Book Reviews: Kid Stuff for the Kid in You

Great Cape o’ Colors: Capa De Colores
(English-Spanish with pronunciation guide)
This book contains just about every occupation that could possibly use a cloak or cape. It starts out strong but gradually becomes a bit silly or forced. By the time it gets to Little Red Riding Hood it’s exhausted all the ideas. Every page contains text in English and Spanish, with a pronunciation guide at the beginning. The artwork is basic and the grammar easy.
At the end there’s a color wheel, which is always fun. In all it’s probably a good time for little ones, even if it loses traction as it goes.
Just to add, there’s a link for extras online, but as of my reading there’s nothing on the publisher’s website on this book. Might be too new.

This Is a Taco!
There’s a squirrel named Taco. The narrator tries to teach you about squirrels, but Taco keeps interrupting, breaking the fourth and fifth wall in the process.
Yes, you run into trouble when you name animals by their favorite foods. Might work once, but not twice. By this logic, the hawk’s name should be Squirrel.
Most of the humor here revolves on either Taco not having a good contract lawyer, or the author/producers of the book ignoring the contract completely. It’s not that funny, but kids will probably find it hilarious and/or confusing. Possibly both.

My Favourite People
After the first page shows a group of people, the book goes on to describe the young protagonist’s favorites, starting with Aung Meg and ending with his parents. Everyone in the group photo—painting?—is featured, each for different reasons, from music to magic to soccer. It’s cute that there’s ethnic diversity in his family, and that one of his friends is a girl.
At the end there’s suggested activities.

Sid the Madeiran Wall Lizard
A lizard and his mouse buddy watch tourists do touristy things on the island of Madeira, which makes for an interesting change of perspective. He’s not bothered by their actions as long as they drip food for him and his girl lizard friend to buffet on. At the end he manages to accidentally do something he couldn’t earlier, so all the other lizards are impressed at his learning ability.
Rather than the usual bright illustrations, this book opts for a more nuanced color scheme, with an almost Impressionistic feel. There aren’t many of them, though; most of the book is written description, with some but not a lot of it in rhyme.
Overall it’s fun enough, though with more shades than most books made for this age group.

Chilly da Vinci
Chilly is a penguin with a knack for designing machines, like his last namesake. He’s got a ton of self-doubt, which is no surprise considering his contraptions are always failing. He’s also pretty clueless in the way of many scientists: “Why does he feel the need to throw sea junk at me? He’s wasting supplies.” It’s easy to tell because the story is told diary-style; the artwork adds to this by being in the color and style of an old yellowing journal. He’s got a loud doubter but also fans, as one young glasses-wearing penguin wants him to sign his flipper.
It’s a bit weird seeing all this technology, albeit steampunk-looking rather than modern, amongst the penguins and white Antarctic landscape.
“It’s official: my flying machines stink like rotten orca blubber in the midday sun.”
“My pullets didn’t pulley. My engine didn’t engine.”
My favorite of his inventions has to be the night-vision goggles.
This is listed as children’s fiction, but it feels like it’s reaching for an older audience.

The Enchanted Chest
Fisherman catches an unopenable chest in his net, but a guard sees it and confiscates it for the emperor, a foolish greedy power-hungry idiot. He can’t find anyone who can open it either, and gives lashes to those who fail. A lynx who can see through things is captured and brought to look into the chest, and gets some sweet revenge on the jerk, though I was expecting it to go much further.
The locksmith has a giant key as a necklace, which as a gigantic badge of office is pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, the magician has the most beautiful flowing red hair. . . and that’s about all I remember of the illustrations.
I can just hear kids asking, “Mommy, what does ‘ten lashes’ mean?” Good luck explaining that one.

50 Ways to Feel Happy: Fun activities and ideas to build your happiness skills
Did not know this small British book was geared toward kids until I turned the first page. It’s heavy on the arts and crafts, heavy as in tons. And if you aren’t sick of hearing about mindfulness yet, it pops up here too. Yep, they’re trying to teach that to children now, and not just mindfulness while eating or going for a walk, but to the point of feeling the toothpaste as you brush your teeth. I feel like it’s too early to get kids to think that way; let them be kids for a while! And that doesn’t seem like the best strategy to making them happy, as this book’s title suggests.
There’s a whole section on resilience, but even that’s about making bookmarks and such.

A Page in the Wind
If you weren’t paying attention, you would think this is a story about a baby. Instead it talks about a newly printed newspaper, but one with special powers, because it retains a central memory, as well as sensory abilities to know what each of its individual pages is seeing and feeling.
Some of the individual pages’ destinations were much more inglorious than others. There’s one point where it’s very hopeful about a woman, only to get sarcastic when things don’t work out the way it wants.
So, basically a journey through a city and all its various peoples, but also a journey through life.
The artwork, both the style and its subjects, seems very European, although the creators are from South America; if I had to choose an artist that this reminds me of, I’d pick Cezanne.

The Tiger’s Egg
A disgruntled tiger gets hit on the head, but loses his anger when he sees it’s an egg. Immediately he decides he’ll take care of it, then the bird which hatches from it. Eventually the little avian thinks it’s a tiger too, putting it in a dangerous situation that mirrors the opening page quite nicely.
This tiger is the old grumpy man—uncle, neighbor, etc—who secretly gives you candy when your mom’s not looking (not in a creepy way). Though it regrets letting the bird pretend to be something it’s not, he’s kind enough to let it lie till the next morning, allowing the small creature to bask in its victory. The tiger doesn’t want anyone to know about this quirk in his personality, never noticing the toucan and monkey are hanging above him, watching everything.
The artwork is rudimentary—wish the bird could have been done better—but otherwise serviceable.

