Book Reviews: Children’s by the Dozen

Question of the Day
“Did you say Snickers or sneakers?”

The Big Adventures of Tiny House
A sleepy farmhouse finds its fields urbanized, but rather than be torn down human hands save the good stuff and turn it into a small home on wheels; the bed loft is my favorite part. Of course it needs to make new friends to get anywhere, and a truck with a hitch is a good start. They travel the country and see the sights, though I wonder why a house feels the need to order tacos.
The rich arrogant mansion is the bitchy one, of course, but to counter that we get Shiny, whom I love, and not just for the Firefly connection. Best moment is the cute little otter photobombing. . . er, would you call this painting-bombing?
These are big bright paintings with rhyming text. Some of the other small houses have really funky architecture. (Not much you can say when it’s only about 30 pages long.) Fun for kids to look at, though probably better for an adult to sing aloud than let the kid flounder and ruin the rhythm.
4/5

Free as a Bird
A boy wants to be a bird, so he makes a costume, climbs up a tree, and waits for something to happen.
Nothing does, until he comes down and finds his suit was really good enough to fool. Luckily, because he’s a human with a brain, nothing bad comes out of it. . . and it ends.
Nothing much really happens. Everything is so passive amongst the sparse watercolor and one line of words on a white background.
3/5

Tucker Grizzwell’s Worst Week Ever
A young bear is dreading his coming of age test, and his smart mom, dumb dad, and surprisingly friendly older sister aren’t much help.
I did not know this was a comic strip, and when I found out I realized it was incredibly continuous. This is like the book version of movies like “Airplane!” where the jokes come fast and furious; if one doesn’t make you laugh, or groan, there’s another one coming in the next panel. A lot of these made me groan, but are probably right in the wheelhouse of the kids in the age range this is shooting for.
Some of my favorites include the face he makes when he sees the Tarantula condo is empty; he’s not the only one who breaks the fourth wall with that “yeah, right” look. When Fauna asked for something to cover the zit, her non-specificity is her own fault.
“We all consider you inadequate.” Saw it coming, but still nice.
Detest—new definition, just as good as the first.
“The following program is made possible by a general lowering of standards.”
“My dad said I’d never amount to anything.” “That must’ve taken a lot of the pressure off you.”
“Do clouds ever touch the ground?” “Haven’t the foggiest.”
10 pages of bear facts to end it.
3.5/5

It’s Hard to be Good (Ellie the Wienerdog series)
A purple weinerdog tries to not screw things up for her human, but doesn’t seem to give it 100% effort. Her main motivation is wanting to hear “What a good dog!” but apparently it’s not enough to keep her from giving in to all the temptations she smells, as told in rhyme. Finally at the end she earns her reward, and provides the moral of the story.
I liked the artwork, which isn’t anything particularly special but does the job perfectly.
4/5

The Little Mermaid
The youngest of six mermaid sisters—hard to tell them apart when they’ll all got blue hair—has a statue of a human boy hidden away. She longs to reach her 15th birthday, at which time she can go up to land and check out the rest of the world. Her longing gets even worse when she comes across a ship in trouble and helps one of the passengers, who happens to look a lot like the statue. . .
If you’ve only seen the movie, forget it; this follows the original story. Especially forget the ending.
My main problem here is that the prince isn’t all that likeable, especially at first. After all, it’s not “Women, children, and princes first!” A nice part was when she loses consciousness and the page goes black.
The artwork is gorgeous. The colors are somehow rich and muted at the same time, as a lot happens underwater or at night, albeit with a full moon.
3.5/5

The Tragedy of Macbeth
Obviously a kids’ version. Starts with character sketches, which is always nice even when you’ve read it before. After that it’s basically some simple sketch drawings between pretty bland plot explanations. There’s a lot of repetition.
As a recap it’s okay, though rather dry. Thankfully it’s short, so it may not bore the kids too quickly.
3/5

