Book Reviews: Kiddie Football, Kites, and Dragons

My Favorite Sport: Football
Like all books in this series, it’s photos rather than drawings, along with some simple words for the kids, that show what this truly American sport is all about. The information is simplistic, as expected. As an introduction, it would be good for kids, and possibly for those unfamiliar with the game.

Benji and the Giant Kite
Benji loves the sky no matter what, but his favorite is kite sky. As expected, he loves kites as well, not only spending his entire allowance on them but even doing a type of layaway with his mom, weeding the garden.
There’s a line that says the kite floated into the air like a dandelion seed, which is as beautiful as any imagery you’re likely to find in a children’s book. Even better, though kids won’t know the reference: “he was the kite whisperer.”
He makes an interesting choice at the end, one which will have kids asking why and parents stumped for how to explain it.
There are times when I say that a children’s book uses words that are too big for kids, but this is definitely a case where I can easily picture parents reading this aloud while holding it up for the pictures, rather than a kid reading it by themselves.

Aquicorn Cove
Pastel cartoons show a little girl and her dad visiting her aunt, in a place by the shore after a big storm. In between helping the community rebuild, she finds a kinda seahorse/kinda not in the ocean and brings it home in a jar.
There’s an interlude that shows her mom died and Dad moved them to the city, where in almost anime-type illustrations she’s not happy having to dress up for school and doing a lot of things adults should be doing.
A flashback shows where the little creature comes from, and a lot more. At that point the story shows it’s an environmental fable, which is nice, but most people will enjoy the art most of all. Bright colors fill every page, even more so in the underwater scenes.
Kids will think it’s cute, but it’s more than that. Whether it’s taking care of a wounded animal, healing a coral reef, or helping people pick up the pieces of a storm-ravaged village, there’s inspiration for everyone.

A little girl’s grandma goes from joyful to joyless in the span of a page. The girl’s determined to catch some joy and take it to grandma, so she corrals a bunch of catching stuff and heads off to the local park, where everyone’s having a great time. But of course it’s not that easy. . . or is it?
Bright colors fill the pages, leaving little room for words.
It’s either a reminder to adults of the happiness kids can bring, or a primer for kids. Either way, it works.

Glow in the Dark: Voyage through Space
Huge drawings of astronomical subjects dominate the pages, with lots of small text interwoven. Each planet gets a page, with info like how they got their name, environment, and so on. The visuals are so huge you hardly notice the astronauts most of the time.
Some kids will enjoy the small info blurbs, but most are likely to stare at the drawings in fascination, mesmerized. I can easily picture these drawings selling as art pieces, maybe posters; they’re that awesome.
Note: as a real book this might glow in the dark, but the digital edition doesn’t.

The Night Dragon
There are five dragons in this world, but Maud is different than the others. In addition to having the coloration of a rainbow, she doesn’t breathe fire or fly. Because of this, the other four bully her. Maud’s only friend, a mouse, tries to cheer her up and cheerleader her up into the sky, but Maud has too much self-doubt.
Much like a unicorn, Maud burps rainbows.
This book attempts to build confidence and self-expression—with a possible touch of gay rights—in a way that will amuse kids, especially if they commiserate. The one strange thing is that, at the end, the other dragons don’t mend their ways or apologize, or anything. Maybe the book is trying to be different—or realistic—in that way as well, but the omission is curious.

Josephine Baker
As you might expect from the title, this is a small bio on the famous dancer, whom I’ve heard described as the Beyoncé of her time. That made me laugh, but I suppose it has its point. The line “legs made for dancing, dazzling smile, free spirit: the ingredients that made her a star” encapsulates this perfectly.
Interesting point made that in France people of all races intermingled without a problem, though I find that farfetched. Still, it had to be better than in the States at that time, so I won’t belabor the point.
The artwork is simplistic, and some of the poses look impossible, but it’s more than good enough for the target audience.
This is the third of this interesting series about great women I’ve read, and I can unequivocally say I’ve learned probably as much about some of these special people as the kids that’ll read this.

10 Reasons to Love … a Penguin
I love penguins, at least reading about or watching them on TV (They are the world’s worst smelling animal, though; seriously, don’t even get close), so I was looking forward to this, especially as I’d read the previous entry on lions. But some of these ten reasons are. . . unremarkable.
I was unaware there were so many types; the funniest names have to the macaroni, rockhopper, and chinstraps. And I hope there’s actually a reason for having both emperor and king penguins.
Penguins are strange yet cute enough animals to appeal to kids, so this one seems like a no-brainer.

Outside: Exploring Nature
The first illustration is a minimalist line drawing. The tree that follows has more detail, but there’s also an ethereal figure climbing it, which makes it a little spooky but quite interesting.
After that artsy start it settles into huge info dumps. There are entire pages full of leaf shapes, for instance, and another of seeds. I don’t know the age group targeted here, but I’d imagine it would take early teens, and then they’d already have to be interested in science and such, to get into all this. It feels like a science textbook at a performing arts high school.
Fun fact: cork protects its oak from fires, if the humans haven’t harvested it all for their wine bottles.
There are similar chapters on flowers, animals, rocks, and so on. There’s a special section on the platypus, which feels right.
From the mentions of the country, as well as the names of the author and illustrator, it’s pretty easy to tell this book originated in Portugal.
Fun fact: biologists howl too.
Some sections include homework assignments.