Sloppy Takes the Plunge
From the cover alone you can tell how cute this is going to be.
For a fairy that wears rainboots, Dewdrop is big on hygiene, to the point she won’t give a requested hug to a muddy dragon. Sloppy refuses to clean up, but when it comes time to be brave for others, he steps up.
As expected, Dewdrop is the boss here, manipulating Sloppy every step of the way to get the job done. She doesn’t expect the last twist, of course, but that makes everything more fun. The dragon may have his name in the title, but it’s Dewdrop the fairy that steals the show.
Don’t have much to say about the artwork. Nothing stands out, but of course nothing wrong with it either.

Lulu Is A Rhinoceros
A bulldog tries to convince everyone that she’s actually a rhinoceros.
Nice rhyme of “Eek!” and “freak.”
Now we now we can get brain freeze by putting the ice cream on our nose too.
This book gives yet another reason to hate pigeons. Other birds are cool, though, especially when they remove insects from your not-so-tough hide. (Not referring to the reader, of course; your skin looks silky-smooth.)
Turns out the secret is in being correctly geographically located.
Sometimes the artwork looks like stained glass, other times crayon. It’s an interesting mix.

The Toucan Patrol
Small boy wants to earn his badge—or scarf—by camping overnight with the troupe, but things turn out to be a lot harder than he anticipates.
Why? Because nothing makes sense in this entire story. All kinds of creatures show up, then turn into something else, seemingly to teach him to be brave or believe in himself or something, but I can’t imagine any kid who reads this will think it was worth going through all that crap thrown at him.
I was never a Boy Sprout or any of those similar organizations—unless you count the Marine Corps—so I don’t know how true-to-life this is, but if it is I’m glad I wasn’t a part of it, because the other kids are so mean to him! The adults in charge do nothing about it, either. I can’t remember drill instructors being so harsh, and they get paid to be that way! If this was based on the author’s experience, I have no idea why he’d want to remember it, let alone celebrate it.
Bright and colorful, certainly nothing wrong with the artwork, but in a way that makes the story worse.

Tiny Fox and Great Boar: There
Tiny Fox lives under a tree, all alone and okay with that. A boar comes along and for a while things are fine, until Fox resents this intrusion into his home. But then Boar goes away and Fox realizes he misses his new friend. All these confusing emotions! Then a scarf gets stuck in the tree and teaches life lessons.
It’s definitely cute, and kids might learn something from it. “Worthwhile” would probably be a good word for it.
Simple watercolor art, nice but no big deal.

Caillou Tries New Foods
Unlike all the other books I’ve read in this series, this one has an agenda. It doesn’t want your kid to try new foods, it wants them to try new healthy foods. There’s even tips for how to accomplish this, including having Caillou accompany mom to the grocery store and helping with the cooking.
If only it was really that easy. . .

Caillou Takes the Train
As the title tells ya, the little boy and his family are taking a train trip. Since they’ll be on for two days and this series is Canadian, it’s an easy guess what route this will be.
This book really does a great job of making a train trip fun. Looking out the window as it starts to move does indeed make it seem like it’s the station that’s moving, and walking on a moving train can feel like being on an amusement park ride. The views from the dome car make you think you’re on a plane, and beds magically appear.
But what about the other forty hours. . .?

The Oceanic Times
Written not so much as a newspaper as the newsletter for a condo association, with sections, games, dating profiles, and even ads, it’s both funny and educational.
I love the music section, though I don’t know why they interviewed a blue whale instead of a humpback.
“Tears of the clownfish”. . . sometimes a good pun writes itself. “Seahorsing around” is another one.
In case you don’t believe truth is stranger than fiction, take a look at an anglerfish.



Book Reviews: Kids Read the Darnedest Things

Creature Files: Sharks
Right off we start with close-ups of the different kinds of teeth sharks can have, as well as the fact that when one falls off there’s always another in line waiting to take its place. Can’t help but picture the mechanism of a vending machine. . .
There’s a brief chapter of just about every shark imaginable, including the cookiecutter; and you thought the hammerhead and its buddy the saw were weirdos. And don’t even try to figure out the frilled. The wobbegong took a wrong turn on the evolutionary road; makes the goblin shark look like a tuna in comparison. But hey, Megamouth made the list!
Each page gives length, weight, and location, as well as a close-up terrifying photo.

The Ghost, The Owl
A dancing girl ghost appears in a swamp, to the consternation of the animals. The owl is the only one who talks to her, asking why she suddenly appeared. She’s confused as to why the owl wants to help her, only to find he’s a pay-it-forward type. A mystery revolves around a house in the woods and the free spirit who lives there.
Owl breaks the animal Prime Directive for a good cause, and must go before the “Parliament of Owls.” Funny. And it’s so cute that she calls the animals “Mr. Owl” and “Mr. Crow.” But it feels like there’s a missing part to this: what’s the bad guy’s motivation for wanting the land to such an extent?
The artwork is “heavy,” for lack of a better term, in that it fills the page and doesn’t allow your eyes any rest, but at the same time it looks light and fluffy.

Officer Pete
The main character’s hat is stolen, so he takes his K-9 partner and goes to find the thief, ignoring the secret mission his boss gave him, going as far as commandeering the chopper in search of what’s probably the cheapest part of a cop’s uniform. And did I mention all the cops—and everyone in town, really—look like kids?
While I get the story, it seems like his buddies put him through a lot of hardship and worry for what is really a small payoff. Most inquisitive kids would wonder why they would do something that, if looked at in black and white, seems so mean.
As you can tell, I didn’t really like it. There’s some good police procedural stuff—for kid level anyway—and the artwork is cute, but the main story was a fail for me.

Pip’s Big Hide-and-Seek-Book
It’s the biggest ever game of hide-and-seek, going all the way into outer space. Though the book doesn’t specifically say, you have to find all the hiding rats, which doesn’t look all that difficult, even for little kids.
Is that a smiling Darth Vader on the TV?