Quite a Mountain: A Fable for All Ages
A bear and a frog are on a walk—I imagine the bear is walking slow and the frog is jumping fast to keep up—when they’re stopped by a mountain. Now what?
Bear thinks he can climb it. Frog is skeptical. “I’m not going to tell you that you can’t do this, because that would be discouraging.” Most people—or animals—would end there, but not Frog. “But I’m thinking it. I’m thinking it pretty hard.” Probably the funniest moment in the book.
They come across a goat—like Pearls Before Swine, they don’t seem to have names other than their species—who not only has a microwave, but somewhere to plug it in. I can accept talking animals, but this is too much! Especially when they have such a tough climb but end up living in a cave with all the amenities; how did they bring them up?
Done in very simple sketches; some pages are completely blank except for one line of text, which shows how this made it to 68 pages. Then there’s “The end. Kind of.”
He is not like any other fictional bear you’ve ever seen.
3/5

The Rhyming Diary of Jason Smith
The title says it all, doesn’t it? There’s all the chapters you’d expect, though occasionally a surprise comes on that forces me to remember this was actually written by an adult. One chapter deals with the death of the family dog; even trees and flowers get entries. He makes an adventure out of getting pens from the storeroom. A lot of them take place at school, which explains why the author at the end noted: These verses are born of 30+ years of teaching 11-year-olds.
The best chapter is likely where the schoolkids realize the graves are of people their age, providing a sobering lesson. On the other end of the scale is the one about dentures. A few were humorous and entertaining, but just as many missed the mark. As might be expected, some of the rhymes are forced. More than that, it was hard to find a flow, as I found myself able to read only a few chapters at a time. But probably the worst problem is that American kids, and even adults, will have trouble with the Britishisms.
3/5

Chow Mein and Potstickers (May also be known as Prawn Crackers and Satay)
A little boy moves from China to. . . somewhere else, it’s never said, but it must surely be a fantasy land, since everyone on the block is from a different country and they all get along.
The first thing you see is him waving at you from his front door; notice the cat is also waving. From there he goes from house to house meeting other kids, none of which are in school and all let strangers in despite their parents being at work. After each “day in the life” of kids from other cultures there are a few words in the language of the new friend, mostly “hello,” “goodbye,” and food. Bosnia, Indonesia, Poland, Afghanistan, Turkey, Belgium, Suriname, England, South Africa, and Italy are all represented.
It’s really simplistic, but I suppose for this age group it’s to be expected. It’s formulaic to the point where in every story they say hi, play, get tired, and eat, so it might get a little boring.
3/5

I’ve Got to Go
A dog, who by the way carries a personal roll of toilet paper, has to go potty. His sister is happily sitting on his, which looks just like a dish a dog would be eating or drinking from! Don’t get those confused! From there it becomes a chain of progressively larger animals using the smaller one’s toilet dishes; the funniest is the elephant, who squashes them. The whole thing is designed to get Dog to use the human toilet.
Nothing wrong with it in particular, but doesn’t seem all that engaging either. Even a three-year-old can go through this in less than five minutes.
2.5/5

Looking for Colors With Lily and Milo
Incredibly colorful, as one would expect from the title, and incredibly simplistic. Readers look for the objects in the correct color that the narrative tells them to.
Milo is extremely accident-prone.
Quick refresher quiz at end.
This is for really small kids, but feels like a good way to teach them colors.
3.5/5

Race Car Drivers and What They Do
Right at the beginning I have a small quibble with the author, who as a European claims F1 has the most famous races; she’s apparently never heard of the Indianapolis 500. Not that I think the kiddies reading this will care, but if this is how sloppy the research is. . .
Thankfully she does get most of the stuff right, though on the list of flags she forgot the white. The writing is typically simplistic, as it should be, although I wonder if kids of the age this is intended for know what a mechanic or gas is. “Tune the motor?” Hope mom or dad are prepared to answer that question.
3/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Snapshots: Djerba, Tunisia

