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.


Book Reviews: Kids Are

The Boy and the Egg
In what looks like a European town, a boy finds an egg and takes it home, wondering what will come out of it. It ends up being nothing he could have imagined.
Cute story, with a good twist. Nicely drawn, though nothing here really stands out.

Cody Eats Everything
Cody’s a dog that’ll eat everything, including rocks. And poop.
This isn’t really a story, just a list of what this crazy dog will eat. Might have been shorter to list what he doesn’t, if anything. This is for really little ones to learn to read, with easy words and plenty of repetition. Simply drawn as well.

Happy Easter Little Hoo
The little owl is looking for Easter eggs. There’s plenty to find, most of them easy, so play along.
This is more like a hidden thing game book than a story. Nice for what it is.

Kat Makes
Kat makes food, architecture, art, slime, and a lot of other things. As you might imagine, she’s not the cleanest kid ever.
Like others in this series, it’s not an actual story, just a list of the things Kat makes. Of course there’s a lot of repetition. Once you’re okay with the fact that this book is designed to teach really little ones to read, then it can be enjoyed for what it’s worth.

Little Hoo Has the Flu
Disclaimer: I had a cold when I read this, but not the flu.
As the title screams, the little owl is sick. His mom takes care of him. His friends come over to play, find out they can’t, and return later with gifts and get-well cards. Hoo feels better.
The first shot shows Hoo sick in bed, but smiling. . . no. Has this author never had the flu? Maybe this is done to make little readers feel better when they’re sick, but it seems dishonest.
Funny how he has a huge red spot in the middle of his face, like a runny nose, but there’s no nose to be seen.
At the end you can make and print out your own get-well card.

Mole Goes to the Beach
Amidst large drawings and a smiling sun, Mole does all kinds of beach-related activities.
There’s no actual story here, just a list of things the animal in question likes to do when near the ocean.
I wonder if it ever crossed the author’s mind that a mole, unlike a dog or cat, would be an unfamiliar animal to the tykes reading this. “Mommy, what’s a mole?” There’s nothing explaining what an actual mole is like, because most of them don’t go to the beach.

Monsters Move
Monsters do a lot of things, usually in rhyme, including mixing and grooving and making noise. And let’s not forget feather tickling and farting.
Like others in this series, it’s not an actual story, just a list of the ways in which monsters move. Of course there’s a lot of repetition. Once you’re okay with the fact that this book is designed to teach really little ones to read, then it can be enjoyed for what it’s worth.

My Favorite Pet: Mice
Photos of the animal in question fill this book, with a little bit of text to go along. They sleep, eat, and clean themselves a lot. Their environment, food preferences, and the like are all shown.
Both the reading and the quizzes are appropriately easy for the target age level. In fact, the quizzes might be too easy.

My Favorite Sport: Tennis
Photos backed with a little text explain all the rules and nuances of the game to kids.
Some of the captions are simple enough, while others go into more detail, like teaching how to serve. There are some quizzes that aren’t that hard, as long as the reader is paying attention. There’s one caption that uses the word “practice” four times, which makes it difficult to read.
There is one error: when explaining “deuce,” it says the next player to win two points in a row wins the game, but that’s not necessarily true.
There’s one shot at the end of a smiling kid who looks about the same size as the racket he’s holding. It’s really cute.

BigFoot Goes on Big City Adventures
Find out about 10 cities around the world—don’t know how Mayapan in Mexico made the cut—and then search for the elusive BigFoot in the same way you would for Waldo.
Biggie is incredibly difficult to find, but at least he’s always in his famous pose, which helps a little. It’s also good that he’s always in context, unlike the koalas on top of the Sydney Opera House. What doesn’t help is the art style, which is watercolory/Impressionistic, sometimes not sharp enough for details. The rampant unicorns were easier to find, as were just about every other thing except the footprints. Some of the objects were a little silly, though, like the presidential pens. I eventually had to zoom in quite a bit to find him. For those with the physical version, hope you’ve got glasses or a magnifier, but now that you know what you’re getting into, it’s nothing but fun.
Some of the factoids explain what are simple concepts, so this book seems to be targeted for kids, even if it claims all ages.

My Daddy and Me
A small cute list of things kids like to do with the masculine parental unit, with different animals playing the parts, shown in big cartoony art. Designed for beginning readers, it’s meant to get the child thinking about their own experiences with Daddy. It’s sweet.
Somehow it seems very wrong to see alligators wearing clothes. . .
The “buy me” page at the end mentions something about how the pages can be folded to reveal new images, like the old MAD magazines, but it obviously doesn’t work on digital.

