Book Reviews: Kids Read the Darnedest Things

Kahlo’s Koalas
On the one hand, this teaches the littlest ones to count to ten. On the other, it does so while showcasing various styles of art, with the famous painter’s name being alliterative with a particular animal, such as in the title. This gets weird in a hurry, as it starts with Picasso.
Most favorite: Monet’s mice.
Least favorite: Pollock’s poodles.
It’s a weird way to teach numbers, and I don’t know how effective it would be.
At the end are small bios of the artists, though if the reader is just starting basic numbers, there’s no way they’re gonna be able to read this, or care when it’s read to them.

AYA and PAPAYA Meet the Big Little Creatures
This time Aya’s overexcited about a friend visiting, to the point where she claims she can’t eat. . . but immediately does when told to. Don’t get the point of that one.
It’s nice to see the friend is a boy, with a doll of his own. They go outside, pretending to be brave, but definitely afraid. All the animals seemed bigger. Some of them splash the two, or four, which looks funny.
The artwork does show the animals as large, though it could be about perspective.
Her big brother shows her there’s no need to be afraid anymore.
I suppose this could be a story about not letting your imagination go crazy, but there’s nothing else here other than a silly little story.

My Mom Always Looks After Me So Much!
In this land of sentient animals, a simian boy is being taken to the doctor by mommy to get a shot. There are other things he’d rather be doing, and feels like Mom is smothering, making him do things he doesn’t want to. But when she takes him back to the doctor for more candy, he doesn’t mind that at all.
In the waiting room, there’s a rabbit with a pan or hammer on its head. Perhaps that guy’s more in need of a psychiatrist.
Pretty straightforward. The art style paints only what’s necessary, in broad strokes, so that it feels like something’s always missing.

Super Scientists: 40 inspiring icons
Like previous books in these series, particularly the Greek mythologicals and the music and soccer stars, there’s little cartoon icons of each scientist in the table of contents. You can see it trying to draw kids in, but it’s hard to take seriously.
The pages are chock full of small infographs, mostly anecdotes, and a larger version of the cartoon icon.
Happy to say I learned some things, and scientists I’d never heard of.
Archimedes is shown moving a lever with one finger. Funny.
Hypatia is even more my hero(ine) now after finding out some new facts.
Pattern: a lot of early scientists had scientist parents. Then you get Kepler, whose father was a mercenary and mother was burned as a witch.
“Michael Faraday, the Electromaniac!” I think he would have liked that.
Ends with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is an interesting inclusion, as it says he’s famous for popularizing science rather than for a discovery or such. In that case, Carl Sagan should have been included as well.

Rosa Parks
This is a strange little history.
It’s good in that it goes back to her childhood, which I don’t remember ever seeing before. But the famous incident in which she refused to move to the back of the bus, while present, is glossed over. It merely shows her refusing to give up the seat, but nothing of what happened after. From there it merely says she worked for change.
Can’t recommend it if the whole point isn’t important enough to explain, especially for those who’ve never heard of it.

Ella Fitzgerald
“Ella never sang a song the same way twice.”
According to this, Ella ran away from home when she was really young, because she didn’t like her strict school. I guess it’s not important to the story, but I would have liked to see how a little girl managed, not so much money-wise, as we see her singing on the street for tips, but how she procured the place where she’s seen sleeping, etc.
I’ve read a lot of these little books, and I have to say they’re getting worse. Even though they’re meant to be read by kids, they should still have a more logical structure. It feels like a lot of random facts are tossed in without continuity.

Emmeline Pankhurst
This lady is not as famous as most in this series. I didn’t know who she was, and it takes to about halfway through the book to be told she was a suffragette.
“Deeds, not words.” One of my favorite sayings.
This one’s a little better than some of the recent ones, but still light on facts and structure. A return to the style and substance of the first few volumes would be welcome.

The Woolly Monkey Mysteries
Subtitled “The Quest to Save A Rain Forest Species.”
Through photos, diagrams, and descriptions, the efforts of scientists to protect the animals of the title in the Peruvian part of the Amazon cloud forest are documented.
Never expected to find a lecture on camera traps and nature photography! That alone made this read worth it. In fact, I found it interesting enough that I checked out the links in back to see such photos.
I’m not that familiar with reading ages, but I suspect this skews a little older than most children’s books, probably around junior high. The call to action at the end supports this theory. On the other hand, the glossary entry for DNA doesn’t make things any easier.

Bright Start – A Thank You Walk
Mom and little girl take dog for a walk. Everywhere they go they encounter someone or something that’s grateful, from the birds to a horse to a beetle.
It’s a little heavy-handed, but I doubt a kid small enough to be interested in this will notice.
Orange is the only color used other than black and white, which is strange—even the dog’s tongue is orange—but considering it’s my favorite I’m okay with it. Whether the kid reading this minds. . . you’ll have to ask them.

Bright Start – Feel Better Daddy
A little girl feels bad her dad is sick, so she dons his glasses and tie, grabs his briefcase, and says she’ll be the daddy today. Food, reading and other things are offered to make him feel better.
The characters have small bodies with big heads, and are basically sketches done in black, white, and orange, which is really interesting to me, because orange is my favorite color.
If there’s a reason for this book to have been written, it’s so kids will learn to give parents a break.
All in all, it’s just cute.