Alex and the Monsters: Here Comes Mr. Flat!
Kid who’s been slacking in class has to stay in his (messy) bedroom all weekend in order to catch up. While on punishment duty in the library he finds what appears to be a toy, only to have it turn into something else when he gets home to do his homework.
While his appearance certainly could be construed as monstrous—or cute, depending—Mr. Flat does not act like a monster.
“All these books that I found really boring are way more interesting that I thought.” And there’s your lesson.
This is done as prose with drawings; the dialog takes place in the artwork, which is very colorful, especially the pumpkin-colored monster. It took me till near the end of the book to realize Mr. Flat looks like a fat carrot.
Cute, but really not much to say. . .

Today I’ll Be a Unicorn
Unlike most of the Phoebe and her Unicorn books, this one is short and sweet. . . well, okay, they’re always sweet, but this one is really short. It feels more like one of the Sunday specials the strip is known for, though this one seems to be more geared for little kids.
Over the years I’ve been reading this strip, and its books, I’ve seen Phoebe dressed in all manners and styles, but even though the horn looks okay, the tail doesn’t work for me, just makes her too strange.
Excellent twist at the end, as the author is prone to doing.

Pearls for Pearl
A tiny mermaid is bored in the pet shop, so when a little girl comes in looking for a pet she turns on the charm and gets bought. She makes friends with an octopus and then is distracted by something shiny outside the tiny aquarium.
The cute artwork, especially the mermaid, will make this a hit, especially with little girls, but there isn’t much of a story here. Thankfully it’s too short to become boring, but other than her mode of transportation, not much takes place.

My Favorite Sport: Baseball
Rather than the usual kind of artwork, this book uses photographs to teach about, you guessed it, baseball.
It’s all matter-of-fact, even the quizzes. Even the glossary is incredibly simple. Definitely for younger kids, or possibly people from other countries who’ve never seen such a spectacle. Can’t imagine it took more than an hour to write, a little longer to find the photos. . . which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Red Dots
This is the second of the “Kika’s First Books” I’ve reviewed, from a popular Italian kids’ series celebrating its fortieth anniversary.
It’s actually a cute premise. The author shows a red dot in a certain place and then reveals what it is, a simple object that can be so many different things. Everything is done with the simplicity necessary for a small child to understand. It doesn’t try to be any more than that, which works.

Discover Dogs
Geared toward the very beginning readers, this simple book tells the basics about our canine friends, such as the different breeds.
Chihuahua: a small dog with a big bark. Perfect description!
Labradoodles are actually small Wookies.
Some dogs don’t do any work at all. Poor bulldog.
Truly basic, but all the better for the little ones.

The Swallows Return
Another in the series of Italian kids’ books celebrating their fortieth anniversary.
With very simple artwork and words, this tells the story of a swallow going home, literally. Not a mission in California, but an actual home, with friends in the garden where they can have a picnic. It’s even simpler than others by this same author, and that’s saying a lot.
At the same time I’m sure the tiny tots will love it.

Olga the Cloud Goes to the Party
Olga is a cloud. She and Ugo the Bird go to a party thrown by her friend the Moon. The sun, the stars, and a comet all show up, dressed fancy. Then they have cake.
And that’s it. No attempt at a story or anything else. The last page shows more books in the series, and I wonder if they’re all this simple. If it had done some astronomical teaching, at least, I could see the point, but there’s simply no substance. The artwork isn’t special enough to keep the attention of a curious little kid.

Little White Fish and His Daddy
All the sea animals are bragging about their daddies.
Some fit perfectly, others are a stretch, but if you want to teach your little one to be proud of Daddy, this is the book to do it.

Riley Knows He Can
A young boy gets a massive case of stage fright, in rhyme.
His sister gives him a charming pep talk.
He gets over it and he and his friends put on a great show at school.
Really hope kids don’t get bored by this, as there’s not much to it.


Book Reviews: Families, Animals, and Science for Kids

Herodotus the Hedgehog
Herodotus likes to go on nature walks, observing his fellow wildlife. He comes across a bear worshipping; for a moment I thought he would eat the offering, but luckily he moved on. . . or unluckily, as he comes across a fox and makes the cute ball thing hedgehogs do for protection. Even cuter is his dancing.
But his encounter with the bear and his talk with the fox, coupled with a visit to the local old wise hedgehog, leads him on a spiritual quest to hear all the animist—literally!—religions. Of course everyone thinks their god is better, until he meets a monotheistic animal, and then another shows up to argue, and. . . you can imagine. But in the end it takes a 180-degree twist from what I was expecting, so I liked it.
Drawings are rudimentary; some look like they’re done with chalk, but they come off as kinda cute.

The Fishing Lesson
A tourist sees a sleeping fisherman and wonders why he’s not out fishing. Taking him for lazy, he builds an elaborate fantasy of wealth. I knew where this was going, as this is a story I’ve heard before, albeit much simpler. That being said, most kids probably haven’t, and the illustrations of course add to it. The first one looks like something out of Escher, with orange fish, but after that they’re brightly colored.
In this world the click of a camera is a hostile sound, so as a photographer I take offense to that, but it’s still well done.

Stars and Planets. Mack’s World of Wonder
A book of very simple astronomy lessons. My fave is the moon chapter, described alternately as a pie and a banana. Each page ends in a simple question. After a thorough accounting of the features surrounding the earth, it moves to the rest of the solar system, followed by the whole universe and space travel.
Fave facts: Mars’ moons look like potatoes, and Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is bigger than Mercury and looks like a pizza. And here’s one I didn’t know: most of the moons around Uranus are named after Shakespeare characters, including Juliet and Miranda.
The coloring here is strange. Sometimes the outer space sky is white, other times orange. (Maybe the author—Mack—is Dutch!) One illustration shows the moon over Monument Valley, but other than that most of the artwork is relatively abstract.
This is actually excellent. It’s for kids, but I learned some things too.

Want to Know. The Bicycle
Even as a former cyclist I never knew there was so much to learn about bikes. Informative, though I doubt most kids would care about famous cyclists. Even shows how to fix a flat.
Liked this a lot. Well done.