My Mommy and Me
As expected, this follows the exact same format as the Daddy edition, a list of things certain animal kids like to do with the feminine parental unit, shown in big cartoony art.
Designed for beginning readers, it’s meant to get the child thinking about their own experiences with Mommy. It’s sweet.
Tigers love new shoes.
The “buy me” page at the end mentions something about how the pages can be folded to reveal new images, like the old MAD magazines, but it obviously doesn’t work on digital.

What a Nice Car!
A mouse supposedly “finds” a car and takes off in it to find the owner. Along the way he meets up with a zoo’s worth of different animals, all of whom join him in this supposedly honorable quest.
There’s no mention that the best place to find a car’s owner is right where the car was found. The owner’s probably wondering what happened to it as they drive it further and further away.
The text is the same for every page, which no doubt works for a kid learning to read but will likely bore everyone else. Surprisingly, everyone lives happily ever after, watching the sunset.
The artwork looks a lot more minimal than most.

AYA and PAPAYA Find Happiness
It takes about half the book and a look in the mirror for Aya to realize what’s wrong with her. It seems rather obvious, though, and doesn’t explain why. She and her dolly go looking for happiness in some strange places.
Sneaky little message of empowerment.
The artwork is almost 3-D, with some of the characters drawn like those in Song of the Sea, especially the mom. There’s a cute shot of the dynamic duo upside-down while looking under the bed.


Book Reviews: I Lied Last Time

Last week I mentioned it would be the last book review of the year, but turns out there’s enough for one last—really this time, last—one. Honest.

A genius Indian version of Sherlock Holmes visits the eastern United States with his wife and brother-in-law. They find themselves embroiled in a terrorist plot while on a bus tour.
The narrator is not the protagonist, but rather the brother in law, who is cast as Watson. The wife is left to worry at home.
There’s a conspiracy, with too many characters to keep straight! The plot gets confusing, and it only gets worse as it goes along. I couldn’t keep track of all the people on the bus, let alone all the other characters. Had I not been so close to the end of what’s really a short book I would have given up.
By the time the bad guy’s revealed I had no idea who he was, and I didn’t care enough to go back.
The writing just barrels ahead, with not much room for style. It’s certainly not bad, but it not exactly scintillating either. Having one character be so matter of fact is more than enough, but most of them are. Worse, far from being a Sherlock Holmes, this guy is completely a Marty Stu.

Once Upon a Duke
One of many Dukes in these stories comes home for his hated grandfather’s funeral, just to retrieve a family heirloom. He finds the whole snowy mountaintop town—as mountaintop as a place can get in England, anyway—loved the old man, especially for renaming the town Christmas and making it a tourist trap. And of course he meets up with the only woman he ever wanted.
This new heroine is just as smart and snarky as the previous ones, so I’m in, and the story even more fun. All the new characters make for some confusion, but not too bad.
Erica Ridley gets me.

Kiss of a Duke
Put a famous womanizer and a female scientist in close proximity and what do you get?
Chemistry, of course, along with the classic “you make me want to be a better man” story. And that’s before biscuits enter the equation.
With all the wonderful heroines Erica Ridley has invented, I have a new favorite. Each is more and more amazing, but Penelope’s just my type. . . and that’s before biscuits enter the equation. She reminds me a lot of Nora, who was my previous fave. She’s also very similar to another fave, Bryony, but thankfully more subdued.
I am in awe of the way this author can so effortlessly come up with lines like, “It’s a lovely basket. It smells of wicker and unrealized potential.”
There is one oddity, though. In a lot of the stories by this author, the primary stumbling block was class; the men are highborn, the women “common,” and never the twain shall meet (even though they always do). But despite the same circumstances here, it’s never mentioned. The problem between them is that he’s another Lord of Pleasure. And as always in romance novels, they don’t talk to each other, which would have saved a lot of heartache.
But that’s a minor tidbit in what is one of the best books I’ve read all year.

