Wow, this is a pretty dark premise for a children’s book: a kid with superpowers can’t use them because he’s cross-eyed and gets motion sickness, which is definitely worse than not having superpowers at all. And then an old has-been superhero enlists—blackmails—him to help deal with his archnemesis.
Some of the more interesting points:
“Fine, whatever. You hired me for my directorial experience, but you don’t listen to me. Don’t blame me when you don’t get any views on You Tube!” Henchmen have sure come a long way.
The blonde kissing the startled raccoon. . . on the lips. . .
Saw that last cross-eyed laser shot coming. . . but not the very last twist, which was inspired.
But there just wasn’t enough here to keep my interest. Seems like they go through every possible situation from comics and movies in pursuit of. . . halfway through I couldn’t remember what/who they were after. Can’t shake the feeling this could have been better, or at least more concise. The good moments were not enough to offset all the filler.
My Wounded Island
In a story originally in French. a little girl—I’m guessing Inuit, since the island is close to Alaska—is scared of a monster that is forcing her family to move further inland by raising the water level around their island. It’s an invisible creature, though its outline is in the shape of a giant jellyfish.
This book might introduce you to a new term: climate refugees. You can’t help but feel the heartbreak in her words as she tells us the monster is forcing them out of their homes, and giving her nightmares. As a metaphor for what the world’s going through today it’s very effective, and the pastels are lovely in an impressionistic sorta way.
A Bear’s Life
One of those books where the title, as simple as it is, tells you all you need to know.
It starts with a beautiful photo of a forested island. The text is straightforward and easy to understand. “Cubs want to play, just like you.” Good to see the author highlighting the similarities so that kids will be more disposed to helping nature. Another such occurrence was the “eating barnacles like popcorn” bit; humorous to read, but I wouldn’t want to see it.
White ursines are called spirit bears, which is of course appropriate because they do look a little spooky. Of course there has to be a story where Raven—the Trickster—has a hand in turning some bears white.
The photos are exquisite, though that’s to be expected in such a place as uninhabited northern British Columbia. I had to smile when I saw some of the close-ups were taken from above, so either the photographer was in a plane/chopper or using a drone. There’s also a perfect action shot of a bear catching a fish.
Simple storytelling, with the photos the main draw.
A Message for Grandma
In the 1890s three branches of the same family share a farm, with each having double-digit children; that’s a lot of cousins! Grandma also lives on the farm, one of the original immigrants who never learned to speak English, whereas the third generation Alice—the little protagonist—belongs to doesn’t speak German. Alice is tasked with going to Grandma’s house to get some flour—not borrow it, as it says in the book—but has to memorize how to say it in German. The verbal contortions she gets into trying to remember the phrase as she travels the roads and paths are hilarious, especially when the goose chases her and she screams, “Can’t nip my bottom!”
Though it’s mostly text, there are some beautiful high-tone barely-there paintings, mostly farm scenes. It’s a sweet story, funnier than expected, but I have to mention that even though I don’t know much German, I do know “I love you,” and the pronunciation given is wrong.
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
Before the Selma Hayek movie came out, you’d have to be a huge student of art to know who Frida Kahlo was. Now she’s pretty much as famous as her husband Diego Rivera, if not more so. This book takes the young reader through Frida’s early life, where the animals in her menagerie were her best friends. Each animal is compared to her, both physically and mentally/emotionally.
You don’t associate the word “cute” with Frida, but these childhood stories certainly belie that. (And yes, the unibrow is faithfully recreated.) My fave moment is her breathing on the window so she could doodle on it.
It’s easy to miss, but on the page where Frida is painting in bed, you can see an artificial leg standing there, waiting to be used.
Recently I saw an art exhibit where she was referred to as the Queen of Selfies. The artwork in this book is nowhere near realistic, but then Frida’s wasn’t either. Interesting that she started her artistic career as a photo colorist for her dad. More than anything, I have to say I was amazed to discover her paintings have been in the Louvre.
