Showing posts with label animals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label animals. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Rating: WORTHY!

This book was a bunch of bull - young bulls growing up with the idea of fighting in the bullring in Spain - except for Ferdinand that is, who much preferred to sit in the shade under a tree, enjoying the flowers. I must confess I was truly curious to see where the author took this and so I read on!

When the ring managers showed up to pick fresh young bulls to go up against the toreadors and matadors, all the bulls except Ferdinand played their game and were ready to run and fight. Ferdinand was under his tree, that is until something seriously disturbed him, and then the managers were very interested in how feisty he was, and took them with him. But in the ring, all Ferdinand wanted to do was to sit and enjoy the flowers tossed down into the ring by the spectators.

This was a fun and colorful book with a great ending, and a positive message. It's okay not to ask "How high?" when someone orders you to jump! It's okay to stop and smell the roses! I recommend it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling, Karen Baiker, Davin Cheng

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a Rudyard Kipling story adapted by Karen Baiker, and illustrated nicely by Davin Cheng. I reviewed Kipling's Just So Stories a long time ago on this blog, and this one was included in that book under the title How the Elephant Got His Trunk which is the subtitle of the present story. As this newer author and illustrator have shown here, there is probably a rich and free vein of children's stories to be mined there now that Kipling is out of copyright. I'm going to get on it right away. Kidding! I have too much on my plate as it is.

The story is that of an annoyingly curious young elephant who, as all elephants did back then of course, had a snub nose. He was constantly asking questions of his older relatives: the baboon (who is shown incongruously hanging from a tree for which baboons are not really well-known!), the giraffe, the hippo, but none of them can spare him any time, so he takes the advice of a very possibly maliciously-inclined bird, who advises him that his last question, 'what do crocodiles eat?', could best be answered by hiking over to the Limpopo river and asking a croc directly.

The elephant in his innocence thinks this is a brill idea and heads off forthwith. The croc advises him that he will not only be happy to tell him, he will show him what he's going to eat for dinner and snaps at the elephant. This was very probably the first sound bite. Or perhaps more likely, an unsound bite since the croc only manages to grab the elephant's nose. In the ensuing tug of war, the nose is stretched and stretched of course (you knew this was coming, didn't you?!).

Unlike his elders, the young elephant is happy to take the time to relate his story of how his nose grew so long. And there you have it! So while this isn't an original story, it is nicely told and beautifully illustrated, and it's in a nice, so I recommend it.

Great Polar Bear by Carolyn Lesser

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a beautifully-rendered (using elegantly torn paper) and charmingly-written novel for young children about the hard life of a polar bear. If I had a criticism I would say it was that climate change, while referenced in a note at the end of the book (which can be used as a talking-point with your child of course), wasn't really factored into the story. I felt it should have been because despite the liars who nay-say it, climate change is real, it's affecting people's lives now as well as the very existence of hundreds of species of plant and animal. It's already affecting Polar bears.

That said, this story tells, in gorgeously-written prose and pulling no punches, of the tough existence of this bear in the frozen north, sleeping in wind-sheltering snowdrifts for warmth, and hunting seals. It describes some of the means by which Polar bears stay warm, including the hollow hairs on their pelt. I think it might have gone more into the fact that it's getting harder for bears to find sufficient food as climate changes, but it does tell a stirring story and if it gets childrens' interest warmed to this icy, precarious life, then it will have served Polar bears well.

In the USA, as I write this, there is a movement - finally - to protect our schools from deranged people with automatic weapons. This is long overdue and shames our politicians that they love the NRA more than they do the lives of young children, but as many lives as are sacrificed to political self-interest and inertia, those lives, awfully tragic and irreplaceable as they are, are a tiny portion of what will be lost if climate change is not addressed. It is the most critical crisis facing humanity today, but selfish business interests are literally buying-off right-wing politicians and these callous, cynical low-lifes are sacrificing our children's future for short-term personal profit. They are also sacrificing nature, Polar bears along with it.

I would like to have seen climate changed addressed more directly here because Polar bears are utterly dependent on the ice-floes which are fast disappearing. While these magnificent animals are technically not considered endangered, they are rated as vulnerable and as the North Pole warms (it's thought that it will be ice-free by mid-century at the present rate of warming), their territory shrinks. If the North Pole melts, since it is already floating on the ocean, it will contribute little to sea-rise, but it will rob Polar bears of a major hunting ground. Because the Greenland ice sheet is all on land, if it melts, it will raise sea levels by over twenty feet. Coasts will be inundated and Polar bears will be left with nowhere to go.

If this book does anything to educate people, especially youngsters, about this crisis, then it will have served us well. I liked the book, loved the prose, found the images quite entrancing, and I highly recommend it.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Little Tales on the Farm by Frédéric Brrémaud, Federico Bertolucci

Rating: WORTHY!

This was yet another winner from a talented team. Beautifully drawn and colored (except maybe for the chickens and the large feet on the two girls!) by Bertolucci, and amusingly written by Brrémaud, this is another story of Chipper and Squizzo, this time on their quest to find milk. Of course the farm is the place to go - when you say grace at mealtimes, don't thank a god who didn't do squat to put food on your table, thank the farmers.