Wish Upon a Duke
A perennial wallflower just wants to be noticed, especially by Christopher, the much more subdued brother of the Duke of the previous novel. Instead she agrees to play yenta for him, which has as much of an effect as you’d expect but does give us more insight into characters who will likely be up front in stories to come.
Also featured more than usual is the town of Christmas, nee Cressmouth, described as a perpetually snow-dusted mountaintop village, which is hard to imagine in hilly-but-not-too-much England.
His problem is that he’s an inveterate traveler, and being with her would mean giving that up. As someone who travels for work and loves it, I totally get where he’s coming from, though I wasn’t a fan of how insulted he got about the constellation naming. I definitely liked Gloria, but she didn’t grab my heart like Penelope or Nora or Bryony.
This book is only a disappointment in that the previous one was so frickin good. Had I read this one first. . .

Star Wars: Scum and Villainy
The records of three generations of cops show off some of the most colorful villains in the Star Wars universe, though at times it feels like the bounty hunters outnumber the actual criminals.
The large drawings of stakeouts and police reports take up most of the area, with some commentary attached. Sometimes you have to look carefully at the details to know what’s going on.
I found the propaganda posters hilarious, though I doubt that’s the intent. The page on tattoos was interesting, as was the podracing, but the padawan auction was chilling.
It’s interesting to see the middle of the three generations become more of an Imperial lackey than actually care about real justice.
I wonder what came first: the art or the words? There’s a few pages that show crime “evidence,” particularly smuggling, that aren’t exactly great subjects for artistic endeavors. Sometimes it’s just boxes. . . nicely drawn boxes, to be sure, but hardly the kind of thing an artist would showcase in their portfolio. I guess it’s there to add to whatever else is in the page, but this leads me to believe the author—who might also be the artist, for all I know—came up with the idea and the description before the artwork, and couldn’t think of something more intriguing to draw.
Despite not being as enmeshed in all the Star Wars stuff outside of the movies as a lot of the fans, I found this intriguing, even if I didn’t know most of the characters. I finally understand what makes the Kessel Run such a big deal, for example, as well as spice smuggling. But it’s really the variety of crimes, some of which could only happen in a universe like this, that makes this book so interesting. I’m sure I would not have enjoyed it as much had it come without illustrations.

Storytime: Not-So-Brave Penguin
Percy the Penguin is the jock, not afraid of anything, and Posy is the opposite, hence the title. Of all the things she’s scared of, and it’s mostly everything, the worst is the dark, which in Antarctica can last for months. But when Percy’s in trouble Posy overcomes her fears to rescue him, and finds some dark places are more beautiful than scary.
Though I appreciate the message and where the author’s coming from, in reality Posy didn’t rescue Percy; she just kept him company overnight. Had she not been there, Percy would have made it back the next morning on his own. So the writing’s a bit of a letdown there, a lazy out when instead a real danger, like a shark, would have made for a better story. On the other hand, Posy didn’t know that when she set out, so she was indeed brave.
The artwork is nice, if a little simplistic. There’s a couple of pages of discussion topics at the end.

Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World
The title tells all: some world-famous and some locally famous trips that are no longer among us memorialized in photos.
The introduction features some strong feelings, to the point of calling some closures “criminal” and claiming they led to deaths. The text isn’t as heavy-handed, thankfully, but there’s a lot of asides that are sometimes humorous and sometimes failing at it. It just doesn’t feel like a typical book of this class, and whether that’s good or bad depends on you.
I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that the photos from Europe are mostly black and white. And I have to keep reminding myself that those old photos of bridges were not taken from drones.
The most intriguing early on was the Lawrence of Arabia special through Jordan.
To be fair, some of these are short lines; the title doesn’t exclude them, but it doesn’t seem fair to lump them in with the Orient Express and Ghan.
My fave, from the photos and having been in the vicinity, was the Colorado-Denver & Rio Grande, though the ones in Africa looked pretty spectacular too. But even though I’m a fan of trains, I’m not this much. I had to take it in small bites, but even then it was tough to stay interested.

Stuff You Should Know About Planet Earth
A well done science primer for kids.
It starts with the five ecological spheres, which I’d never heard of. It’s intriguing, though I question why water and ice are separate.
There’s good stuff on the solar system. The cartoon-like drawings are cute, though I can’t tell who that guy is dancing on Saturn’s rings.
I already knew most of the stuff in here, but I’m 50 years old, so I’d better. On the other hand, I did learn some things, all of which tells me this is a good book for kids interested in science, those who really want to learn.
But I hope they don’t get nightmares from watching the animals fleeing the lava. . .

