A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories
The Bard for kids.
Each play gets a title page, with a famous quote and a mishmash of artwork that shows some of the important points. That’s followed by a small cast of characters, and finally an illustrated text that boils the story down to its essential elements, just enough to know what’s going on.
The easiest way to describe this for Bard buffs is that it’s similar to the Lambs’ book of synopses, only for children. And it’s illustrated like a kiddie version of the Canterbury Tales.
The illustrations are more basic than the words.
The Tempest and Twelfth Night were my faves here.
Not all the plays are here, but that’s no surprise; only twelve, mostly the famous ones.
Ida and the Whale
Ida lives in a treehouse, always daydreaming as she takes in the landscape, wondering what’s out there in the world. A flying whale wakes her up and asks her to accompany him on a trip. Being a redhead, of course she takes him up on it. They go to many strange places, where the whale proves to be a philosophical genius.
The cover is funny, with a little redheaded girl next to a gigantic whale. . . and it’s still not to scale. Later on there’s a visual showing how much bigger the whale is than the treehouse, which is probably going too far, but other than that it’s mostly with her bigger than she should be. In honesty, I suppose it had to be done that way so that the two can communicate, but for someone who’s studied whales all his life—me—that’s a bit jarring, like a proofreader who can’t help but point out the errors (also me).
The prose was good, but the illustrations, seemingly childlike and impressionistic at the same time, are the key here. Those who love blue will enjoy this.
Muddy: The Raccoon Who Stole Dishes
Minimalist artwork tells the story of a bowtie-wearing raccoon who prefers foraging in garbage cans than in the woods, but then insists on eating off plates. I don’t know why his parents call him a picky eater—unless they mean picking through garbage—but that’s definitely not my definition.
Apparently raccoons are OCD about washing, with a strangely high prime number.
The ending did not go as I expected, and I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be a point to all this. Muddy did bad things and got away with them in the end; not only did the punishment backfire, he got to do even more of what got him in trouble in the first place!
Juan Castell and Aunt Sofia’s Giant Book of Please, Thank You, Welcome
Alternating between rhymes and prose, this little book tells of an upcoming visit by aliens and how the nephew of the person in charge of greeting them helps in preparing the world to be nice to them. In so doing he learns a little bit about each of the countries he’s assigned to.
This book is nice enough, with colorful art and usually well-written rhymes. I’m a little troubled by the ending, and I’m not sure why it needed magic, but perhaps it was done to make the kids more interested.
Mack’s World of Wonder. The Cutest Baby Animals
Split into two parts—farm and wild—this book features photos and some silly stick drawings of. . . yeah, you guessed it. The title does not lie!
There’s some really simple quizzes that show this is for the preschool set. Every little article starts with what the baby version of the animal is called, and how it feeds. There’s a big diversity of animals, but I was disappointed not to see a whale or dolphin. Guess they’re not cute enough.
My Favorite Pet: Ponies
Made for the preschoolers, this little book features large photos and some info about ponies. . . but you know that from the title, right?
There’s some incredibly simple quizzes, but then this isn’t supposed to be challenging, just informative, as is the small glossary.
A Day in the Life of a Raindrop
Here’s one that doesn’t actually take the title literally. Instead of some scientific info, it’s a highly stylized cartoon that. . . well, if it teaches anything, it’s strictly by accident.
The raindrop in question is strangely drawn: the body is as expected, with a slightly creepy face, legs, and arms, one of which is holding an umbrella. . . why? Is a pile of wet afraid of getting wet?
If this is for kids, why is the word “oblivious” in there? There are plenty of adults who wouldn’t know that one.
At least the rhymes are well done. Considering his bio says the author has composed hundreds of poems, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. But as a whole this seemed more like a surreal parody for easily amused teens than anything for kids.
Told in rhyming stanzas, this book starts by showing off how different animals have different rules before settling into the one in the title.
Using pictographs and a bell she holds in her rattle tail, momma snake—she’s wearing a necklace though she has no shoulders—teaches the little ones all about livin’ the reptile life. There’s rules for humans too, but only one seems to be important: leave the rattlers alone!
I can just imagine a kid asking, “Mom, what does ‘Ace of Spades” mean?”
The artwork features a lot of reds, which at times makes it hard to make out the snakes. And the fact they’re always smiling—which looks more menacing than joyful—makes them look a bit creepy.
More info for the humans in back, more basic facts without rhyme, as well as myths, glossary, and so on.
For those who don’t know the classic story or need a recap, a lonely woman wishes for a child and gets a seed instead, which grows into a flower that gestates a tiny girl, who’s born fully dressed. After a happy time with her mom in their house, she gets kidnapped by a mother toad, which leads the little one on a long ride of adventures in the outside world. After some good times and bad times she finds herself in the perfect situation and goes to visit her mother, though the fact that Mom must have agonized about her missing daughter is curiously glossed over.
On the first page there’s a huge empty space and really tiny text. Annoying. The situation does not improve.
Little Thumbelina is drawn adorably on every page, though in somewhat of a 20s flapper style. It’s meant to be more stylish than anything else, and probably owes something to the illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s books.
Mina vs. the Monsoon
This book tells of a young Pakistani girl who is obsessed with playing soccer. Sad because the weather prevents her from going out, she tries to make the rain go away—does not sing the famous rhyme but does do a dance—with the help of her trusty, if not real, elephant. At the end she and her mom realize what every soccer-playing kid knows: it’s more fun playing in the mud.