The story consists of parallel parts: a running cartoon strip consisting of cute, sketchy line drawings in which Squizzo the squirrel and Chipper the dog plan how to get milk, and then below these a gorgeously colored...well, painting is the best word to describe it, of life on the farm, related to what has just been discussed by the intrepid pair. In their quest, they meet pretty much every type of common farm animal, and eventually they get their milk from an unexpected source. Which seems to have improbably large feet, but some people do, I guess!

I've followed this pair for some time and I am a fan of their work. I think this is perhaps the best one they've done. It was, as I said, highly amusing to see the interactions and comments between these two characters, and I'm envious of Bertolucci's talent with pen and brush. Like I said, the chickens struck me as a bit odd, but maybe that's just me. The thing is that on the very next page was a rooster which was awesome in its ferociousness. Don't ever mess with roosters, especially not this one! The illustrations simply flowed and were so well done.

It was a pleasure to read this and I recommend it highly.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K Arnold

Rating: WARTY!

I like this author's name! 'Elana K' sounds deliciously like anarchy, but in the end, this was another audiobook experiment which fell flat. The story is aimed at a much younger audience (6 - 10 yrs) than the one I represent, but that wasn't the issue.

First was the reading of it by Patrick Lawlor. I cannot stand his voice so this automatically turns me off a book (I got this without realizing he was the reader otherwise I would have passed on it), but the voice itself was not so much a problem as the way this reader read it. It seemed thoroughly inappropriate for the subject matter, and I did not get any impression from it at first that Bat was autistic; I thought he was just a poorly-raised child and a bit of a jerk. I think that's on both the author and the audiobook reader! Even had the voice been great, I would still have rated this novel negatively.

Bixby Alexander Tam, aka Bat, is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but for me this was the only commendable thing about the story: that the story isn't about his communication difficulties, it's about everyday things in the life of a kid who happens to have difficulties. After that though, I couldn't get onboard.

Worse than this is the kid's name. I know the author probably thinks it's cute and fun, but to call a boy who has communication issues 'Bat', like maybe he's a bit batty, wasn't wise in my opinion. We're told he gets his name not from his initials, but from the way he flaps his arms when he gets exited, but why Bat? Why not bird? It made no sense and felt abusive.

Worse than this, though was the 'adoption' of a wild animal. I don't think it's wise to teach young kids that we can take animals from nature and make pets of them! I know in this case, the skunk was a rescued animal, but then it became a pet, like this animal was something to be divorced from its nature and possessed, even after it became appropriate to return it to the wild where it belonged and was at home. That's just plainly wrong. It's for this reason as well as the others mentioned, that I cannot recommend this.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dream of the Butterfly Vol 1 by Richard Marazano

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Richard Marazano is a French writer and illustrator, and in this work he seems to have channeled Chinese mythology very heavily into a very lighthearted story about young girl who strays in a snowstorm from her valley to a nearby one in which is a village occupied by animals who seem very resentful of humans Actually, given how we treat animals I for one am not at all surprised by their attitude.

The girl is a very strong female character and I recommend this story for that to begin with, but it's much more than that. The story is very whimsical, and quirky even, I tend to run in the opposite direction when I read of a story being described as full of whimsy or with quirky characters, but this one nailed it perfectly.

The girl seems resigned to living in this town because no one will help her get back. She's boarded with a foster family of birds, and finds a job working in an energy factory - she has to change out the hamsters in their wheels when they become tired - but her lunches of packed worms, she could do without. She eventually learns she's not the only human child in town.

Because she is a human, Tutu is spied upon by the emperor through his rabbit secret service. The rabbits are adorably inept, but they are also actually helpful to Tutu when she gets lost or doesn't know which bus to catch. Known as yuè tù (moon rabbit) in China, the idea behind these is that while the Moon may look to us westerners like it's the face of a man in the Moon, many other cultures see it as a rabbit in the Moon, which is more intriguing to me.

If you look hard, you can see the long ears (Mare Foecunditatis and Mare Nectaris)stretching to the right, about half way down the Moon's right side, from the head (Mare Tranquilitatis where Apollo Eleven landed) to the left, and the body (Mare Serenitatis and Mare Imbrium below it on the left edge of the Moon's disk. Below that is the Oceanis Procellarum with the big back legs and a tail sticking out to the left. The rabbit appears to be sitting by a box or a bowl, (Mare Nubium), and some cultures see this as a mortar, in which the rabbit is grinding something using a pestle.

The emperor takes a great interest in Tutu and wants her to help him by catching a rare white butterfly, but she's not very impressed with him or the opera he writes. She's especially disrespectful of his surrogate robots which tend to break down when faced with Tutu's sarcasm.

This story was a delight through-and-through, and my only complaint was that this is volume one, so the story didn't end! Although that's really a good thing because if it had ended, there would be no more to look forward to! As it was, I could have kept on reading this for many more pages than there were, and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Leatherback Blues by Karen Hood-Caddy

Rating: WARTY!