Who Are You Calling Weird?
The first thing you see is that this is dedicated to David Attenborough, which makes sense, as this book tackles the strangest animals. The artwork fits the theme, almost in art deco style.
The platypus has gotten enough publicity, kinda normalizing it, that it seems out of place here. Same with the sea unicorn (aka narwhal). Kiwis and sloths too, especially the latter for kids who’ve seen Zootopia a thousand times. But thankfully most of those included are indeed completely strange. A couple are compared to superheroes, though when Wolverine was mentioned I first assumed it was the animal, which is weird in its own right but not enough to make it in here.
The leafy sea dragon gets my vote for most deserving entry; seeing it moving in a video is even more so. That smelly Amazon bird sure has a good defense against humans, especially in that they taste bad. . . though by the time the humans figure that out, it’s too late.
And speaking of, so glad you stinky humans made the list! The artwork that goes with this entry is the scariest of all. . .

How Rude…
Little girl invites her duck friend over for a tea party. Things do not go as planned. . .
This duck is a jerk. To be fair, there have been other jerk ducks, especially in old cartoons, but this one takes it to a new level. I’m surprised the little girl held out that long. At least she didn’t reach for a shotgun.
Considering all the trouble Duck caused, he sure turned on a dime, and she forgave him way too quickly. I would have preferred less mayhem and more thought from both of them, if there was a limited amount of pages available.
Wait, was that rude of me to point it out?

Yara and her Mystery Tree
Bright watercolors and rhyming couplets tell the story of a mystery plant that has the same problem as the maples from the Rush song The Trees, which means other trees are blocking the sun. A little girl gets her mom to help uproot it to a more advantageous place, which comes back to reward them at the end.
Not only are the rhymes legit, the meter and length are perfect. The plot is fine, though it was easy to see where this was going, even for a kid.
I question the need for the bird and the ant, turning this into a fantasy when it would have been just as well straightforward, but that’s my only nitpick.

Mario and the Aliens
Tech-obsessed kid is on his computer as usual—like that’s a bad thing—when something outside grabs his attention. The title tells you the rest.
The artwork takes up most of the pages. The first few were difficult to comprehend, partly from the scale but mostly because of an almost abstract style.
It took the kid forever to think to run off, and stopped so abruptly when the aliens convinced him they were simply looking for new games. So yeah, he might be smart, but I think gullible’s a better word.
In retrospect, I can see why the aliens had such a visceral reaction to the computer, since it’s almost certain they have their own. Something’s gotta help them pilot their ship, after all. And if they thought computers were fun, they wouldn’t need to travel to look for it.
I very much doubt Mario will be satisfied with human kids as playmates after this night.
Pretty straightforward, but feel like something’s missing. Certainly okay for kids, but could have been better.


Book Reviews: End of Year Hodgepodge

Ink in Water: An Illustrated Memoir
Subtitled: Or, How I Kicked Anorexia’s Ass and Embraced Body Positivity, which works a lot better as a title.
A woman’s battle with anorexia and associated self-doubt is told through her own thoughts and encounters with friends, boyfriends, and a few others. It’s not an easy read, so if you do pick it up you’ll need to hang on to your emotional hats.
I didn’t think I would have anything in common with this character, but right away with the atheist thing. . . yeah, that’s me there. But the crippling insecurity, where she can’t get out of her own head. . . early on I’m wondering if that’s a big cause of her anorexia. I also wonder if her ex had told her why he was breaking up with her. . . maybe none of this would have happened.
I would have thought such a slow plodding bio would be boring, but it actually isn’t. After that first bit about the atheism I couldn’t commiserate with her at all, but I guess that made it better for me, as I like learning about things outside my experience.
On the other hand, I’ve never been great at reading or watching about people in pain, and this isn’t easy to get through. There’s one thing that happens about two-thirds through that’s particularly gut-wrenching. This is obviously geared toward those who can benefit from it, as a kind of self-help book, but as a memoir it’s pretty tough to handle.

Virtue Signaling
The famous sci-fi writer has a blog, and these are some of his posts.
Humor and honesty. That’s what you want from a political commentator, if that’s what you can call John Scalzi in this book. He probably wouldn’t call himself that; he’s self-admittedly too lazy.
One other thing: logic. Unlike most of the internet and its shoot-from-the-hip tweets, these writings take time. They’re well thought out. They look at other sides of the argument and break down why he disagrees with it, or in the infrequent case agrees. Again, that’s pretty rare, and most welcome.