Smallest kid in the family doesn’t know what an air show is when Dad says they should go. They try to explain about helicopters and jets and so on (then he trips over the dog). He doesn’t want to go because the descriptions make him think of monsters; guess no one had photos or the internet to show him.
There’s a great shot of him gazing skyward in wonder from the backseat of the car as they approach the show. Some of the aircraft are lovingly rendered, especially the fighters with animal faces painted on the front. There’s even an Osprey, everything done in bright watercolor.
I loved the helicopter pilot. It’s a short kids’ story, but she still stood out. The book was well told; it might have even been the author’s story of how he became a pilot.
As a bonus, there’s a list of airplanes featured throughout the book at the end.

Discover Ancient Egypt
With text explaining a photo, or a photo helping the text, this book expounds the latest theory on how the pyramids were built, then talks about mummies and sphinxes. It’s really simple, which makes it perfect for the age level it targets. I remember getting into Egyptology as a teen, but it would have come sooner if there’d been a book like this around.

Pandora’s Box
Told in rhyme, it’s the story of a female penguin who finds a box under the ice, then tries all manner of ways to open it. Everyone warns her not to, but once they see she’s not going to stop they help her. It’s kinda adorable, especially the whales and their useless fins.
Pandora is a great name for a penguin, especially one with a polka-dot bow on her head; she might be buddies with Minnie Mouse. She can also ice skate instead of waddling like her brethren and sistren, of which there are many.
That’s a surprised-looking fish in her mouth.
Mmmm, the jackhammer was a little too much. (Surely the fact that my neighbor is using one at this moment has nothing to do with that opinion.) Another annoyance is that the author admits the Northern Lights can’t happen at the south pole, but it would have been a lot easier just to say Southern Lights, which is a thing too.

Good for You, Ladybug
Apparently this is a series written forty years ago in Italian, so unfortunately it has nothing to do with Miraculous Ladybug. Instead it’s a little kids’ book about a fun-loving polka-dot bug who uses umbrellas, hats, giant spoons, and trumpets in her everyday life.
Of all the children’s books I’ve reviewed, this has to be the simplest yet. Whatever the youngest age a child can read and comprehend pictures is, this is the book for them. And that’s not putting it down in any way, in fact it’s kinda beautiful in its simplicity.

Hoppy’s Big City Adventure
Hoppy the Frog takes a nap in the middle of the pond, so of course a storm floats him off to the big city.
The first three pages are completely alike except for a different animal giving Hoppy the same warning about the storm. Did not like that; could have at least used different words. Smacks of laziness more than repetition for the sake of learning.
In one page the author used “Began to—” four times! Argh!
This is perfectly fine for kids, but in comparison to most other children’s books, this just isn’t as well written.

Hooray for Mommy
The little girl wonders what her mom does while she (kid) is at school, picturing her (mom) doing things she (kid) would do, like watch fish or getting ice cream. In reality she has a corporate-looking job, though she’s certainly no conventional mother, which looks like the point of the story: don’t be afraid to be different. In fact, the book starts out saying that some moms are perfect, though it’s not meant as a compliment.
Nice improv with the pirate hook hand.
Activities at the end include dressing up a drawing of yourself, selecting books, making a shopping list, and animal match-ups.

Hooray for Daddy
This book starts by stating that every daddy is different, and that’s a good thing. After that it shows things the kid likes doing with his dad. The most memorable is a funny shot of sad dad with his kite stuck in a tree while the kid laughs his ass off. At the end there’s activities such as drawing and going through a maze.
In general I preferred the Mommy book, which simply had more heart to it. Not that this one’s bad, but it’s inevitable when there’s two books in the same series to compare them.

My Mum the Police Officer
The title is pretty clear on what this is about.
I like that the kid says “The sun is still asleep.” Adorable. Also adorbs is grandma plays cops and robbers with him, and when the boy looks incredibly happy when Mom—I mean, Mum—calls, and I can’t help but notice it’s not on a cell phone.
Very diverse police force; even the K-9 unit is represented. Mom is shown doing traffic duty, and there’s a pigeon at her feet mimicking her arm motions. There’s a list of jobs police do, although I’m sure they’d rather not include paperwork. Even more so, the last job shown is cleaning the street with a broom; the union’s gonna have something to say about that. . .
The artwork is almost modern Impressionistic, with thick brush strokes. Beautiful in its own way.

Hooray for Grandpa
Boy hangs out with grandpa. Their entire relationship seems to consist of the kid saying something and grandpa listening, then offering some advice. They do some things together too, but not much compared to that dynamic.
Oh no! Gramps is one of those idiots who plays music full blast! Try to make him sympathetic after that! Even the cat laughs at his air-conducting.
Like the others in the series, there’s activities at the back. The first one’s the toughest, though the stringed instrument one is a trick question.
Overall I just got the feeling this one wasn’t quite as good as the others, but still acceptable.

A small bearlike creature is working on a construction site while teaching the young reader about moving dirt from one place to another.
I’ve said this before, but this might indeed be the most simplistic book ever, even if it is for kids. There’s one small line of dialogue on each page, describing what’s being shown, but in the fifteen pages of this book, it takes till page eleven for the scenery to change. Every one features the scoopy truck Diggy is using, without it changing position; other machines move around a bit behind it, but the truck stays there the whole time. Probably just me, but that smacks of laziness. That dropped my enjoyment of it, though of course a child would have a completely different point of view.

Sir Tim Wants a Dragon
Tim is a little kid who thinks he’s a knight. Told he can have a pet, he decides on a dragon, though his logic is faulty; knights kill dragons, not keep them as pets. Plus it’s really hard to find a dragon at the local pet store.
Mom looks amused throughout, except when mice enter the discussion, so that’s a plus.
Pretty lucky coincidence to end it, but a cute story overall.

