Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Heart is Laughing, by Rose Lagercrantz (illustrated by Eva Eriksson)

Magda and I were so excited to see this followup to Rose Lagercrantz's My Happy Life that we almost couldn't read it fast enough! First we had to re-read the first book (at Magda's insistence) which we borrowed from the library, then we devoured the second one in a single sitting. I know as soon as it is published Magda will want a "real book" copy of it as well.

If you're not familiar with My Happy Life, I recommend reading it first. The characters are introduced so well in the first book that the second one makes more sense if you already know and love them, but I'm sure it's not strictly necessary. Both stories follow a little girl named Daniella--Dani for short--who describes herself as being "always happy" despite the fact that she actually has quite a lot of unhappiness to deal with. She prefers to focus on her happiest memories though, which she tries to think of often.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Feivel's Flying Horses, by Heidi Smith Hyde (ilustrated by Johanna Van Der Sterre)

Oh this is a lovely book! It tells the story of Feivel, a Jewish immigrant who comes to America in the 19th-century, leaving his family behind in Europe, so he can make a better life for them in the new world and hopefully earn enough money for them to come over and join them. A gifted artist, he makes a living carving elaborate and beautiful carousel horses, each dedicated to a member of his family. Finally, he earns enough for his wife and children to join him in New York, where they can finally see his amazing "horses."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Where in the World Will We Go Today? by Heather C. Toner (illustrated by Bill Pazman)

The description of this book sounds ambitious--a children's illustrated journey around the world--but I had high hopes for it anyway. After reading so many wonderful books by DK Publishing I thought the concept had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, this book is definitely not a DK book and it didn't meet even my most meagre expectations. The illustrations are dull and amateur; the rhymes are toneless, shallow and banal; and the "journey around the world" only includes about a dozen countries, most of which only have a few lines of description at best (except for the United States and, confusingly, Tanzania).

If I had to describe this book in a word, it would be "unsuccessful."

Rhoda's Rock Hunt, by Molly Beth Griffin (illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell)

Oooh I love this book! Sometimes when a children's book is fantastic, it's hard to find a creative way to say "it's fantastic" because, well, many children's books are. Let's see. What I really mean is "as a parent, there are zero things which annoy me about this book" and "this book would continue to not annoy me, even after reading it forty times." If you're the parent of a preschooler, these are very important factors to consider.

But what kind of fantastic is it? Is it the kind that kids will love but parents will merely tolerate? Is it the kind that is so funny that parents will be laughing out loud but kids won't get the joke? Is it the kind that is educational so parents and teachers will want to read it with kids? I guess it's mostly the last one, but primarily it's a lovely story with lovely illustrations.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, illustrated by Rashin

There have been so many interpretations of this classic rhyme, it's hard to imagine a new one would bring anything else to the story. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly is not only silly and a favourite among children, but also utilizes many different consonant blend sounds (fly, swallow, spider, etc.). Past incarnations of the rhyme have had the old lady swallowing all sorts of things: sea creatures, seasonal trimmings, regional fare. So how does Rashin's version, one that doesn't stray from the original words, add anything?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rosemary and Crime, by Gail Oust

I'll admit I picked up this cozy for the title. It's a hell of a title. Like many cozy mystery titles, it's pun-based, and after binge watching all three seasons of Rosemary and Thyme (an absolutely delightful British mystery series that has nothing to do with this book), it was a pun I was particularly susceptible to. Plus, I had a vague recollection of reading a review and/or giveaway for this book on another book blog some time ago, though I couldn't remember if the review had been positive. No matter. I figured I'd pick it up and decide for myself.

I wouldn't say I was over the moon for this book or its characters. There was something unconvincing about the whole thing right from the beginning.