My Favorite Machine: Concrete Mixers
Large photos with small captions tell kids everything they wanted to know about concrete mixers. . . probably more.
It’s all done rather dryly—no pun—and I wonder how long the reader is going to be interested in things like the ingredients to make concrete. Probably not long enough to answer the quizzes.
I’d imagine every time a kid comes across a mixer after reading this. . . be patient, mom.

I Smile For Grandpa
A far-too-understanding kid plays with his grandpa, who has the beginnings of dementia.
I like that the fact Dad has to come along now on their walks is mentioned. Being without grandpa, for example when camping, is sad, but then the memories make him glad, which seems to be the point.
Lots of extra stuff in the back to talk about with the young reader.

That’s for Babies
Taking a cue from Toy Story, amongst others, a little girl thinks she’s all grown up and doesn’t need her toys anymore. Fortunately she wises up.
She’s really got the ego going when she says no to any kind of pancakes. And how can she think ice cream cones are for babies? Does that make me a baby? (Don’t answer that.)
The artwork is cute, but the story gets a bit silly.

Simple rhyming couplets tell the story of a rabbit who somehow manages to capture three wishes, though the whole process of that is not described. Lucky rabbit goes off to ask his friends what they would wish for, though he gets such specific answers that none of it applies to him. What he ends up doing. . . well, you could see it coming a mile away.
I wish I could give this higher marks, especially because I believe kids would like and learn from this. But the ending feels like a TV episode where the protagonists lose, only to be reprieved at the last moment by a ridiculous dues ex machina, which takes away anything that might have been learned before it.
The artwork has a vaguely 3D feel to it, though not too much. Most of it is pastel landscapes that are pleasing, if you notice them while reading the text.

The Cave
A small creature of indeterminate species is holed up in a cave, while a blue wolf tries to persuade it to come out. In the end it’s a lesson on not jumping to conclusions, which you’ll realize when you hit the Twilight Zone-like twist.
When the creature said it was hungry, right after the lightning hit the wolf, I thought for sure it was going to eat the wolf. Dark turn for a kid’s story, but it turned out okay. . . well, not so great for the wolf, but at least it’s still alive.

Maria Montessori
A scrappy little girl loves to learn, but not the way the boring teachers do it. She goes on to become a doctor, but when she’s put in charge of kids who can’t seem to learn, she comes up with a system that works, though at first it seems to consist of letting the kids do it themselves.
I’ve read most of the entries in this series, but this is only the second one where the person was unknown to me (ironically, I can’t remember who the first one was). Maybe that made it a little better, as this lady’s story is indeed inspiring.

The Story of People: A first book about humankind
As the title states, this is the history of how humans came to be and evolved into what we are today.
You can tell this is for kids when it starts with “A gigantic rock crashed into our planet” instead of “asteroid.”
I love that the handprints from the Lascaux cave are shown here. I also like that it doesn’t shy away from the history of religion, and uses BCE and CE instead of BC and AD. It also describes the Americas after the Europeans arrived as “stolen lands,” and doesn’t mince words telling the story of slavery.
It’s simple, especially the artwork, but it works. Many adults would benefit from this just as much as kids.

Ada Lovelace
A small history, intended for kids, of the famous mathematician.
Immediately I laugh on the first page, when it says her father “liked” poetry.
The thought bubbles are a little silly, both by what they contain and the fact the animals have them too.
The ending was a bit simplistic, but basically accurate.

Read to Your Baby Every Day: 30 classic nursery rhymes to read aloud
Nursery rhyme lyrics are enhanced by a work of art—apparently embroidery done by the author—to be read, or more likely sung, to babies.
It’s funny that the original version of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” contains words like “jumper” and “frock.” Definitely not written by an American. Similarly, what’s an “Itsy Wincy Spider?”
In “Hush, Little Baby,” it takes way too long to get to the good gifts. Can we just skip over to Rover from the start? I’m okay with him not barking.
The ship might have pretty things for baby and me, but it’s powered by slave mice. Just say no to pretty things.
Yeah, don’t sing “The Owl and the Pussycat” out loud.
Here’s a problem: what if you don’t know the song? How can you sing it?
Forget old Mother Hubbard; it was her dog that stole the show! Talk about playing dead! And playing the flute. And riding a goat. . . but how could it feed the cat when the cupboards were bare? (Oh yeah, she went to the market. Never mind.) With all the things the dog could do, I’m surprised all it could say was “Bowwow.”

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women
A list of things invented by women, featuring stylized and pretty impressive artwork.
Right from the start, with the invention of the car heater, it makes me laugh; you can really see the distress of the shivering woman. Same with the dog.
Some might say that inventing dental floss trumps disposable nappies, but I guess that’s only people who don’t have kids.
Coolest invention had to be Kevlar. Or the periscope.
Sea flares and life rafts invented by different women. Add the periscope, and it seems like women rule the seas.


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