The Captain’s Favourite Treasure
I appear to be in a nitpicky mood, as I can’t help but notice on the opening illustration that the main kid character is wearing a paper hat in a rainstorm.
Wow, whole families of pirates! And they’re all so polite! Captain Crank is actually Bluebeard, or maybe Tealbeard.
Um, which are the Jigs and which are the Saws?
Trying to put myself in the mindset of the kid, I would think he’d be pretty mad about going on such a wild goose chase. He might have enjoyed visiting all those places if he wasn’t so worried about finding the treasure.


Book Reviews: An Actual Dozen of Kid Stuff

If You Want to Fall Asleep
A little mouse can’t fall asleep, even with all the advice mom gives. He’s got plenty of make-believe characters to help—or hinder—his attempt, though the words rarely match the visuals.
Basically a paean to the power of imagination. Nothing particularly special about the artwork, but nothing wrong with it either; it does the job.

Fred Wants to Play
Fred’s fellow fishy friends don’t want to play with him when he’s really hyper, which he describes as having something bouncing around inside him. He tries to be cool, but can’t hold it in; must be hard to paint a frightened face on a tiny fish. He gets sent away and is sad. . . till he finds a new friend, of course, and they start a band.
Fred is an octopus—albeit an albino—so there’s plenty of underwater visuals. Some of the better ones are background events that have nothing to do with the story. I do wonder who made the sawfish the final authority, and what the sharks had to say about it.
On the down side, the text is tiny!

The Toad Who Loved Tea
Rhyming couplets set the scene for this kiddie romp, featuring a creature exactly as described in the title. But first we see how the toad brags about her adventures until challenged by a crow with the aim of a Cy Young winner, who then bullies the toad into going to a town full of—gasp—humans!
The Eeyore of this group is named MuddyBum. Awesome. The rest of them are as gullible and easily swayed as. . . well, humans. Tungtang is a bit of a sneak and doesn’t care about the havoc she causes. Other great names include Lord and Lady Lobsterpants and Brittanicus.
Best part was the on-point description of smoking, as well as the awesome town slogan: “The town where our smiles make up for the constant rain.”
Fun, and funny.

Harvey’s Hideout
A little muskrat is making a racket while building a raft, and his sister tells him to stop it so she can write a poem. They really don’t like each other, even after Daddy’s punishment. It takes loneliness to get them to stop with the bickering.
Wow, that first page is really brightly painted! The author is very specific about the decorations of the secret den, and the illustrator made sure the visuals matched, which might be the most fun part.
So treat your siblings well. . .

Time to Get Ready, Bunny!/¡Es la hora de alistarse, Conejito!
Simple paintings illustrate a bunny—who sleeps with a toy bunny, a little weird—doing everything but getting ready to go out—not wanting to get out of bed, dress correctly, eat breakfast, etc.—all in both English and Spanish.
Pretty simple all around. Not sure what this will do other than show children new ways to procrastinate, as I didn’t see any moral or lesson.

Let’s Hatch Chicks!
A chicken decides—yes, that’s the word used—she wants to become a momma. With more words than is usual for these kinds of stories, along with the requisite bright artwork, this book tells the story of how that happens.
The explanation of how some eggs become chicks and some don’t wasn’t well done; even I didn’t understand it. Here it’s a long process, with help from humans and other chickens. There’s also fun facts and such throughout, as well as descriptions of what’s going on, told outside the story. There’s even a day-by-day account of what’s happening inside the egg. There’s also a chapter on playing with the chicks, and not just for the kids.
It’s all matter-of-fact and definitely informative, but I don’t know how much fun kids would find this.

Emma Has a Dilemma!
Making quite a visual with blonde sausage curls, overalls, and a bratty face, Emma has a breakdown at getting an F over not knowing the difference between nouns and pronouns. By the looks of her stern parents, she has reason to fear. Luckily there’s a grammar fairy to teach her on a magical chalkboard, all done in rhyme.
This is the first book by a mother/daughter combo intent on a series about teaching grammar. It’s a little fanciful and the rhymes are sometimes forced, but overall it seems like a better way of learning this subject than the usual stodgy version.

Little Pierrot Vol. 2: Amongst the Stars
More of the same philosophical little boy who loves the moon and has a talking snail as a best friend. It’s almost a comic strip, but it’s a lot more metaphysical than outright funny.
Some highlights:
Who’s slower? A snail, or a kid dressed as a snail?
We’re all in agreement: everyone loves Emily.
A good point: werewolves and ghosts are phony, but talking snails exist?
Timing is everything when girls come to your bench at lunch. . . or when you’re fishing a sandwich out of the garbage.
Bagpipes make it rain!
The artwork is at times striking, somewhere between Impressionistic and watercolor, but always in muted earthtones.

Lily Pond
Rhyming couplets tell the story of Lily Pond, who is not a place but rather a frog. She likes to think about the future—jobs, marriage, kids, travel—on the eve of her eighth birthday.
The highlight of the text is an interesting manufactured rhyme for “twice.”
From the cover it’s easy to see how the artwork is going to be, and it’s fun. The clay models look strikingly 3-D even on paper or pixel. This book is worth it just for that.

Calling Dr. Zaza
A little girl plays doctor with her toys in what might be the most brightly colored book I’ve ever seen. She’s got the costume and all the accoutrements needed in the medical profession, like they’d been given to her for her birthday or something.
What I didn’t like was little Zaza going through the entire book without a single change of expression, like she’s just going through the motions and can’t wait to do something else. The artwork itself is colorful though broad, without much specificity. On the one hand that might be because it’s targeted for little kids, but on the other hand the subject matter might be more suitable for those a little bit older.

Celebrate with Zaza
One of Zaza’s toys is having a birthday, so it’s a perfect excuse to throw a party.
I’m confused: wouldn’t the present she got for the toy be considered regifting?
Unlike the previous book in this series I read, Zaza does appear to be smiling a few times. On the other hand, the colors are a lot more muted than that previous one.