Kate’s Really Good at Hockey
A young-teen redhead loves hockey. Considering the previous works from this publisher, this is not a surprise.
After a get-together with all her friends before school—it appears they’re just back from summer break—there’s long and very clunky exposition as to how she spent her time away. The scene switches to her having a hard time at hockey camp while living with a grandmother who doesn’t seem to understand her. The main players are from those hockey hotbeds of Tennessee and Ecuador. And of course there’s bullies.
Mom says such Mom things. If you’re only gonna have a few things in common with Grandma, might as well make them ice cream and bacon.
There’s a lot of repetition, but I suppose this is for kids. Most of it is pretty standard storytelling, but luckily—or unluckily, in the case of the characters—there’s a couple of major twists.

Fall with Olga the Cloud
Incredibly simple even for a children’s book, this tiny tome features a bored cloud that calls its friends to join her in making rain. Everyone else is unhappy with this—even a tree says it’s too much rain—and a cat uses an umbrella.
Other than to say the sun sleeps a lot in fall, and of course it rains a lot, there’s not much here that’s educational. . . there’s not much of anything at all. Even a child could read this in less than a minute. Would have been better with more effort and more story.

Dad Jokes – Assault With A Dad-ly Weapon
The title tells you—and is a perfect example of—all you need to know about the contents of this book. Some kids might giggle at this, some adults might guffaw, but basically these jokes are designed to make you groan, so with that expectation it does a really good job.
I grudgingly admit I chuckled more often than I thought I would, mostly when the punch line took me by surprise. A few of my faves:
“If you rearrange the letters of postmen. . . it makes them really angry.”
“I don’t have a dad bod. I have more of a father figure.”
“I was accused of being a plagiarist. Their word, not mine!”
“I removed the shell from my favorite racing snail, thinking it would make him faster. But it’s actually made him more sluggish.”
“My wife said she didn’t understand cloning. That makes two of us.”
“What do you get if you cross a centipede and a parrot? A walkie-talkie.”
“How many eyes does a cyclops have? None, if you’re spelling it correctly.”
“What’s blue and not really heavy at all? Light blue.”
These are the best ones. Read the rest at your own risk. You might notice, though, that most of the favorites I listed above would not be understood by most kids.

A Flicker of Hope
A short candle—with eyes and mouth and arms and legs—is depressed, with a literal dark cloud hanging over it, full of the kinds of problems facing kids and teens today. Some are more important than others, but all hurtful. It takes the light of another candle, and even then a few tries, to get the stubby one to see the light.
Of all the usually non-sentient objects being given life in a children’s book, I’d have to say candles are the strangest.
The point here is to not be ashamed to ask for help, because others have been through the same.
Ends with a couple of pages about the power of hope, meant for adults so they can pass it on to their kids.

What Does A Princess Really Look Like?
A little girl does not settle for simply being a princess or a ballerina; nope, she has to be a mashup. Sometimes she dances with her two dads, though it doesn’t say if they are co-regents.
“Inside the head is where our smarts are.” Never heard it put that way, but I like it.
She’s funny and creative—she is a lefty, after all—and I love the way she’s drawn, especially when lying down. The illustrator captures a child’s joyful being in the way she kicks her legs up. It’s all so incredibly cute, even when things don’t work out exactly as she’d hoped.
Ends with a space to draw your own perfect, or not so perfect, princess, along with a Twitter/Instagram hashtag. Reading the author’s bio shows why, but because he’s a therapist who works with kids, it’s okay.

Who Will Roar If I Go?
African animals are introduced in beautiful subdued watercolor as the words tell the reader about them and the difficulties they face in the modern world.
The elephant has the best page.
If this had been written in prose I would have been okay with it, but a lot of the rhymes are either forced or simply done by throwing in a useless “you see” or such. The awkward cadence and differing lengths make it hard to singsong. It feels like an attempt to emulate Dr. Seuss by someone who’s never written a poem before. . . at least not a good one.
Come for the art. . .

