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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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