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

Subtitled "The Wild Place Adventure Series" this is evidently the first of a wildlife series for middle-grade readers. I'm not a big fan of series, and while there are some exceptions, this did not make the list. I started out liking this one, but ended up feeling like it did not achieve its goal. That said, I'm not the audience for this, but I have two kids who are just out of that age range and I can't see either of them wanting to read this, although they are far from a scientific sample!

There were several issues which led me to my conclusion which I shall get to. To begin with, overall it offered a decent start to the plot, and the writing isn't bad at all, except for the section where I read, "...the smell of wet, moist things coming back to life." Things are not usually wet and moist! But any writer can say odd things, which is why proof-reading is such a tedious but necessary chore. And what we wrote sounded so goodwhen we first wrote it, didn't it?!

The book is very animal-centric (which I personally enjoy), but sometimes that was overdone, as I shall mention shortly. Despite this, it seemed to 'fall off the wagon' after a while and become much more about the main female character than ever it was about leatherback turtles, which seemed to defeat the purpose. The thing I liked at first was that it avoided giving the animals magical powers or human qualities, or having them talk (which I personally detest unless it's in an out-and-out fantasy story), but it even jumped those rails before long, and this is what ultimately turned me off it.

Young Robin Green works with her father (when not in school!) in a wildlife rescue center. Her father is a vet. Her mother died a while back and Robin is still understandably feeling it, but she's trying to cope, despite having self-doubts and confidence crises from time to time, unlike her sister Zo-Zo, who is super self-possessed much to Robin's chagrin. Robin also has a younger brother nicknamed Squirm, who loves bugs of all kinds, of course.

I didn't get the young boys name at all (or Zo-Zo's for that matter), but I let that go. What I found really lacking credibility was that so many things happened in so short a time, including the bear with its head in a bucket which they encountered on their way to the airport, and which took things too far for me, especially when Robin flew off after it without a thought for safety. This is not a good thing to teach young kids.

Any animal can be dangerous, especially if it's sick or frightened, and wild animals definitely are dangerous, especially a bear. Fortunately her father had a convenient tranquilizer gun and even more conveniently, a shot prepared beforehand for the exact size and weight of the bear in question; frankly it was a bit too fortuitous for credibility, and hoping kids in the intended age grange for reading this won't notice is not only risky, it's a bit insulting to the kids.

It was like the author wanted to include everything she possibly could in the story, but adding so much stuff robbed each individual event of any chance it had of being a special moment. It became instead mundane, and the animal encounter suffered from this conveyor-belt approach in my opinion. One example of this kind of thing was in how the baby turtles were described, There was nothing about their outsize flippers (comparative to their baby body size) which s what I find one of the most hilarious and completely adorable things about them.

Worse, there was nothing about the many predators which seek out these 'turtle runs' and which eat their fill of the largely helpless hatchlings as they scatter across the sand in a desperate rush for the comparative safety of the ocean. That was a bad mistake. It's not only humans which imperil turtles and it never helps to sugar-coat a story like this.

Robin finds herself with an unlikely opportunity to visit Costa Rica and help save these leatherbacks which are under threat from egg-poachers. Again I found this a little bit too fortuitous, and I could not let it go because it suggested that the Costa Ricans had no interest in helping leatherbacks, and/or there are no adults or kids there who could or would help, or who were able to design websites or contribute in some way. It felt too much like the insulting trope of the 'white man coming to the rescue of the native'.

Leatherbacks are the fourth largest reptile currently extant on our little planet, after the crocodilians. They're not considered endangered, but they're rated vulnerable, which is a threatened status only one stop down from endangered. To me, it's tragic to see how the little turtles, in their mad rush to reach the ocean and safety, are preyed-upon mercilessly by seagulls and other such predatory birds, as well as by crabs, and then other competing life in the ocean. Sometimes nature sucks even while it's being perfectly natural, doesn’t it?

The problem is that Robin is a bit of a wuss and even while she's excited by the trip, she isn't looking forward to the humidity and heat in Costa Rica. She's also unaccountably perturbed by the presence of scorpions, which is peculiar since there are scorpions in Canada believe it or not.

It’s only one species, the boreal scorpion, and as a threat, it’s more like a spider - small and not commonly known to sting humans. Neither Canadian nor Costa Rican scorpions are deadly. But the fact that Robin was supposedly a bit of a wildlife expert yet had this huge fear of scorpions like they were rare and exotic made no sense. The fact that Squirm, supposedly an expert on insects and arachnids, didn't remind Robin of the native scorpion undermined his credibility too.

At one point the book refers to people who are "Chinese or Asian" seemingly forgetting that Chinese are Asians, as are Indians. I mention this because it struck me as odd that the two should be separated, like there's no connection between them, but it’s important in one respect because the Asian predation of turtle eggs has pretty much driven nesting populations there to extinction. Good luck with keeping your jellyfish populations in check you guys now you've killed-off a major predator of them! They will pay the price for their stupidity, selfishness and short-sightedness in Southeast Asia.

