Book Reviews: Peanut Butter Kiddie Time

My latest one-week obsession: evolutionary psychology.

Barbie Puppies #1: Puppy Party
The girls find a lost dog and decide the best way to find the owner—as well as helping to get shelter dogs adopted—is to hold a party. The puppies they already have get a bit jealous, because today was supposed to be about them and their birthdays.
When I first saw this title I couldn’t imagine more than a few pages of such a story, but it turned out to be a great plot device. The best part is the dogs talk, albeit only to each other and not to dumb humans. If I had to choose a favorite it would be the one who wants bacon all the time. Or tennis balls.
Took a while to figure out which girl was which: Skipper has purple/brown hair and is internet-obsessed, Chelsea’s the youngest, Stacie’s the other one by default, with Barbie of course being the oldest. This Barbie is a lot different than the usual stereotype. Then it turns out they’re a singing group, which explains a lot.
“How am I going to save up enough money when there’s so much ice cream in the world?” An existential question if ever there was one.
Simple yet elegant and effective, as opposed to a lot of graphic novels that take advantage of not having to pay a huge special effects budget by throwing everything into a frame. There’s a guy with red curly hair, black eyebrows, and the tiniest goatee ever; hope he’s based on someone the illustrator knows.
Five pages of “Barbie: Fashion Superstar” preview at the end.

Clearful and the Queen
A couple of sisters—Lali the Littlest and Abba the Adventurous—want to make “clearful” a real word and go to some pretty amazing lengths to do so.
Lali excels at jumping in muddy puddles; if you’re paying attention, you’ll see the page has muddy paw marks. You don’t get to learn much more about the girls, as there’s really small text on each page with an occasional watercolor-type drawing.
I was enjoying it, as it took place in reality even if it was fiction and farfetched. Then the cat turned into something a lot more than a cat. By the end of the story I felt it hadn’t been necessary and it dropped my enjoyment a bit.

Boo, The World’s Cutest Dog V.1
A series of short stories featuring. . . yep, you guessed it from the title, although I have to say the real Boo is actually cuter than the drawn one!
In the first story Boo’s human is jealous of all the attention doggie gets at her birthday party. In the second Boo is the dumbest of three dogs, but I guess that’s the stereotype for pretty blondes. Most of the stories are easy to read and understand, although “Obedience School” will probably be too hard for the kids who will be interested in this book.
Some gems among mostly groanworthy attempts:
Dogs do high-fours.
“Just sit back, relax, and lick yourself.” Advice for all of us.
Secret agent 008. . . oh wait, the card’s upside down.
“It’s my top secret communicator!. . . please forget I mentioned that.”
This version of Shaggy is just. . . wrong.
Whelp, I now know for sure that Boo is male; it was so hard to tell.
12 pages of alternate covers, in which Boo looks more like that daggit from the original Battlestar Galactica than his real-life self.
Even from a kid point of view, I don’t feel these are as well written as they could be. The pub says it’s “whimsical,” but that’s usually a code word. So, not bad by any means, but I think it could have been better.

Grumpy Cat: Grumpus
Second collection of stories about the cat who’s “allergic to fun” that I’ve read.
Don’t take a Grumpy Cat to the circus. . . unless you want her to join it.
Best Christmas story ever!
You’ll find what happens when cats discover the internet.
“Actual magic lamp. Seriously.”
15 pages of bonus alternate covers, of which “My Little Grumpy” was the best.
I liked the previous one better, the stories were more entertaining.

I Like, I Don’t Like
A simple primer on children’s rights, showing how one kid in some part of the world likes bricks—Lego style—or shoes, while somewhere else children the same age have to work with those same objects. At the end it really hits home when one of the kids asks, “What is play?”
The drawings are done well enough, though with real faces photoshopped in; some of these did not work. Done in a simple style so little kids can understand it.

Mrs. White Rabbit
A part of the world of Alice in Wonderland as told by an insider.
The artwork is intense right off the bat; seemingly every millimeter of space is used to depict all the myriad ways rabbits entertain themselves, including reading Glamour. There’s one page of the eldest daughter wearing different hats—literally—all with openings for the bunny ears; some of these are hilarious. Another diorama—100 Ways To Cook Carrots—shows exactly that, though I think the cupcakes were going too far. I don’t like carrots, but I would try the cool-looking chessboard or dolphin.
The little bunny girl going to school looks quite scary, maybe because she’s forced to wear a tie with her dress. A transparent cat and a blonde girl of alternating sizes and some repute show up as well, though you only get to see her shoe.
Baby Emily “is the spitting image of her father; she bawls the whole blessed day.” There’s plenty of hidden humor if you look hard enough, like the name of the photographer as you take in the street scene.
This is a book to read over and over, as you’ll find something new each time. There’s more stuff going on in each painting than Where’s Waldo?
Other than rabbits having midlife crises, there’s no plot here, but that hardly matters. If there’s one complaint it’s the use of italics, which are difficult to read in the electronic edition until you make the font big enough.