No one told me to put on sunblock before going to bed at night. . .
Sighing heavily, knees creaking as my feet hit the floor, I walked over to the large window behind the bed, the stars of last night replaced by the heavy sunlight that had awakened me. Below the almost-tropical blue sky was a beach, though it had plenty of big rocks, enough to make real surf noise that had probably helped in lulling me to sleep last night, not an easy thing to do when you suffer from both insomnia and apnea. . . plus in this particular instance jetlag.
The scene made it easy to picture Odysseus’ men lazing on the sand while subsisting on lotus flowers, probably that blue water lily I’d seen on my first walk. Often called the “Polynesia of the Mediterranean,” Djerba was an island of palm trees and sandy beaches, along with the inevitable luxury hotels. What made it different than the rest of the Med, as well as the Carib, the Pacific, and basically everywhere else, was that it belonged to a Muslim country, albeit one not all that strict. Off the coast of Tunisia, Djerba not only had pirate castles, ancient synagogues, buildings that were featured in the original Star Wars (those were the droids you were looking for!) and open-air markets full of potters and silversmiths, it also had a casino. . . not that I would be wasting my time gambling, though I did hear there was a game room, with air hockey, Galaxian, skeeball, etc. You know, in case I got bored with all the sun. . .
Which I did, but not before walking what felt like the entire island’s circumference; at least my knees were creaking for an honest reason now. Realizing I was still early for dinner, I took the scenic route back to the hotel; unlike most tourists, I savored the moments amongst the locals, both their festivities and everyday work. How else would I have met so many friendly people, watched some dancers rehearsing for some festival, come across a wedding procession with the bride riding a camel? All soundtracked to melodious flutes and pulse-pounding tambourines.
And then end the day sharing the absolute splendor of a Mediterranean sunset with fishermen still casting their nets at this late hour, though I figured the clock didn’t matter, since fish don’t sleep.
Refreshed and relaxed without having stopped the walking, I wandered back towards the hotel, my mental GPS unerring as usual as I walked through shady gardens of fig, apple, and pomegranate; I’d grown up with a granada tree in the front yard, so I recognized that last fruit easily without wanting to reach up and grab one. Skipping the olive groves, though taking in the gnarled trunks that proved just how old civilization was on this island, I found myself high enough to look out, in the last dregs of post-sunset glow, to what I’d heard called The Island of the Pink Flamingo, as always wondering if it would be worth the trip. . .

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: The Fort of Rathangan

It’s World Poetry Day! And it falls on Poetry Tuesday! What are the odds? (Approx. 1 out of 7, taking leap year into account.)

Here’s an anonymous Irish work about non-permanence a thousand years before Shelley’s Ozymondius.

The fort over against the oak wood
Once it was Bruidge’s, it was Cathal’s,
It was Aed’s, it was Ailill’s,
It was Conaing’s, it was Cuiline’s,
And it was Maelduin’s;
The fort remains after each in his turn–
And the kings asleep in the ground.

;o)

Book Reviews: Put some Graphic in Your Pencil

Overheard at Coffee Bean:
“She’s the poster child for high maintenance. . .”

Lady Mechanika V.2: Tablet of Destinies
In the first volume I mentioned the heroine is a half-mechanical steampunk Lara Croft; should have saved that description for this one, as the plot starts with a search for an ancient artifact in secret caverns in Africa. Unfortunately she’s hunting abominable snowmen in the Alps with dilettantes while this is going on, but after a brief stop in London she eventually gets out there.
The first thing shown is a jewel-encrusted mechanical messenger bird, which tells the reader what they’re dealing with right away, in case they hadn’t gotten it from the cover.
For all her baddassery and proneness to hiding her feelings, she’s surprisingly good with little girls. Unlike the previous collection, where the girl was mean to her and called her a liar, this one goes as far as to dress up as her. Even better, “I kicked him in his trinkets just like you taught me.”
But then I love every moment where she shows her human side, like the rare times she laughs, or says something like, “Cheeky little bugger.”
There’s a beautiful shot of the desert’s desolation, with Mechanika and Fred looking tiny. Even better is the one where they’re silhouetted against the sun that reminds me of Star Wars. As before, the artwork is superb and the highlight of the book.
At the end is a cover gallery where Mechanika again reluctantly plays model.
Didn’t like it quite as much as the first, but still wonderful, and well worth the read.
3.5/5