Another minor quibble was a discussion of "poisonous insects." Some insects may well be poisonous if eaten, but I think what was intended here was to discuss if they were venomous. There is a difference! There's also a difference between kids talking of snakes and insects being "poisonous," which many people habitually do, and the narrator of the story using the wrong terminology! The one is likely, the other is not a good idea.

The point where Robin's dead mother magically started appearing to her turned me off this story completely, and I think it was a mistake to take this route. It ran the story into fantasy land, thereby undermining all the factual and 'hard science' material which had gone before. Dead moms do not reappear, and I think it sets a bad, and even scary precedent to make kids think that a parent who died would come back to help them, and an especially bad one to suggest she will rescue them by making an animal, in this case a snake, act out of character by biting a kidnapper for no good reason. The kidnapping itself lacked credibility or that matter.

On a final note, and this goes to the story drifting into fantasy land: animals - reptiles included - cannot smell fear. The author avoided that pitfall by saying they can "sense fear. They knew fear made things weak." That first part is correct to an extent; the second part is the fantasy. Even telling kids that animals can smell/sense fear is a bad step to take because it makes the child fearful, and therefore much less likely to have a good interaction with the animal. Telling them instead that animals are very sensitive and kids need to be gentle and careful with how they approach them is much wiser.

Just to put the idea out there, like it's a 'smell fear' kind of magical thing is insulting to the animal and misses the much more important and interesting reality of how sensitive some animals truly are, and how entrallingly perceptive they can be. While I would add birds to this skill level, I would not include reptiles, amphibians, and fish in the mix because they do not have the kind of brain which mammals and birds do. Snakes are essentially rodent killing machines (amongst other prey); they have no mammalian traits and to lump all animals together is to mislead children and do an injustice to the animals for the fascinating skill sets that they do have.

One final issue has to do not with the plot or writing, but with the overall formatting of the book. To talk about rescuing animals and not include plants in the picture is a short-sighted approach since one depends so much on the other. It seemed hypocritical therefore to put out a wildlife book which makes such tree-abusing use of the printed page. In an ebook this doesn't matter since it's all lumped together (especially if you read it in Amazon's crappy Kindle app which seems to think formatting is a joke), but when I read this in Bluefire Reader, which gives a much better impression of how the printed page will look, you see that there are problems.

This book locked-up Bluefire Reader (BR), which reads PDFs! It completely disabled the app so you could not tap on anything and have it respond. The first time it did this was on page 100, so thinking I had a bad copy, I downloaded it again, and the second copy would not let me get past page 14! I downloaded it to my desktop on which is installed Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), and I found in this, I could type in some page numbers, and it would go there, but for others, such as pages around page 14, it would simply spin its wheels and not go anywhere for some time.

Eventually it settled on page 15 which is a prologue, which I routinely do not read anyway, but it took an inordinate amount of time to alight there, and to try and click the bar to go to the next page didn't work any better. Once I'd got past about page 17, then things seemed to work again until I got to page 94, when it locked up again. At this point I gave up experimenting, but something is definitely wrong with the PDF of this book! I've never had these problems with other books in ADE or BR that I can recall.

Another issue was the overall look of the page. On my desktop computer in ADE, the book measured 10 inches tall by 6.5 inches wide. The print area covered four inches by eight It doesn't matter what the exact measurements are in the printed book because I'm talking relative percentages here. These huge margins meant that the actual printed area was roughly fifty percent of the page and the rest was blank. That's an appalling waste of trees.

No one wants a book which is printed gutter to edge and top to bottom, with the printed lines all crowded together by any means! It has to be readable and catered to the age of the reading audience, but to waste around fifty percent of a page and thereby slaughter far more trees for a large print run than is 'necessary' is an appalling abuse, especially in a book which claims such an affinity for the natural world. Maybe other people do not care or even think about this, but I do, and it's become for me a criterion when it comes to rating books.

As I said, this is an advance review copy so hopefully the final edition will not have the issues I discussed above. In Kindle it worked fine, but the formatting, as usual with Kindle, sucked. The turtle logo at the start of each chapter occupied a full screen and it did not work as intended because it was just one more screen to swipe by before I could start reading the chapter.

I keep my Kindle app set with a black background and white text to save power, so the turtle logo, black on white really stood out, which made it more annoying! These are formatting issues and have nothing to do with the story itself except in the practical experience of reading it. I just wish that publishers would pay more attention to the overall reading experience in different media than they do.

So talking of overall, this was not a great reading experience either in the book itself or because of technical issues. Hopefully these will be resolved in the final edition, but based on the book content alone, I cannot rate this as a worthy read, although I wish the author all the best in her series. It has some very promising potential.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pie for Chuck by Pat Schories

Rating: WARTY!

This was in some ways quite a charming story about a bunch of small rodents aiming to steal a freshly-baked pie. Do people really sit freshly-baked pies out on the window sill anymore? It's a bit of a trope, and maybe they really did at one time, but I doubt they do now! Most people just buy these sugar-loaded concoctions at the store ready-made, and microwave them! LOL! Anyway, the pie is there and so is Chuck, who daydreams about the flaky pastry and the gooey filling. Chuck has to have it, but he can't get it by himself, so he recruits his friends, and they each try but fail. It's only when they cooperate that they can enjoy the literal fruits of their labors.