The Blue Hour
Blue Hour has taken over from its older brother, Golden Hour, as the most beautiful time of day, particularly for photographs.
Starts with a palette of many blue hues, leading into paintings that feature all kinds of animals with blue in the name. Some of the minimal prose sneaks up on you, like “Float like a blue butterfly, glide like a blue whale.”
The artwork is almost impressionistic, though in a way kids will enjoy. If there’s a complaint it’s that this book is too short, as even if there were no more animals with blue names there could have been much more to this.

The Queen of the Frogs
In a world where frogs are dressed, some rather nattily, and talk, one individual finds a crown and is instantly proclaimed Queen. Hilarious and not-so-hilarious chaos ensues.
The frog playing the trombone has gotta be the strangest thing I’ve seen all week. The fish in this pond are steampunk, according to their lamps. But it’s really hard to believe that human gliding by wouldn’t notice all the cafés with their tables and chairs, or the musical frogs, for that matter.
The way these frogs choose their queen is just as silly as Monty Python’s take on Excalibur. If there’s a lesson here, it’s don’t trust royalty. . . er, don’t be controlled by your ego. Yeah, let’s go with that.
With it taking place in a pond, the dominant color is green, leading to a sepia look that’s only enhanced by the old-fashioned clothes the frogs favor.

Sherlock Sam and the Sinister Letters in Bras Basah
Third of this series that I’ve read, this time with Sam and his friends going to an international school for a week, undercover to find who’s sending threatening letters to a classmate’s dad. Yes, chain letters—the old fashioned kind—are featured.
Watson gets an R2-D2 upgrade, a holographic projector. (One of the kids actually calls him “our only hope,” so there.) This comes in handy when he tries to find out who’s been having midnight snacks. New PE activities for the Singaporean kids include Four Square, which is one of the few things I remember from elementary school, and Flag Football, which they call an “excruciating gladiatorial game.” It helps to remember that despite the action taking place in Asia, one of the writers is American, although he’s of Latin descent, which makes all the Mexican stuff no surprise. Of course Sherlock is only interested in the food. . .
The occasional drawing, rudimentary but functional, will bring the laughs, like the one with the two girls watching Sherlock go, “Blah blah science blah blah math. . .” There’s some continuity, as I remember him previously striking the pose when he said, “Science!” (I think he was blinded. . .)
“I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you kaypoh kids!” Somewhere Scooby is snickering.
Glossary of terms endemic to Singapore, as well as a character sheet, at the end. Eliza explains Four Square, while Sherlock gives an horchata recipe. Sounds right, but then Jimmy’s the one with the word search, so we might be here forever. . .

Kids Go To Work Day
You don’t have to put much thought into what this book is about, as the title spells it out concisely. A bit of a sequel to the previous STEM Club offering, this time they look at jobs that aren’t as scientific while visiting a candy factory—I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on jobs while visiting there!—a nonprofit, a culinary school, and a magazine.
A little cutesy, but good, though not as good as the first one. The illustrations do the job, especially with people; the nonprofit hipster guy will stay with me for a while. . .

Roaming with Rudy, Paris!
“EmBARK”—yes, they went there—on a dog’s-eye view of the European capital.
This could have been fun—this SHOULD have been fun—but it’s told in such a boring style that even adults would have trouble wanting to read on (it’s called a KIDS ONLY guidebook, which makes the style even worse). There’s hardly anything with the dog either. This just comes off as a lecture for someone who might be visiting, telling them where they might go, but not really inspiring them. If this were read aloud to kids, it wouldn’t SOUND like fun.
If it wasn’t for the photos I would have given up quickly. They’re great, but it just doesn’t read as well as others in the same vein. Ends with quizzes disguised as games.

Roaming with Rudy, Washington DC!
Quick sequel to the Paris book, with the same inherent problems.
“The Capitol dome is 288 feet high and made of cast iron painted to look like marble.” How many kids would know—or care—what cast iron is? Reminds me of the teacher in Africa who used the iceberg metaphor with kids who’d never heard of such a thing.
I have the same objections here that I did for the first one, basically that it’s told in a matter of fact textbook style that would likely be boring to kids.
Some games at the end, but they’re basically homework. Not much fun to be had here.


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