Motro V.1
A tiny motorcycle—I was hoping it was the main character—is in telepathic communication with a boy who has the power of ten men and even survives a direct blast from a tank. He has to save them all, according to his nightmare. He doesn’t want to fight, but has to, and eventually becomes the ruler’s new son. (Don’t ask what happened to the old one.)
Fifteen years later he’s basically in charge and wants to go on a quest, no matter how many of his soldiers die. Thirty-four years later, the world has turned to black and white, where reptiles are kidnapping babies. Yep, it gets that weird.
There are some fun touches. The bad guys’ tanks also communicate telepathically, but only in pictures, so they must be dumber than the motorcycle. This time it’s the frog that licks you to make magic, not the other way around.
But I found both the plot and the character development lacking. He says he doesn’t want to fight, but when he has to, he kills—no middle ground. Leads his men to icy death, but that’s okay, because he gets what he wants.
Strange ending. If there was a point to all this, I didn’t get it.
2.5/5

The Flintstones Vol. 1
Puns abound—even more than on the original show or the movie—in these six stories that have a common thread: Fred and Barney are now war veterans, which works out for the best at the end.
Wilma is now an abstract artist. Fred’s words of love: “You were worth every goat.” I think Fred got a bargain with her less-than-impressive dowry. You can see why the guys from Red Dwarf were so hot for her.
The puns are the best part. Andy Warthog! David Rockney! Then the author unleashes a pun hurricane on the mall: Bloomingshale’s, Oscar de la Raptor; plenty of shoes I don’t know enough about, though there are original Ugghs. Starbrick’s. Foot Licker! Outback Snakehouse! And don’t forget Falcon Crest, the official toothpaste of ancient birds.
The local god’s name is the lovely-sounding Morp. “You can’t enter heaven unless Morp enters you.” Sounds about right. But Morp’s priest screws up and has to come up with something better. . . and the choice is awesome! The astronomer looks suspiciously like Carl Sagan, even though he thinks the earth is riding on the back of a giant turtle.
“Monogamy destroys!” Domestication of animals and marriage. . . I get where you’re going with that. And a lot of stealth jokes in the vein of Adam and Steve. And in addition to the David Bowie quotes, the mayor is Bruce Campbell!
Could have made the Vietnam analogy a little more obvious. . . wait, no.
14 pages of covers, mostly of Fred getting nuzzled by either Wilma or Dino.
Fun, and funny. Don’t worry about the plots and just enjoy the moments.
4/5

Rick and Morty, V.4
I’ve read one graphic novel in this universe, though at a bit of a tangent to this one, so I like Summer and I’m glad there’s no walking talking poo this time. Other than that I didn’t know much about this, and had no idea Grandpa Scientist was going to be such an ass; he’s like Back to the Future’s Doc Brown without a soul, or any type of morals.
There are no punches pulled here. At one point they club baby seals. One character is described as “why women walk around with keys between their fingers.” Then there’s the robobros, as though human bros aren’t bad enough. And the cops: “Well, we zipped this case up. Let’s do zero more investigating nor consider any other suspect.”
“The vanquishing of my enemies has engorged my genitals with blood!” Means a lot more coming from a woman. And you should always wear a sexy outfit when you friend-zone an alien who thinks he’s hot stuff.
So there’s plenty of funny moments, but not enough to justify the words they bandy about in their publicity blurbs. Every page I think it’s not possible to hate Rick more, but he’s definitely a go-getter in that category. I think the creator uses this comic to get all the stuff out of his head that he can’t say on his TV shows.
3/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Sailing Through the Gorges

By Yang Wan-li (1124-1206)

Our boat going upstream barely moves by the inch;
The dark cliffs on both sides deepen into the dusk’s gloom
With a clap of thunder the heavens threaten rain;
A wind rushing in from the South Seas beyond the horizon
Angrily blasts the gorges asunder–
A hundred men shout and beat the big drums,
While a single swain flies up the towering mast.
When the sails are rigged, all hold their hands in their sleeves
And sit down to watch their boat–
a goose feather skimming over the waters.

;o)