Normally I like to cut children's authors some slack and try to find positive things to say about their stories, but in this case, and despite the fun book and the nice illustrations, and the story about cooperation, I have to give this a thumbs down because it's about theft! There are ways to tell a story to children about cooperation, without teaching them that thieving is okay, and even fun and rewarding. I can't rate this positively because of that. The author could just as easily have added a moral to this tale and had the animals get sick because fruit pie is not their natural food! There could have been a health message too for that matter: about eating right, but he author left it at 'thievery brings its own rewards' and to me, that's the wrong idea to pass on to children.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tovi the Penguin Goes Trick or Treating by Janina Rossiter

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a bit late for Halloween, but I thought I'd already posted my review. Sorry! This is another in the Tovi series, nearly all of which I've liked (of the ones I've read). I liked this one as well. Not only was it an amusing story which told an interesting tale, and only a wee bit scary, it was also beautifully-drawn and brilliantly-colored by the author herself.

One of the delights is that it was legible on a smart phone so you can access it anywhere, and the double-page spreads, which all-too-often in the non-print version are given short shrift and end-up chopped into individual pages, thereby losing the sweep of the double image, were maintained here, and they looked gorgeous. I fully recommend this, not just for next Halloween, but for any time you want to curl up with your kid and a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy a warm tail!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bubby's Puddle Pond by Carol Hageman

Rating: WORTHY!

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

The purchase price of this book is a little steep, but it runs to 33 pages of story and support material, and it's a fully-colored and illustrated (by Nate Jensen) book. The story is rooted in the real-life creatures resident in the Sonoran desert and additionally, a dollar of the purchase price is donated to the Arizona Game and Fish Adoption Program.

The story is based on a tortoise adopted by the author's daughter, and tells of Bubby, who settles into his new home and meets several friends: a wren, a quail, a rabbit, a small dog, and a gecko (which is actually not a native, but technically an invasive species which has spread across the world adapting to similar climes outside of its origin - rather like the rat, although geckos are not usually considered pests!).

Bubby has several adventures, not least of which is going into hibernation each winter - yes, even in Arizona, where winters can be distinctly chill (as I experienced one New Year's Eve - but the hot tub helped!). The story is sweet and easy-going with the emphasis being on friendship and the 'crises' being very minor and not scary. I recommend this for young children who enjoy nature and animal stories, and perhaps as an introduction to such stories for children who are not yet endeared to them (if there are any!).

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Help! The Wolf is coming! by Vincent Bourgeau

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short young children's book; that is, its not a book for young children who are short, but a short book for all young children! It was a great idea, and it originated in France. The book is bright and very colorful, and a fun read. There's a wolf coming (and walking on two legs yet!) and it's heading right for you! Can you avoid the wolf?

Well the writer suggests various ways to get rid of it, by turning the book around and trying to get the wolf to slide off the page! It's a neat interactive scheme, because the drawings accommodate the idea that your actions are making a difference; then the author brilliantly suggests going back to the start to see if you really got rid of the wolf! I think you could occupy a young child for hours with a book like this while you get working some more on your own novel, so it's a great investment! I recommend it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The ABC Animal Picnic by Janina Rossiter

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is an advance review copy. In honor of full disclosure, I should say that I while I am not a personal friend of the author's, I was asked by her if I would review this one, and I freely confess that I was happy to do so having had on balance, such a good experience with her books in the past.

It would be easy to favor this one for the sake of past positive perspective (get used to the alliteration - it's in the book!), but I honestly believe she would not appreciate it if I did so on that basis, and I certainly would not rate a book positively were it one I had not felt was worth reading. Fortunately for both of us, she made it very easy for me to not only really like this one, but to feel sure it was a worthy read in terms of educational value for children.

It was gorgeously-illustrated to begin with, which engendered positive feelings about it before I had begun really getting into it. The illustrations - by the author - truly are remarkable. I know a few graphic novel artists who could take a page of out Janina Rossiter's artbook! I wish I had her talent.

Whereas many children's artists are content to draw simplistic pictures, these line drawings of assorted animals, and they were very assorted, were very realistic. Usually you get only mammals in a book like this but while fish and amphibians were not present, the often neglected insects were represented, as well as one from the even more often neglected, yet crucially important Annelida phylum. We also got molluscs and even Cnidaria! Try saying that when you have an allergy going on! These drawings honestly would not have looked out of place in a Victorian-era natural history book, although they were rather more playful here, than you'd find in a book like that!

The book is aimed at helping children with their ABCs, so each four-word sentence alliterates on the key letter. The first, for example, is Andy Ant Adores Apples. I don't normally do this, but I'm going to give a huge spoiler here: the last letter is Z! There I did it! Can you guess which animal that is? I also loved the British spelling of Yoghurt, although I am sure she didn't put that in there for my benefit!