The World’s Best Jokes for Kids Volume 1
Right before the first joke appears, there’s a warning sign, literally. It reads: Danger! This book contains a lot of silly, corny, brilliant, and funny jokes. Guess which of those four adjectives is the most on-the-nose.
What do you call a bear with no ears? B. Yes! Spelling jokes are my kind of humor. And computer humor: what do you call a bee from the United States? USB.
Even when the joke itself doesn’t hit the mark, the illustrations make up for it. There’s the joke so old it was sorta the title of an REO Speedwagon album, but if you look at the way the fish is looking up at the guy trying to tune it. . .
Then there are others, like the Frozen and Bison jokes, that are pretty cringy—I was warned, after all—but would probably make some kids laugh.
Sometimes there’s a joke like Nutella, irrelephant, and perman-ant that make me wonder how many kids would get the humor, since they might be too young to know those words. Even I don’t know what a stomata is.
They used one of my favorite jokes, about time flying and then fruit flying. Don’t know what that says about me, especially when they include the poultry in motion line.
I will go as far as to say this made me chuckle more often than I thought I would, though it certainly brought the groans as well.
P.S. There’s also The World’s Best Jokes for Kids Volume 2, because one collection of groaners wasn’t enough. But it appears they used up all the good ones in the first volume, because this one wasn’t anywhere near as good or funny. Went through almost half of the book without laughing once, and didn’t even groan that much, because there just wasn’t anything there. At that point I gave up.

The Cookie Eating Fire Dog
Childlike watercolors and a little prose tell the story of Dan, who isn’t so much a fire dog as he is a fireMAN who happens to be a dog. From the title I assumed he’d be like the other Dalmatians, but right on the first page it says he wears the boots, coat, and hat that make the firefighter’s uniform. He can’t speak, though he does cry a lot when he doesn’t get cookies. Eventually he proves his worth while at the same time buckling down and getting serious about his job.
Little of this story makes sense, but then I suppose the age group this is directed to doesn’t care about that very much. Still, despite the occupation this is about, which a lot of little kids find exciting, there isn’t much here to remember. It does end with a few pages on fire safety, as well as a recipe for ginger snaps.

Dynomike: What’s Heartfulness?
In one of the most brightly colored children’s books I’ve ever seen, a tiny dinosaur on a tricycle plays with a few friends, their exploits recorded in rare stanzas where all four lines use the same rhyme, at least on the first page. The mom of one of the friends is sick and they brainstorm ideas to make her better.
Doesn’t feel like heartfulness is explained all that well, at least not in the story; there’s a page on it after. Don’t know why it was so important the friend didn’t find out what they had done.
Cute, but I think the message could have been a little clearer. Perhaps this was designed so the kid would ask the parent to explain.

Southern Rose
Short but enjoyable encounter between a Union officer and a Southern spy. They have a past, and it looks like they’ll have a long future too.
What I don’t understand is why she played so coy and he so rough at the beginning. I get that she was worried about what might happen to her, but by the time they meet up for a few minutes later everything seems to have changed, though nothing really did.
This is weird to say, but this might have been better as one scene rather than two.

Through the Red Door
Widow navigates her way through two suiters while running a bookstore with a hidden though famous erotica section. A ghost may also be involved.
It’s interesting that of her two new beaus, it’s the “hot” one she instantly bonds with, because he lost his spouse too.
Probably the most fun character is the professor’s assistant—at least for a while—the kind of person who’s fun to read about but would annoy the crap out of me in real life.
The writing is really smooth, the dialogue humorous. While there were some genre clichés near the end, as a whole the plot flowed organically, and everything tied together well at the finish.
This is one the best romance books I read this year.

The Moon’s Pull
Crazed werewolf is killing humans in a Wyoming town. Sane werewolf doesn’t want to kill the bad one, but needs to stop him somehow while falling in lust with the human detective investigating the murders.
Even though it’s short, there’s a bunch of extraneous description. I really don’t care about the color of the detective’s pants or the killer’s hair. And despite the relative shortness of the book, it’s made even shorter by the inclusion of several sex scenes in a row. Nothing wrong with sex scenes, quite the opposite, but they could have been better spaced.
Worse, there were a lot of extra commas, and in general the whole thing was stilted, with no style. Things run together in a jumble. It became a chore to read, and I probably would have given up had I not known it was so short, and had several erotic scenes to look forward to. The flashback scene was badly integrated. The author, and definitely this relatively famous publisher, should have invested in an editor.
But if there’s one part I particularly disliked, it was this ridiculous passage:
“Why doesn’t he go to the bigger cities where criminals are more rampant?” Sam asked.
“Because, my sweet,” Quentin replied. . . “A smaller town draws less attention.”