Good Morning, Harry – Good Night, Daddy
In this story a little boy goes through life with mom, grandma, brother, and dog, while his father works as a conductor on an overnight train. They meet at the end of the book, in the morning.
Interesting rhymes. I found it strange that the kid just goes through life as though this situation was normal—probably doesn’t know any better—and not once does the story mention he’s missing his dad.
Bright enjoyable artwork, especially the first drawing, with a landscape full of birds and a setting sun, the characters tiny in the middle. It’s reversed at the end, with the sunrise, still as beautiful.


Book Reviews: Butcher’s Dozen of Kid Stuff

Yes, I just invented “butcher’s dozen” to mean eleven. Somebody had to. . .

Stinky Cecil in Mudslide Mayhem!
A new resident to the pond, a chameleon, is fresh from a pet store and doesn’t know anything, which Cecil finds annoying. More importantly, Cecil’s house gets flooded even though it’s no longer raining. You might be able to guess the reason before you see it.
Gophers being so industrious, it’s no surprise that particular animal has a boat. And a headlamp. And a fanny pack.
Cecil pretends to be smart, but he’d be a goner ten times over without his earthworm friend.
Hmmm, maybe Bigfoot is a giant beaver (not as random as it sounds).
A long sticky tongue IS easier than a fork, especially when you have no fingers.
So anyway, this is a story about cooperation and empathy, or lack of it. Cute and educational, with extra learning at the end.

Bubby’s Puddle Pond: A Tortuga’s Tale of the Desert
Bubby’s a turtle newly brought to a home in the desert, which despite the landscape has a pond. He makes easy friends with other animals, though I thought this story would be over before it started because the hose looked a lot like a snake!
In the space of a few pages three years take place, which is tough to understand. Other than that, it’s simple enough for little kids.
Last few pages are educational: facts on desert tortoises, including adoption rules, so on.

Caillou: Happy Holidays!
The adorable little scamp with seemingly hundreds of books/stories under his belt—without ever growing older—now takes on Christmas, with a special calendar that shows traditions from around the world.
Cheese pancakes in Austria? Never heard of them, but now I’m hungry.
His little sister takes regifting to a whole new level!
As always, these simple stories will be enjoyable for kids.

Caillou Plays Hockey
As always, I love it when a title tells you everything you need to know.
Though he looks tiny in comparison, Caillou is not afraid to play against bigger kids, who in a reversal of the trope are not mean to him. Of course it helps if he learns how to play first, so he practices with his dad and best friend, imagining scoring the game winner in some big competition, something all athletic competitive kids do, although he seems a bit young for it.
And that’s where it ends. No real finish to it.

Where is Bear Going?
A small bear goes on a quest and is joined by friends along the way, each stop adding another body part to what they’re going to see. Perhaps the point is for the child reading this to guess, but I couldn’t. Still, it’s cute enough for kids to enjoy.

Johnny’s the nicest being ever, but because he’s a big hairy spider everyone’s afraid of him (wow, the author KNOWS me!).
No real ending to the story, unless you count eating a whole cake by yourself. There’s a lesson here for readers, but the other characters in the story don’t get the chance to learn it.

Caillou Loves his Mommy
Despite all his toys, the little boy insists on his mom putting down her newspaper to play with him. But it’s during hide-n-seek that their relationship really shines.
The kid is as cute as always, but there’s less of a story here than usual. It’s really just a series of things he wants his mom to do with him. No lesson, either.

Caillou Loves his Daddy
In this edition, Caillou wants to be just like Daddy, making it different than Mommy’s story.
The first page has the cute little kid asking a question that sounds a lot like the birds and bees, but luckily Dad was smarter than that. After a glimpse through the photo album he wants to dress like Dad, work like Dad, and so on. Then Grampa shows up and makes things more interesting.
This was a lot more interesting than the Mommy volume, but still not as good as those with actual stories.

Caillou at the Sugar Shack
After the last couple of pedestrian entries in the series, this volume actually has a story, where the cute little kid goes to see how maple is harvested from trees. Once warm inside, they get to make yummy stuff out of their crop. This kid, and to a lesser extent his little sister, bring the cute to such levels that it’s almost sweeter than the syrup.
This, along with the hockey book, do the most to prove this series is set in Canada.

Discover Baby Animals
Pictures of baby animals highlight one fact about what they like to do. Some are more obvious than others. There are three different types of monkeys included. Guinea pigs are an interesting insertion.
The photos are so cute you hardly pay attention to the text, pandas and hedgehogs in particular. Rats not so much. Should get some really small kids interested.

Professor McNasty’s Collection of Slimes
Rhyming couplets tell the story of young siblings who want to buy some slime. They even take odd jobs from the lady next door to raise the money, the text proving how serious they are by including, “There’s no time for fun.” Unfortunately, like most things bought on the internet, some assembly is required. Even more importantly: read the friggin’ instructions!
Some people will appreciate the rhymes, others won’t. For me it made the story cuter, which is necessary when you’re battling slime, even in a comic context. The illustrations made it even more fun. I did find it annoying that Mom was most worried about her dress.


A Bit of Everything

The bigger half of the famous magic duo tells you how, among other things, he lost over 100 pounds in what is genuinely a small amount of time. Even after reading this it’s still hard to believe it happened, but at least he’s not claiming it was magic.
There’s a lot of repetition; he tried to make it funny, but I found myself skipping quite a bit. Same with his really long list of stuff he’s eaten. And in case you ever wondered if you would see recipes in a book written by Penn Jillette, here they are.
This was a tougher read than expected; there’s plenty that’s lighthearted, but even more that’s not. It’s no surprise to note that the humor is the main attraction here, despite the topic. But what really surprised me was that I didn’t read it in my head in his distinctive voice.