Each illustration is set in a brightly-colored background that looks like water-color, and it makes the image even more striking. There are commonly-known animals and much lesser-known ones which was appreciated, and they were not all tied to mammals, although those were prevalent. To be honest, I'm quite sure that one of them is mythical, although I am equally sure that many of us wish it were not!

So overall I am happy to rate this as a worthy read and recommend it: buy it for the educational value, Keep it for the artwork. If you can interest your kids in learning to draw like this, then you will definitely kit them out to have a career as a children's book illustrator, graphic novel artist or whatever they want! The sky isn't even the limit - and isn't that what we all want for our children?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Dash by Kirby Larson

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a pretty decent read for a younger reader, but perhaps a bit immature and bland for a middle-grader or older. There's very little in it for the adult reader, but since it's not aimed at an adult audience I can't fault it for that, so I consider it a worthy read for the intended audience.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, a date which will live in infamy according to then president Roosevelt, he signed an exec order which brought infamy to the US, and shamefully so. The order eventually resulted in over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans being forced into internment camps. Curiously, in Hawaii, where many more Japanese Americans lived, little more than a tenth of those people were also interned. The man who was charged with accomplishing this, John DeWitt, the Army general in command of the coast, is portrayed as a decent person in this story but in reality, his inflammatory racist view was "A Jap's a Jap. They are a dangerous element, whether loyal or not."

The fact that this was indeed pure racism is proved by the fact that there was no large-scale wholesale incarceration of residents of German or Italian ancestry. It was America once again over-reacting to a bad and embarrassing defeat, taking the ball and going home. Meanwhile, in Japan there were over 2,000 civilians of allied nations. These people were also interned and very little (to my knowledge) has been written about them and very little is ever heard of their experiences. Bernice Archer has written a book about it, The Internment of Western Civilians Under the Japanese published in 2004. The Japanese treated Japanese Americans as Japanese Nationals, although American citizens of Japanese ancestry were urged to return to the US.

In this story, young Mitsi Kashino and her family are transported to an isolated camp, but she must leave behind her pet dog, Dash. The story, as I said, is a bit tame and bland, which given the audience for which it was written is understandable in some ways, but not in others, since this was written as recently as 2014. I think kids can handle more truth than the author does, evidently. It fails in that it does not give any real feeling of the horror or even of the foul injustice of these events, which is why I think it's suitable for a younger audience. I think older children will need more than this offers, but I consider it a worthy read for the young.

Ivy Takes Care by Rosemary Wells

Rating: WORTHY!

This, in a way, was an odd sort of a novel in that it was set in 1949, yet had a very modern sensibility to it because it was written quite recently. It's short and highly amusing, and it proved to be an audiobook experiment which was a great success.

Ivy's on summer break from school and has an argument with her best friend Annie before that friend leaves for summer camp, so she's a bit down. She wants to buy a friendship ring, but money is tight and Ivy's family, unlike Annie's, isn't well-off (although they do seem to be able to afford Hershey's Kisses, so I guess they're not so completely impoverished that there's nothing available for a treat now and then).

Ivy's solution is to put up posters around the town offering her animal care services. She's soon signed up to look after a horse named Chestnut, which is in need of some exercise while the owners are on vacation, and then a dog named Inca, whose owner had to leave it behind temporarily, and finally a racehorse named Andromeda, and this one somewhat troubled. Ivy herself is troubled by Billy Joe Butterworth, a pain-in-the-nectar of Ivy's summer, and a busybody neighbor to boot, who has his nose into everything and has no concept of personal space whatsoever.

Each time ivy is unsure of her ability to rise to the situation, she masters it and finds smart and inventive ways to overcome obstacles. I liked the pace and tone of this story, and it's unusual setting: the Red Star Guest Ranch, in Nevada, where divorcing husbands or wives need to stay for six weeks in order to satisfy a statutory requirement and have their marriage dissolved, hassle-free. It was unusual to find something like this in a children's story, and it lent a depth and humor to it that really emboldened the story and contrasted beautifully with Ivy's innocence and sweetness. I loved Ivy, who is a real charmer and a strong female character. I recommend this one.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Bear and Squirrel by Elsa Takaoka, Catherine Toennisson

Rating: WORTHY!

This team of writer (Takaoka )/illustrator (Toennisson) had a .75 batting average with me, and that's now gone up to .80 with this one, so it's a pretty good record, although in the interests of full disclosure, I tend to be a lot more lenient with young children's books than I do when rating more grown up material.

I love squirrels; not so keen on bears, but this one was a fun story about a squirrel who was industriously working on building a swing, and a bear who was obsessed with collecting things - including the swing - while squirrel was out looking for that final piece for her creation. Squirrel tries everything to get the la-la-land bear's attention, and finally hits on a winning strategy only to have the outcome skew in an unexpected way! The book was fun and quirky, and colorful, and I enjoyed it. I arrogantly assume young children will too, since I often look at life the same way they do! I recommend this as a fun read.

Three! by Tia Perkin

Rating: WORTHY!

This felt more like it was written for parents than ever it was for three-year-olds, so I'm not convinced that this approach made sense, but each to her own! The author, who has a really perky name and who illustrates her own books quite colorfully and competently, has at least one other book out of this nature, titled Two!" (reviewed by me in March 2017).

