanne's life and art. Fabulous! 

Countdown with Milo and Mouse, by Mike Austin

Countdown with Milo and Mouse
(The Adventures of Milo and Mouse)
Author: Mike Austin
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: May 22, 2012
This spaceship-themed counting book is cute and fun, though the illustrations are a bit busy at times, making it a bit hard to read. Other than that, it's fantastic. I particularly liked how the counting was used in two different practical ways--first, as a countdown for the rocket ship, and then again as a number of steps the rocket ship takes (first they visit the moon, etc.). So many counting books for preschoolers simply showcase quantitative numbering (one duck, two dogs, three glasses of milk, etc.) which is fine, but it's nice to see other uses for numbers and counting in a picture book. After I read this with my three-year-old, I noticed her going around the house saying, "First, I'm going to get a book. Two, I'm going to read the book. Three, I'm gonna put the book away. Four, I'm gonna get another book!" Awesome!

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from Blue Apple Books through Edelweiss (Above the Tree Line). I was asked to write an honest review, though not necessarily a favourable one. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, by K.G. Campbell

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters
Author: K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Kids Can Press 
Publication Date: September 1, 2012 
Lester is a particular boy. He likes everything to be orderly and neat. He likes things to be proper. So when his Cousin Clara comes to stay (whose cousin she is remains unclear) and proceeds to knit Lester sweater after horrible sweater, all with extra bits or missing arm holes, Lester is not happy. In fact, he's dreadful. He tries everything he can think of to "accidentally" lose or destroy each sweater, but Cousin Clara is a maddeningly fast knitter and there's always another monstrosity to replace the last.

It's rare to get a chance to witness the beginning of the career of a children's book author you know is destined to be beloved by generations. I am too young to have read the very first book by Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl or Margaret Wise Brown, before everyone knew their names, and seen their work from the beginning. But I'm fairly certain that in a few decades time, everyone will know Keith Gordon Campbell from the library of quirky and beloved children's classics he has yet to write. If Lester's Dreadful Sweaters is any indication, you'll be buying his books for your great-grandchildren. I'm actually astounded that this is his debut book. After reading it, I immediately felt such a strong kinship with it that I was certain I had been reading and loving it for years!

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

What's New at the Zoo?, by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (introduction by Phyllis Newman) (illustrated by Travis Foster)

What's New at the Zoo
Authors: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
(based on song lyrics)
Introduction by: Phyllis Newman
Illustrator: Travis Foster
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Well I barely feel like I can review this book since the review copy I received from Edelweiss was missing pages and the pages it did have were improperly numbered which meant they didn't line up properly on my desktop reader. I contacted the publisher about it, but never heard back. I must say, I was surprised I didn't hear back since my experience with publishers since I started book blogging has been overwhelmingly positive. I don't think I've ever had a publisher not return my emails. Never. Even the large publishing houses have people who answer inquiries that are emailed to them, usually within a day or two, especially if it's about a review copy of a book. So let's just say this isn't even a real review. I will say one thing, though. If you're thinking about buying the e-book edition of What's New at the Zoo? I'd think twice. If it's as poorly laid out as the review copy I received, you'll be disappointed and you may have a hard time getting it fixed. Stick to the print edition.