The premise is that our heroine--not that I found myself rooting for her much--runs a spice shop in a small town in Georgia. A spice shop. As in, one that only sells spices. I'm not sure how she'll manage to stay in business! Granted, I'm sure these shops do exist, but the author has the spice shop owner doing such "radical things" as putting curry in mayonnaise (shocking, I know!), only to have the people in the town revolt over such exotic spiciness. Yeahhh...that's not a town that can support a spice shop.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur, by Linda Bailey (Illustrated by Colin Jack)

What an absolutely charming, laugh-out-loud funny book! I know my four-year-old can be pretty easy to please when it comes to children's books, especially if they have dinosaurs in them, but I wholeheartedly agree with her glowing review of this one. Here's what Magda had to say:

Magda's Take:
"I loved it! I loved the part where it says 'If you happen to have a dinosaur in your living room' because it's so funny! You can't have a dinosaur in your living room! They died out before humans were around! But I liked where they got all the dinosaurs to give them rides and deliver the mail. I even liked the part where it said that some dinosaurs would make good kites even though those weren't really dinosaurs. It was still funny though. Can we read it again tomorrow?"

Clara's Crazy Curls, by Helen Poole

Clara loves her curly hair but oh, how she wishes she could have MORE of it. Thanks to some conveniently placed hair growth formula found in her parents' bathroom, she gets her wish and more. Before long she has hair that reaches the sky and all the inconvenience that comes with it.

She's like a cross between a Robert Munsch character and one from Dr. Seuss (remember Gertrude McFuzz?). How she managed to get her hair to stay upright as it grew past the ceiling I'll never know.

Magda and I enjoyed this book, though I think Magda found the premise of wanting MORE hair a bit perplexing. She had been growing her own hair out so she could donate it to Locks of Love when she eventually had it cut. After months of dealing with tangles, braids, extra brushing and endless blow drying, the day she got it all chopped off was the happiest of her young life!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale, by Marjuan Canady (Illustrated by Nabeeh Bilal)

Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale is an "almost" book. I can see where the author and illustrator were going with it, but it didn't quite get there. 

The basic story is that a boy named Winston is eating callaloo, his favourite Caribbean dish, while sitting in his apartment in New York City, when he is suddenly transported to the island of Tobago. And that's when the book gets a little scary. Winston encounters a series of frightening demons and monsters before finally returning home to his kitchen. Upon his return he apparently has learned the value of eating in moderation. Was that what he was supposed to be learning? I guess so. It wasn't all that clear.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cock-a-Doodle-Oops! by Lori Degman (illustrated by Deborah Zemke)

Who doesn't love a good barnyard tale about animals hatching a plan? In the vein of Click Clack Moo and the Minnie and Moo series, Cock-a-Doodle Oops! is the story of animals who know more about running a farm than their farmer. Well, sort of.

When Rooster goes on vacation for a week (which Farmer McPeeper doesn't seem to notice) the other animals must take turns doing the morning wake-up call. Since none of them can master the rooster's "cock-a-doodle-doo" Farmer McPeeper (who is quite a deep sleeper) ends up sleeping for the whole week. He is grossly unqualified for his job.

Told in non-annoying rhyme (always a bonus for parents) and with delightfully expressive illustrations (Deborah Zemke can get a lot of attitude into cartoon eyes), the book follows each day of the week that Rooster is away. Each morning sounds almost--but not quite--right. There's "cock-a-doodle SQUEAL," "cock-a-doodle MOO," and "cock-a-doodle BAAAA," well you get the idea.

The Devil's Workshop (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad Book #3), by Alex Grecian (audiobook read by John Curless)

Ouch. This was a painful read. I alternated back and forth between reading the book and listening to the audiobook, so it was doubly painful. Sigh. I'll try to start with the good points.

1. First, I loved the first book in this series, The Yard. At least I think I did. After reading and hating The Black Country and The Devil's Workshop, I'm starting to question if I ever loved the first book as much as I thought I did. Maybe I only liked it because it reminded me of the far superior Inspector Ben Ross and Lizzie Martin series by Ann Granger (THAT'S A HELL OF A SERIES, BTW). Anyway, at this point I'm ready to give up on Alex Grecian altogether. As a writer he is clearly more interested in a gothic thriller style than a classic Victorian detective novel. It's just not my cup of tea.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Minnie and Moo: Hooves of Fire, by Denys Cazet

If you haven't discovered the world of Minnie and Moo, the fantastic farmyard series by Denys Cazet, I highly recommend them. Magda and I just love them!

Minnie and Moo are--as you may have guessed--a couple of cows who live on a farm and are always getting into misadventures, mostly brought on by their own grand expectations of life. They go dancing, they see the world, they solve mysteries, and--best of all--they are constantly thinking of ways to improve their farm. But of course it often goes a little bit wrong. They are, after all, not that smart, being just cows. They're certainly very smart for cows, and sometimes it seems they're even smarter than their perpetually slacking farmers, but they have their limits.