While I thought the approach slightly odd and noted that two pages (the getting stuck in his pajamas, and getting dressed by himself) were in the wrong order in my crappy Kindle app from Amazon, the rest of the book was fine. It's very much into chanting and rhyming, and if this is your thing - or more to the point, your child's thing - then I think this book would be a worthy read. It's very short, so whether you deem that a good thing or not is up to you of course. With these caveats in mind, and at the risk of this book giving your child some mischievous ideas you may wish she or he had not been exposed to, I deem this to be a worthy read!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Tucker's Apple Dandy Day by Susan Winget

Rating: WORTHY!

I adore this author's name! I've always been fond of 'Susan' and I had to wonder of this one whether or not she might wing it with her writing? If so, it works! This book was the polar opposite of Dinosaur Kisses and exactly what a young children's book should be. A warm fuzzy story with warm fuzzy characters, beautifully illustrated in sweetly warm, fuzzy autumnal colors!

Tucker gets to visit a farm on his school field trip, and they all get the chance to pick their own bag of apples to take home, but Tucker is so busy helping others to get their share that he never has chance to get any for himself. All the people he helped, though, rally around and donate a few of their apples to him so he gets a few for himself after all. It's beautifully told story about the selflessness of helping others without expectation of a reward, and it's delightfully illustrated. I fully recommend this one.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Soldier, Sister Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood

Rating: WARTY!

This book, I have to say up front, was a fail for me. Superficially it pretends to be a tribute to Lori Piestewa, who was a member of the Hopi tribe and was also, at the age of 23, the first woman in the US military to be killed in combat in the Iraq War in March 2003, but there is very little in this novel about the military.

Teshina ("Tess") isn't Hopi, she's a 14-year-old American Indian/White woman who lives on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. Her sister joins the National Guard and is subsequently called up for service in Iraq. That's pretty much the last we hear of her, and then the story is nothing more than a young girl dealing with young girl issues with a Native American twist. And a horse.

This felt like a bait-and-switch from the start, and to me it represented more of a disservice to Specialist Piestewa - who though not in a combat unit as such, distinguished herself in action, and subsequently died as a result of a head injury - than ever it was a tribute. Piestewa and the other woman of color in that action, Shoshana Johnson, got the short end of the stick as compared with the fictional farce the military made out of the other female survivor, the white Jessica Lynch.

I had to keep asking myself what this book was about because it went in so many directions that it never really arrived anywhere. Was it about native Americans in the US military? No. Was it about American Indian culture? Well, a little bit. Was it about the relationship between Tess and Gaby, her sister? Somewhat, but not so much. Tess was manic about her sister, bouncing around unrealistically between so many emotions that it was a joke. At one point she'd be angry, at another accepting, and then unaccountably angry again. I get that people do have mixed emotions, but this honestly felt poorly written and inauthentic.

Tess was left to take care of her sister's persnickety horse, and we're bitch-slapped silly with so much crap about understanding the animal that it left the bounds of the real and entered the realm of the supernatural. Yes, you can understand animals, and approach them the right way or the wrong way, and yes of course they're sensitive and have feelings, but this narrative went way overboard for no apparent reason other than that it was an American Indian story.

This same issue arose over Tess's experiences with her grandmother who was patronizingly portrayed as having almost shaman-like qualities, and Zen Buddhist composure. It felt so overdone that it was insulting, and her advice to Tess about handling inappropriate comments was hardly brilliant. The only real way to deal with bullying is to stamp it out. Ignoring it and laughing it off will not do that.

Tess's biggest issue seemed to be the fact that her parents evidently did a lousy job of raising her, so that she's stuck with this question of "who am I?" given her mixed heritage - a question they obviously had not helped her with, but here's a better question: why does it matter? Why was this story not about a young woman accepting that she is who she is and the hell with anyone who won't accept her on her own terms? This business of trying to pigeon-hole her seemed ill-advised to me, and was one in a long list of tropes and clichés, including bullying, that we had here, but with nothing new added to the mix.

The blurb on Goodreads says that "Lori the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat" and I call horseshit on that one. Try Running Eagle of the Piegan Blackfeet, or Kaúxuma Núpika of the Kootenai, and there were undoubtedly many others whose names we will never know. Don't mess with American Indian women! The writer of that blurb needs an education. I know the author didn't write it, so I am not including that in my review of her novel, but that already had quite sufficient problems for me to rate it negatively. I cannot recommend this story at all.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Artsy Mistake Mystery by Sylvia McNicoll

Rating: WARTY!

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

The review copy had some major issues, but I worked around these and this does not factor into my negative review of this book. Yes, negative. I'm sorry and I wish the author all the best in this series, but it wasn't quite there for me, even when I viewed it through middle-grade lenses. While I'm not a series fan, I think this one has potential, but this volume (the middle of three in the series s far as I know) just didn't get it done for me.