Code Your Own Adventure
I remember computer science class in college, which convinced me that coding was not for me. To see it being taught to kids is mindboggling, but apparently MIT has invented such a way that makes it simple enough. I might even try it. . .
On one page you get an adventure role-playing game—in the first case finding the lost golden city of the Amazon in the style of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft—while on the other side there’s a step-by-step process on how to code whatever the adventure tells you to. Similar games follow, such as knights, pirates, and astronauts.
The illustrations are pretty basic and broad, looking like the book is meant for kids too young to be working a computer.
The anaconda looks more scared of Maria than vice versa.
It’s possible kids may not have the patience to go through all those instructions. There has to be a genuine interest going in, rather than hoping this will capture that interest, because even though I wanted to learn, I got bored.

Grandad Mandela
Two kids ask their grandmother—daughter of Nelson Mandela—to tell them the story of the great man. Considering the perspective of coming from his family, and that it’s for kids, it’s far different than any other biography you’re likely to read. It’s perfect in its simplicity.
The artwork for some reason reminds me of Frida Kahlo, using a lot of different angles and color schemes, which some people will find innovative and others simply weird. There’s a funny visual where protesters are holding up placards, and the text of the story is on them.

Ranger Rick Kids’ Guide to Paddling
Plenty of photos with diagrams and a lot of text as a raccoon-like Ranger Rick (looks weird with a life vest on) shows up to explain everything you wanted to know about moving on the water as slow as possible.
The start is full of the ins and outs—mostly outs—of canoes, probably far more than any kid is gonna want to look at in one sitting. Kayaks get similar treatment, followed by paddleboards. After that come sections on gear, where to go, and what else there is to do.
At one point I thought this felt like a new-age textbook, and after that came the line, “Some (people) even practice yoga on (paddleboards).” So. . .

If My Moon Was Your Sun
Young boy breaks his grandpa out of the nursing home; another resident tags along, basically for comic relief. They go to a special place dear to Grandpa, where they talk about astronomy and what will happen once he forgets everything due to his illness.
The book alternates between full-page drawings done in sketchy yellow pastels and full-page text.
Best line: “Never in the history of escapes has there been a more laid-back getaway.”
If you’re a fan of Prokofiev and Bizet, there’s something special for you here.
The tale meanders as it tells about the love between these generations, but the moments that might explain to kids about memory loss and why it happens are few. As a story it works; as a lesson, not so much.

Mr. Pack Rat Really Wants That
Pack Rat thinks his home is too monochrome, and finds a magical magnet that’ll grab anything he wants if he chants a limerick. But he quickly finds flowers don’t last and has to hunt for more stuff. Same thing with the next stuff, and so on.
It’s educational, though I have no idea why a kid would need to know what a midden is. The point appears to be about happiness—or don’t be greedy—but I’m annoyed at the fact he emptied out the whole store without a thought of paying. Flowers and shells are one thing, but outright stealing sours this for me. The fact that he returned everything after his epiphany doesn’t change that. Even if you think I’m being too critical of a children’s book, imagine a parent having to explain the theft when a kid says, “Isn’t that a wrong thing to do?”

Golam: The Son of the Moon
A gladiator battle—between alchemists—leads to huge clunky info drops from the announcers. Nice way to start in general, but too much info to throw in so soon. And in the end the story isn’t about any of those characters after all, but rather a pickpocket in the stands.
“You can choose your destiny. . . dude.” Ugh, in a far-off kingdom full of magic, they still say “dude?” And when a horrifying demon says “Yikes!”. . .
That jaw gape at the Darth Vader revelation. . . too much, but still hilarious.
At the end the preppie gives an explanation of alchemy, which would have been welcome at the beginning.
Big colorful cartoonish art style; that’s not a bad thing. Can’t say the same for the story. This could have been great, but it’s basically too much too soon, going for long explanations and cheap laughs. At the end it says there’s going to a sequel, so maybe some of the info dumps could have been saved for that. As it was, all the stuff thrown at me lowered the overall quality.

The Music Box: Welcome to Pandorient
What started out as a cute, Alice in Wonderland premise turned completely creepy. . . then turned cute again. There’s an adorable little redhead. . . and then there’s two.
Her face when she says mom cured every owwie. . . heartfelt and sad.
Her little wave at the giant octopus. . . too much.
I’m not saying it’s better written, but I like this plot better than Alice: the three plucky kids working together to save a life.
The artwork is more vibrant than a lot I’ve seen recently, particularly the oranges.

Dynomike: Love Bug
Dynomike—a creature I can’t figure out but is apparently a dinosaur—wants to be in love, as told in easy rhyming stanzas. His Hawaiian-shirt wearing friend gives him The Love Bug. I won’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you it’s not an actual bug.
Pooper and duper are rhymed.
Definitely cute, and as simplistic as you’d want for kids. The animals are not drawn to each other’s scale—you can hug an elephant’s leg, but not the way it’s shown here—but since these animals walk and wear clothes and talk, I guess that doesn’t matter.


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