And that's when the books are at their most delightful.

Rosie Writes Backwards, by Eva O'Regan (illustrated by Diane Lucas)

I've been meaning to publish a review of this book for some time but I've been procrastinating just a little. Unlike the overwhelming majority of books I review, this was written by someone I know in real life. Sort of. I met author Eva O'Regan at a my local library where she was doing a book launch event for this book (which is when I agreed to review it on my blog) and it turns out she works in my dentist's office.

I'm not one to sugar coat reviews, and I would never give a dishonest review of a book just because I'd met the author (or for any reason really), but, well...if I didn't absolutely love the book then a lukewarm review could be...awkward. I'd probably have preferred to just not review this book at all, but I already said I would, so here goes. (I assure you it's my honest opinion, but I definitely wanted to give everyone a heads up about any connection I have to the author, in case that changes how you assess my review.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Sins of the Father (Clifton Chronicles # 2), by Jeffrey Archer (narrated by Alex Jennings and Emilia Fox)

I found myself hooked on the series after the first book, Only Time Will Tell, and I'll definitely read the next one (and probably all of them), but I admit I liked this one a lot less than the first. The main character, Harry Clifton, is barely in it. Instead we follow all the other characters around as they talk about Harry. Perhaps that's overstating it a bit, but it does feel disjointed. And the big "mystery" of Harry's parentage is a giant teaser that I didn't really care about. Even the audio narration is inferior to the first one (somebody thought she'd try out every accent she'd ever heard).

Carrot, by Vanita Oelschlager (Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood)

This book was saved from a 1-star review (if I did star reviews on my blog) by Magda, who loved it. I did not. Here are our (separate) reviews:

Magda's review: 
I loved it! I loved the whole book. My favourite part was when the cat dreamed of getting married because weddings are fun.
[Mom's interjection: Sorry, how would a wedding be fun for a CAT?
Magda: It's just a dream, Mommy.]
5 stars

My review:
Oh, the writing is so bad it was difficult to read it aloud without wincing. It's the most insipid must-rhyme-at-all-costs bad poetry I've read in a long while. The whole book put me in a bad mood it was so vapid and banal.
1 star

Because I Stubbed My Toe, by Shawn Byous

Did you ever have one of those days where everything goes wrong? You start out stubbing your toe and before you know it, there's mayhem everywhere? Cats are flying through the air and everything? Okay, maybe not THAT much mayhem, but that's what happens to the boy in this picture book by Shawn Byous.

I like that it takes a cranky moment--stubbing your toe--and turns it into something so silly that you can't help but laugh. Plus there's a surprise happy ending which makes the boy glad he stubbed his toe in the first place!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Baby, Come Out! by Fran Manushkin (illustrated by Ronald Himler)

I cannot overstate how much my four-year-old loves pregnancy. Even though she's an only child, she is positively obsessed with seeing pregnant moms. I think it's partly because she wants a sibling, but it's not just that. She loves everything about pregnancy, even in animals. "Pregnancy is my hobby," she tells people. I know, I know. It's weird. Maybe she'll be an obstetrician when she grows up, or a midwife. In the meantime, some of her favourite books are ones that showcase expectant families. So Baby, Come Out! was positively made for her!

Originally published in 1972, this book has been reprinted by Star Bright Books and would make a lovely gift for anyone convinced that their baby is just never going to come out (I can relate to that fear).

Monday, June 2, 2014

If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems, by Brian P. Cleary (illustrated by Andy Rowland)

As a poet and a teacher, I naturally love books that help kids develop a love of poetry. Having said that, I'll be the first to admit that it's not always easy to find poetry books for very young children. Sure, many children's books are written in verse, but most of them don't draw attention to that fact, so it's not always easy to introduce poetry as a concept to young kids.

If It Rains Pancakes introduces haiku and lantern poems by giving examples with themes that children would like (like pancakes!). It may not be the most sophisticated introduction to the poetic forms, but that's kind of the point. Plus, I'll admit I wasn't familiar with lantern poems so it was a nice introduction for me as well!