This book is told from the perspective of Stephen Noble, who walks dogs to help out his father's business. If we were to categorize his parents by traditional 'roles', then Stephen's father was more like a mom and his mom more like a dad given his dad's interest in knitting and other traditionally female pursuits, and his mom's traveling for her job, but this felt to me to be more like a novelty add-in for effect than a serious attempt at depicting equality or parents outside of traditional roles, but they were relatively minor characters, so this really wasn't a big deal.

Stephen's best friend is Renée Kobai. As is usual in these stories, I found the side-kick - Renée - to be far more interesting than ever Stephen was. The problem with Stephen (apart from his foolish willingness to do highly risky if not downright dangerous things, such as trying to follow suspected criminals at midnight) was his obsession with these two dogs, Ping and Pong. It was honestly really irritating, and the number of times the dogs are mentioned was nauseating. I kept asking, "Is this about these two dogs or about art theft?!" because it honestly felt like the plot was taking a back seat to the minutiae of the dogs walking, and sniffing, and barking, and whatever.

The story was supposed to be about the inexplicable disappearance of various items of 'outdoor art' such as the mailbox of Stephen's next-door-neighbor, which was designed to look like a house, and the vanishing decorative fish from the fence around Stephen and Renée's school. The problem was that there never really was any plot!

The story sort of meandered around without any real detective work being done, and it was so obsessed with these two dogs, which Stephen seemed to be walking full time non-stop, that I rapidly lost interest - and I actually like dogs! After about the fifty percent mark I began skimming the story, reading bits here and there, and it was not improving. By seventy-five percent I'd lost even a pretense of interest in it and wanted to move onto something which would actually keep my attention, and not annoy me! I'm sorry, but life is too short for this kind of a novel to occupy any significant amount of it.

There were instances of children lying to adults and getting away with it, and for no good reason. I know children do lie, but to promote this as a real option in life is a mistake in a children's novel, especially when there are no consequences for it.

Worse than this though, at one point Stephen tells us, "I think I've seen enough rescue videos that I can use CPR to bring him back to life if I have to." This is a serious no-no. You cannot do CPR unless you are properly trained, and to suggest to children that you can see it in a video and then just leap in and do it, is excusable, especially in a children's book! You can do serious harm to someone if you try CPR without knowing properly what you are supposed to do, and this alone should disqualify this book from a positive rating. I found it dispiriting that no other reviewers seemed to find a problem with this.

The writing aside, there were serious technical problems with the crappy Kindle app version of this novel and the problems were the same whether I looked at this on my phone or on a tablet computer. Almost every instance of the letters 'T' and 'H' like in 'they' and 'this' and so on, were missing. Also every instance of two 'F's together, like in the word 'off', were missing, so the word was just the letter 'O'. Also missing were combinations of 'F' and 'L', and 'F' and 'I'!. It was weird.

I encountered something like this in another book which I read in Kindle's crappy app a long time ago. Why it happens, I do not know. There must be some glitch when converting to Kindle, I guess, but Kindle's app is substandard anyway in my opinion. I'd much rather read in Bluefire reader, Adobe Digital Editions, or the Nook app, all of which put Kindle to shame. Here are some examples of the missing letters:

  • "the moment her older brother, Attila, takes o for class" (takes off for class)
  • "It'll be the rst one I make" (first one I make)
  • "ey scramble ahead of me like mismatched horses pulling a carriage: Ping, a scruy pony;" (they scramble...scruffy pony)
  • "make the dogs walk to the le of me" (left of me)
  • "He is out walking his ve Yorkie" (No idea what that's supposed to be!)
  • "is junk slows us down" (this junk)
  • "with some kind of ller." (filler)
  • "e sunlight glints o the diamond stud in her nose as she pulls the ugliest wall plaque I've ever seen from someone's pile of junk. It's a large grey sh, mouth open, pointy teeth drawn, mounted on a at slab of glossy wood. Maybe Ping is growling at the sh, not the girl."
  • "e sh is bent as though it's wriggling in a stream." (the fish)
  • She looks from the sh to me. "Oh, not for me. e plaque is for my prof. ey're redecorating the sta lounge."

One of these was unintentionally hilarious, and might well be deemed so by middle grade boys at least: "I don't want to be caught with sh in my pants." It was meant to be (I'm assuming!) "I don't want to be caught with fish in my pants." All this talk of fish, by the way, was from a set of carved wooden sharks that like the dogs, frankly featured too largely in the story.

Had the novel been better, these problems were ignorable (it's surprising how much sense you can make of a sentence which is missing letters!), but as it was, they simply added to the negative overall impression I was already getting from the story itself, so I cannot recommend it.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Don't Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrup

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a cute and whimsical tale of several animals in the jungle, sporting a bunch of balloons and heading for a party, when they encounter a rather large tiger sleeping across the path. They dare not wake it and so they have to figure out how to get over it - not in the sense of giving up, but in the sense of bypassing the beast!

They light upon a risky but plausible (in this story anyway!) solution, but can they carry it off? Or can it, more accurately, carry them over? And what happens when the tiger awakens?! I really enjoyed this because it's so wild and crazy, and has such a great ending. And the author has a really awesome name! I recommend it.