The guide to Urdu and Hindi words would have been more welcome at the front, but at least it’s there.
Not sure what the moral is here. Seemed like a good opportunity to teach patience or acceptance of things you can’t change, but that certainly didn’t happen here.
Boisterously illustrated, with what might be too much color considering how basic the artwork is.
ANIMOSAICS: CAN YOU FIND IT?
A mosaic on the left hides a number of items listed on the right. The fact they’re the same color makes it difficult, but certainly doable even for small children.
The second page, red, has the viewer looking for a “ladybird,” even though it’s obviously a “ladybug.” Made me chuckle.
Other than that, it’s both pretty basic yet also a nice switch on the average puzzle game.
Around The World in Every Vehicle
I don’t know how true the title is—if I tried hard enough I could probably come up with something they missed—but other than that it’s a good tour of the world, with some famous landmarks standing out.
Nice to see the Charles Bridge in Prague, though the statues left something to be desired. The Haga Sophia looks minimalist-nice. It was an inspired choice to have them drive through Europe, then have the grandparents fly in to drive the van home while they go off to see the rest of the world on faster transportation.
I love the family name: Van Go.
On some pages an incident prompts them to look at similar vehicles around the world: buses, trams, fire engines, etc. It’s hardly ever that fitting with the story, but that’s not what this book is about.
Geographical mistake: They flew around the world twice when they should have gone to Australia between Asia and North America.
STEAM Stories: Robot Repairs (Technology)
In what looks to be a series of 5 books based on the STEAM acronym, this one features the letter T for technology, in the form of robots and their care and feeding.
The robot on the cover looks hilarious!
Great name for a teacher: Miss Eureka. I liked both her look and her personality.
Told pretty simplistically, but with enough fluff to teach kids about technology, especially tools.
Simply drawn, but the better for it. More info on the procedures of each page at the end.
STEAM Stories: The Great Go-Kart Race (Science)
The title is all you need to know about this story.
The kids face various obstacles in the race, like dead batteries and muddy puddles, but no matter how long it takes to get help from a passing tractor or think their next step through, they manage to stay in the race.
Professor Know-It-All! Perfect!
The first page shows the starting line of the race, and there’s a kart in the middle with a smiling kid. . . and right behind him is another smiling kid leaning over so she can be in the shot as well. It looks hilarious.
The last few pages feature a more detailed explanation of the science involved.
The artwork is basic, but cute nonetheless. It doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling, or rather science-telling.
ABC for Me: ABC What Can She Be?
Girls can be anything they want to be, from A to Z
As one would expect, this book goes through the alphabet, choosing one profession for each letter, something girls can aspire to be. I was greatly looking forward to what Q and X would be, but they were kinda letdowns, with the adjectives representing instead of the nouns.
Luckily there’s enough description and artwork to show what each job entails, otherwise it would be really hard for a parent to explain. There’s a good mix, though I know of at least one guitarist who’d be annoyed that she didn’t get in but the keyboardist did.
My Favorite Machine: Airplanes
Like the rest of this series, the artwork consists of photos rather than drawings, a good idea in order to explain. . . well, what the title says.
Pretty complicated ideas are dealt with very simply.
Some of the photos look more like photoshop or even clip art, but they don’t detract from the simple narrative.
Fall is Coming
A rabbit and a bird go on a bike ride, take a nap, and wake up to find the day has gotten cold. Rabbit learns to dress up. . . and that’s it.
As simple as children’s books are, this one is even more so, with big illustrations and minimal text. There just isn’t much of a story. There’s certainly no lesson, as any kid old enough to read this knows what to do when they’re cold.
Knock Knock Boo Who?
A collection of Halloween themed knock-knock jokes. Yep.
Some are really simple, yet still funny, like boo who and I scream. Others make no sense. But basically they’re at the level that’ll make your small child at least chuckle.
My Cat is Sad / Mi gato esta triste
Kid thinks his cat is sad and tries all manner of ideas to bring it out of its supposed funk. It looks more like the kid is what made the cat sad—and mad—with all his shenanigans, until at the end he finally gets it right.
This cat on the cover does not look sad at all. If anything, it looks angry, claws halfway out. Once in the book the cat appears to be sleeping, except when interrupted by another erroneous idea from its human.
Before each new idea there’s the repetition of the kid saying the cat is sad and the cat sleeping, so the book’s even shorter than it looks.
If this is supposed to teach a kid not to jump to conclusions, then I’m all for it. If it was meant as something else, I totally missed it.
My Favorite Animal: Frogs
Like all books in this series, this one features photographs and facts of the animal in question. Sometimes the words are too big for the age of the reader, but they’re probably in it for the photos anyway.
There’s some simple memory quizzes and a glossary, but again, this is about the visuals.
My Favorite Sport: Skateboarding
As always in this series, this book features big bright photos and some text. A little surprisingly, though I guess it shouldn’t be, all the photos here feature young kids on the skateboards, not all of them with protective gear even though there’s a section on that.
It’s certainly informative enough, though I’ve found that most of these books have words too big for readers of the target age. On the other hand, I think they’re more interested in the photos anyway.
Owl Love You
With plenty of rhyme and nightscapes, this book shows a momma owl’s love for her little one as she teaches about the nocturnal world they live in.
Unlike a lot of rhyming books, this one keeps a very singsongy pace, as though the authors actually know how to write poetry in its proper meter.
There’s a lot of hedgehogs, possibly because they look fun to draw. Bats, not so much. The art is done in broad strokes of watercolor, not all that big a deal but fitting with the theme.