Aches and Gains
If you want to know why the author wrote this book, here’s his reason: “As a physician, nothing is more frustrating than watching your patients suffer and feeling like you can’t do anything about it.”
Amid long stories about celebrities like Patrick Swayze, JFK, and Elvis, used to illustrate particular chapters, there’s brief explanations about various illness and injuries, followed by several treatments, with emphasis on unconventional methods. Of course some chapters are going to be more important to each reader than others, so it’s easy to skip a few that you might have no interest in. For instance, when I was reading one of the chapters toward the end I was wondering if stem cells would be included, and a few pages later it was (and it turned out to be much more involved than a simple injection, and painful!). At the same time I passed over subchapters that featured diseases I’d never heard of and wasn’t likely to get. Because everything but the kitchen sink is included, it gets boring quickly. Listing every medicine doesn’t help. At this point it becomes more of a reference book in case it does become relevant to you.
There’s suggested further reading after each chapter, as well as episodes from the author’s podcast. I tried a few, but like this book it was long and rambling. I do have to say it got better as it went along. Though there’s still plenty that went over my head with the not-well-enough-explained medical terms, I did feel like I ended up grasping more than other such “for the masses” medical books. Maybe it was the word use, maybe it was the tone. Perhaps the experience he has from the podcast makes him seem more approachable here too. Still could have been better, though.

Cloudia & Rex
A strange graphic novel that doesn’t do a good job of explaining things. It goes from a quick intro about a human family moving to a new city straight into gods—particularly Death—and annihilation, with some Aztec warrior-looking creature as the bad guy, both powerful and psychologically slimy. But without any attempt at explaining, it lost me right away.
Thankfully it had plenty of funny moments. For instance, it’s not just looking at phones that causes car crashes; it’s trying to swipe them from your teenage daughter in the back seat too.
Best line: “We are trapped inside of a teenage girl.” Words no god ever wants to say.
Other winners: “I am quivering in irony.” And “Where the heck is my superhuman mom strength? I’m supposed to get braver and stronger when my child is missing!”
That is the least scary Death ever. Plushies of him would sell out.
The ending is so Wrath of Khan, but everything else is so confusing. Lots of color, plenty of humor, but I wish I hadn’t bothered trying to understand the story.

Rough Riders Volume 2: Riders on the Storm
When a secret cabal tries to take over the world in the late 1800s/early 1900s by fronting the anarchist movement, it takes someone like Theodore Roosevelt to gather an elite unit of famous/semi-famous commandos to stop them. And apparently it’s for the second time, though I haven’t read the first volume.
When a story starts right off with the assassination of McKinley, it’s normal to wonder if Teddy might be behind it. I didn’t know Jack Johnson; considering he was a boxer, that’s not surprising. All the other characters are familiar. . . well, not Monk. Some of the tech is steampunk, but the eye scanner goes way beyond that. (Ah, got it. Again, didn’t read the first volume.) Annie Oakley is drawn much more attractively than in real life, but then that was the usual in the early days of cinema.
I’m not going to give you the context to this, because it’s just as delicious. When Edison screams, “I’m a national treasure!” the only reply can be, “We should drop you (off the train) just for saying that.” Yep, this just plays into everything I hate about Edison. This is also why Tesla is more often featured in fiction. . . and why I loved the moment when he mistook the priest for an admirer. That goes double for the surprise villain at the end.
“You couldn’t handle this even if I came with directions.” Okay, I officially love this Annie Oakley, especially when she ogles the guys as they strip and still beats them swimming.
Totally unbelievable for so many reasons, but enjoyable.

Unicorn of Many Hats (Phoebe and Her Unicorn Series Book 7)
My fave unicorn—and that’s saying a lot—and her human sidekick are back quickly after a new original graphic novel not long ago. This volume doesn’t contain a whole story like that one, but does appear to be all-new material—none of them seem familiar to me from the daily strip, anyway—in, I’m guessing from the size of the panels, Sunday format.
I can’t believe someone as geeky as her dad complains about all electronic devices being the same shape. Will you ever see an apostrophe—rhyme!—riding a unicorn car again? But the best thing of all: we finally get to see Marigold’s house!
At this point there’s nothing much left to say. This is easily my favorite comic strip, and one of the best ones out there. Even though it isn’t a complete new story like the last one, it’s still the same ton of fun as the others.

Casey and Aon – A Cybersafety Chapter Book For Kids
Young geek gets a new robot that he has to train. The robot doesn’t know much yet, wondering what’s in the ketchup tube, for instance. But at least he cleans up his messes, even if he doesn’t know what a reflection is.
Once on the tablet the curious robot wants to check everything internet-y, with the kid stopping him and explaining why he shouldn’t, which is the gist of this book. The kid speaks well above his age, and some of his words will probably need explaining to the young readers, but the book does impart a good dose of caution that even a few adults could find of value.
Huge chunk at the end dedicated to glossary, discussion points, and so on.

Firefighters and What They Do
I do love it when a title tells you everything you need to know.
This book is mainly made up of drawings that show the equipment and how it’s used. Most kids probably don’t realize firefighters do more than just put out fires.
Ends with a little maze game.
Really simple, as in preschool, in fact it says it’s for toddlers, so believe them.

Take a Look. More Fun Together!
A bear is asked if he’s alone, and he looks to be, but turns out he isn’t, according to the words and then the next page. Same with a rabbit, and so on.
At first glance the artwork looks strange, with plenty of spaces that make the whole look uncentered. Turns out there’s a good reason for that, but I won’t spoil it. Some of the changes are pretty clever.
A fun timewaster for kids.

The Mutts Spring Diaries
Another volume about a dog and cat—with a lisp—who are best friends and do everything together. This one was more educational than the one I’d read before, especially when it comes to pet adoption, but I still find it hard to tell them apart.
To my groaning amusement, I really liked the snapping turtle pun
“Meow.” “What kind of accent was that?”
“Veni vidi oink.” Simple joke, but effective.
It sucks when you can’t get a song out of your head, doubly so if you’re a bird.
A lot of the Sphinx’s lines are old Benny Hill jokes.
These are very simple lines and drawings, which remind me of Peanuts in a way. There’s a cute innocence to these characters, like when the turtle is mistaken for a talking rock. The guard dog is not the biting type, but he can Riverdance.
My absolute favorite is the bird on a piano.