The Tea Dragon Society
A little girl who wants to learn blacksmithing from her mom finds an injured tea dragon; it doesn’t take long to figure out what that is. Her father knows who it belongs to, and when she takes it back she finds something else she loves as much as blacksmithing.
The girl is a goblin, according to an aside from her mom. The tea dragons don’t look like usual dragons, more like tiny unicorns without the horns. Minette. . . can’t tell what she is, with her tail and hooves—maybe a deer—but she’s really cute, and she has my fave dragon, Chamomile.
“This is kinda relaxing, when they’re not trying to bite your fingers off.” That leads the normally placid teashop owner to snark, “That should have been our slogan.”
Sweet kids, good people, and one bad giant dragon, all there to tell you that memories matter.
The artwork is almost child-like, though with great skill.
Ten pages from the Tea Dragon Handbook to end it.
Little Pierrot V.1: Get The Moon
There’s no actual narrative here; each page is its own story, like a comic strip. But basically it revolves around a kid with a huge imagination who wants to go into space and explore the stars. There’s also a talking snail who’s like a snobby unappreciative guru, almost an evil Mr. Miyagi or Yoda.
It’s hard to get a sense of this. Some pages are philosophical, some are funny, some try to be funny but don’t make it. Just a kid with his snail going through life, or trying to. Nothing to grasp, and the earth-tone artwork doesn’t help. Except when he dresses as Batman or an astronaut—complete with Chucky T’s—the clothing is remarkably drab.
Wow, those kids are extremely studious; all except the protagonist paying attention to their work in class. The physics lessons are both funny and painful.
Right away before the story starts there’s a double page of kids walking a row, and they are drawn extremely cute. But that’s the highlight of the visuals. Worse, the font is not easy to read; there’s one page where I couldn’t make out the last word and missed the punchline.
The Little Red Wolf
In a classic switch, or perhaps better said a reversal of roles, the Little Red Wolf is actually Little Red Riding Hood, and humans are the wolves. He’s charged with taking a rabbit to his toothless grandmother, but of course gets distracted. Not only does he get lost, he eats grandma’s dinner. A human girl finds him and leads him out of the woods, but not all is as it seems. Like most wars, each side has their own version of the truth.
The story is intriguing, but the overly stylized artwork—all lines and sharp angles, maybe a Navaho influence—is strange enough to distract from the story.
Merry Christmas, Little Hoo!
On Christmas Eve the little owl hears noises and instantly assumes they’re associated with Santa—the sleigh, the reindeer, so on—only to find it’s something more mundane. It’s all very cute and brings memories of gift anticipation.
The last page contains a surprise, but other than that there’s no real payoff to the story. He just goes to sleep and misses all the fun. Kind of a letdown.
The artwork is bright and blocky.
My Nana and Me
A little girl spends a day with her grandmother, through tea parties, hide and seek, hairstyling, bath time, and bedtime reading. Feels like a lot of this comes from the author’s personal experiences, which makes it all the sweeter.
The artwork is kinda beige and purposefully a little out of focus, but it makes for a bit of a dreamy quality.
Nonnie and I
A little girl in Africa confesses to her best friend—who just happens to be a giraffe—that she’s feeling anxious about the first day of school. Enjoying that last day of freedom, they wander—with the little girl on Nonnie’s back, which I didn’t think was possible—taking in the rest of the wildlife, especially the grinning meerkats. The next day at school she makes a new friend, and so does Nonnie.
Except for the giraffe not talking, this reminds me of the comic strip “Phoebe and Her Unicorn.” It’s sweet.
The artwork is nothing spectacular, kinda rudimentary, but I like how the colors are accurate, at least to how the animals are usually portrayed.