Book Reviews: Kids Like Animals

If 13 is a baker’s dozen, what’s 11?

Creature Files Reptiles: Come Face-To-Face With Twenty Dangerous Reptiles
This book is filled with photos of fearsome looking creatures full of fangs and claws, with small diagrams that show what part of the planet to find them, how big they get, and a fang file. There’s also a danger gauge, and even though the Gila monster’s spit is venomous, that only ranks a two. The undisputed winner is the black mamba.
I’m old enough to be surprised when I come across an animal I’ve never heard of, in this case the tuatara. Native to New Zealand, called a living dinosaur, luckily is a 0 on the danger gauge. The gharial I’ve seen, even if I’ve never heard the name. That long skinny snout is a dead giveaway.
Most astounding fact: the green anaconda can grow up to thirty feet! And a book like this can’t end without everyone’s favorite, the Komodo dragon.
But I would have given the leatherback turtle at least a one rather than a zero; those babies can bite!

Ultimate Expeditions Rain Forest Explorer
In 1924, a jungle explorer went into the Amazon, keeping a journal of the animals he encountered for a display at the museum that paid for his expedition.
Each page contains diary entries, a big photo of the animal in question, a few small ones, drawings, and fun facts, such as the jaguar having the strongest teeth of any cat.
The tapir always scores high on the weirdness scale, especially the fact they can hold their breath underwater for a good ten minutes. His encounter with a river dolphin is hilarious. And if you’ve ever wondered about Amazonian bats, they’re just as disgusting as any others.
Have to say, though, the photos, especially the dark ones, are too sharp to have been made with 1920s photographic technology. And some of the drawings have captions in small italics that are difficult to read.

The Girl Who Said Sorry
This is a book about teaching young girls to express themselves with confidence and without apology. The young protagonist here has to deal with people telling her she’s too girly, too boyish; too thin, don’t eat that cookie, all kinds of contradictions. Worst of all, she apologizes every time regardless of how ridiculous the dichotomy.
“You say sorry a lot!” So I said sorry.
The artwork is simple pencil sketches on a white background, until she has her epiphany. At that point it turns psychedelic, her words now coming in rhymes.
The funniest part was the bio, where, because she’s Canadian, the author admits she apologizes all the time.

Northstars Volume 1: Welcome to Snowville!
The appropriately named Polaris—at the North Pole—is the home of Santa Claus’s town, Snowville. His daughter, a cute redhead, is just as appropriately named Holly. She’s happy to have a princess visiting, though she’s not what she expected. After some getting-to-know-you they take off to the underworld with a little green guy and get mixed up a plot to take over Snowville.
Yetisburg Address? Wonder how many kids will catch that one. Grammar gets them past a dragon somehow. I like how there’s a little emoji face next to the dialog when the speaker isn’t pictured.
“Huh. That could’ve gone better.”
The moral is right to the point and very true.
The artwork doesn’t try to be realistic, but that’s okay. It has more of an old-school comic book feel, which isn’t much of a surprise since it seems to be targeted for younger kids.

The Anger Volcano
The first half basically runs through a bunch of metaphors for the topic, showing all the ways anger can manifest. Then come the solutions—like counting to ten, slow breaths, think of something else—followed by the results, hopefully. There’s a couple of repeats in there, or I guess reinforcement. Best part of it is that each page is done in triple rhyme, which proves very effective. Also helpful are the not-so-simple line drawings, which don’t try to overdo things and take attention away from the words.

Annabel and Cat
A story of friendship between a little girl and her cat. They put on plays, do arts and crafts; I can see a cat holding up a mustache to its face, but using scissors is too much. They also like to jump into piles of leaves, usually a dog activity, amongst many other adventures.
The prose is easy for little kids, as is the artwork. Can’t help but wonder, though, why this was done with a cat when a human best friend would have worked just as well, if not better.

Kit and Kaboodle
If there are two animals that really enjoy peanuts, it’s elephants and monkeys. So what happens when an elephant has a bag of yummies and won’t share?
If you go through the pages fast when the monkey’s juggling the dishes, it looks like a little movie. No matter what he does, and some of the attempts are pretty impressive, the elephant is not enthralled.
In the end the elephant did have a point, and the monkey’s revenge was kinda harsh. But yeah, they could have both done better.

Mi Gato, Mi Perro/ My Cat, My Dog
Told in both English and Spanish with a drawing in between, this tells the similarities between cats and dogs as seen by humans, though the cat might have different opinions. In the end they figure out how to coexist.
With its simple language and artwork, this is right in the wheelhouse of preschoolers.

My Favorite Animal: Dolphins
What are the odds that I open this book just as Flipper is on TV? (Seriously, that just happened!)
As it should be, the title tells you what you need to know. Told with plenty of lovely photos, and despite this being for children, I did learn some interesting facts about an animal I have studied thoroughly for years.
There are small tests given throughout with the answers in the back, along with a glossary.

The (Not) Sleepy Shark
Like the title says, Amelia the Shark is not sleepy, wandering around talking to her friends and doling out common-sense advice.
When the school of fish said they were hungry and the shark said, “I know the feeling,” I thought the next page might not be appropriate for kids, but luckily it didn’t go there.
Kind of a strange setting for a story, and I don’t know how educational it is, but in the end it was okay.

Superheroes Club
Lily wakes up happy to go to school, then promptly gets buried under a pile of clothes. She’s still happy, though, because she comes out of the pile fully dressed exactly as she wants to be. From there it moves to “What I did last summer” at school, and ends up with a bunch of her classmates helping her help others.
There’s a clever moment where the script is positioned to include the name on the dog’s collar.
I really liked the teacher, even if he was wearing a bowtie. He ends up getting wet.
The artwork is as bright and colorful as the message, like an 80s superhero cartoon, which just might be its inspiration. And I can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite musicians, Lindsey Stirling, when I see this little girl. . .