Petunia, the Girl who was NOT a Princess
The title already has me loving this. Yes, she’s adamant about not being a princess, even though she’s lonely being the only tomboy in town. Then another girl moves in who completely dresses like a princess, but has the heart of a tomboy (though I’m suspicious of how her dress never gets dirty, even in the mud). So Petunia—neither a princess nor a tomboy name—learns not to judge as well as try new things.
Nothing spectacular in the art work, but then it’s better that it doesn’t stand out.
Pop Pop and Me and a Recipe
A little boy has fun in the kitchen with his grandpa; they’re having a fantastic time, according to the drawings. Never realized there were so many things you could do with utensils and the ingredients themselves.
The best part is the rhymes, though some are forced. This is one of those books meant to be read out loud.
The artwork leans toward the magical, with seemingly every inch filled.
There’s a recipe at the end.
Two kids dressed in stereotypical jungle gear, complete with those annoyingly uncomfortable pith helmets, go out to photograph wild animals. Turns out they’re going to the zoo rather than on safari, but for a kid I guess it’s pretty much the same thing.
There are some really good rhymes, and others not so much. Similarly, some of the stanzas are perfectly in rhythm and others are not. The one thing I most love is that they’re siblings of different races, and nothing is said about it.
The artwork is totally cartoon, with bold colors. Feels like meerkats are in every book I read these days.
The Children at the Playground
Kids play at the park and make sound effects. The book’s PR says this is set to the “Wheels on the Bus” song, so there’s a lot of repetition, especially of the noises; every stanza follows a pattern with the sound effect repeated so much it takes up half of the lines. At first it feels like a learning song, but after a while it smacks more of a lack of creativity.
The artwork is the most rudimentary I’ve seen, but that doesn’t make any difference.
The Dream Dragon
As the title states, the dragon appears when the little boy’s asleep, and is jealous of all other dreams, chasing them away. But then he’s beat, and then that dream gets beat, and so on. Luckily the dragon found someone else’s dream to inhabit.
The PR claims the dragon chases away the nightmares, but it’s clearly stated that he doesn’t stand for nice dreams either. His replacement isn’t any better, as well as being much scarier. I’ve probably missed the point of this, or perhaps there is no point and it’s just a book of drawings to get a kid to go to sleep, though it might have the opposite effect if kids think they’re going to encounter some of these dreams when they close their eyes.
There’s a Dog on the Dining Room Table
A cute little pigtailed redhead is shocked to see. . . well, the title spells it out. She has no idea how the dog got there, and wonders what to do with it: give it a meal, a bath, a poker game, a flamenco dance? The answer is much simpler than she could have imagined, if she’d just looked up earlier.
Cute story, with the rhymes executed perfectly. The artwork is pretty standard, but at least it’s humorous. The little girl’s expressions are particularly well drawn.
The Backup Bunny
This story is narrated by Fluffy, who explains that when Max’s stuffed bunny is no longer available, he steps in and fills the spot, adding that it’s that simple. . . except it isn’t.
It’s kinda heartbreaking to see Fluffy go splat on the floor, even more so than the rejection; yes, he’s just a stuffed bunny, but because he’s the narrator it feels like he’s alive.
According to one of the panels, sometimes you gotta fall in the mud to get some respect. . . though I wouldn’t recommend actually trying that.
Just when you think everyone’s got their happy ending. . . plot twist and cliffhanger!
Where Is My Coat? Farm Animals
A sequel to Jungle Animals, this one figures to be more familiar, and probably less exciting because of it. Like the first one, there’s black silhouettes and the reader has to figure out what animal it is.
It’s only 12 pages, and not all of them are story. It’s over in a flash, and if the kids like it they’ll instantly want more.
You Hold Me Up
The entire book consists of different ways a person can hold another up: being kind, sharing, so on. It is the simplest of the simple, and therefore should appeal to small children; its simplicity is what makes it so appealing.
The artwork barely approaches rudimentary—the cheek spots are particularly distracting—but I suppose it doesn’t matter.