Science Fiction: A Novel
Quite an all-encompassing title.
The first chapter introduces a galaxy-wide version of a cooking reality TV competition, in which a part of the loser becomes next year’s main ingredient. The next chapter shows an earthling with some cooking skills being scared out of his mind at a strip club. You can see where this is going.
It’s definitely silly, but I can’t say it’s funny enough. Like a lot I’ve seen recently, it’s trying really hard to be the next iteration of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–this one even more so—and falling way short. The ship’s drive is a huge example. And all this before I read the end, where he actually thanks Douglas Adams.
I do like how he turned the info drop on the ship into an infomercial.
Anyway, there were some cute moments, and I eventually liked Bridget, but it never hit the heights it set.

Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World
Well-drawn semi-cartoons show some of the most impressive places in the world, both natural and manmade. The drawings take up two pages and are full of small details, but very few of the sites get that treatment. For instance, the first section is Australia and Oceania, showing a map of the region with all the places featured, but only Uluru gets its own section.
I was very glad to see my two favorite places in the world—The Alhambra in Spain and the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand—make the list. Throw in the Charles Bridge in Prague, Petra, Chichen-Itza, Torres del Paine, and Ludwig’s Castle and I’m completely happy with this. The drawing for that last one is particularly well-detailed, but on the other hand the Alhambra left a bit to be desired, since I know it so well.
Can’t believe they filled two pages of notes and art on the Marianas trench.
At the end there’s two pages of things to search for amongst what you just saw, as well as an index.
All in all, great fun and a pleasant way to teach kids about the world.

Egypt Magnified
Very detailed drawings of ancient Egyptian life fill pages, and it’s up to the reader to find ten small things on each page. Apparently printed books include a magnifying glass, but I doubt digital ones will.
I’ve seen plenty of books like this one, as well as apps for both kids and grownups, where the point is to find what’s hidden in the artwork. This one goes further in that the drawings are much more intricate, and the details not everyday familiar, which makes it more challenging.
The most important takeaway here is that it’s wonderful when a children’s book can be both educational and fun simultaneously.


Book Reviews: More kids’ books than you can shake a stick at

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories
The Bard for kids.
Each play gets a title page, with a famous quote and a mishmash of artwork that shows some of the important points. That’s followed by a small cast of characters, and finally an illustrated text that boils the story down to its essential elements, just enough to know what’s going on.
The easiest way to describe this for Bard buffs is that it’s similar to the Lambs’ book of synopses, only for children. And it’s illustrated like a kiddie version of the Canterbury Tales.
The illustrations are more basic than the words.
The Tempest and Twelfth Night were my faves here.
Not all the plays are here, but that’s no surprise; only twelve, mostly the famous ones.

Ida and the Whale
Ida lives in a treehouse, always daydreaming as she takes in the landscape, wondering what’s out there in the world. A flying whale wakes her up and asks her to accompany him on a trip. Being a redhead, of course she takes him up on it. They go to many strange places, where the whale proves to be a philosophical genius.
The cover is funny, with a little redheaded girl next to a gigantic whale. . . and it’s still not to scale. Later on there’s a visual showing how much bigger the whale is than the treehouse, which is probably going too far, but other than that it’s mostly with her bigger than she should be. In honesty, I suppose it had to be done that way so that the two can communicate, but for someone who’s studied whales all his life—me—that’s a bit jarring, like a proofreader who can’t help but point out the errors (also me).
The prose was good, but the illustrations, seemingly childlike and impressionistic at the same time, are the key here. Those who love blue will enjoy this.

Muddy: The Raccoon Who Stole Dishes
Minimalist artwork tells the story of a bowtie-wearing raccoon who prefers foraging in garbage cans than in the woods, but then insists on eating off plates. I don’t know why his parents call him a picky eater—unless they mean picking through garbage—but that’s definitely not my definition.
Apparently raccoons are OCD about washing, with a strangely high prime number.
The ending did not go as I expected, and I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be a point to all this. Muddy did bad things and got away with them in the end; not only did the punishment backfire, he got to do even more of what got him in trouble in the first place!

Juan Castell and Aunt Sofia’s Giant Book of Please, Thank You, Welcome
Alternating between rhymes and prose, this little book tells of an upcoming visit by aliens and how the nephew of the person in charge of greeting them helps in preparing the world to be nice to them. In so doing he learns a little bit about each of the countries he’s assigned to.
This book is nice enough, with colorful art and usually well-written rhymes. I’m a little troubled by the ending, and I’m not sure why it needed magic, but perhaps it was done to make the kids more interested.

Mack’s World of Wonder. The Cutest Baby Animals
Split into two parts—farm and wild—this book features photos and some silly stick drawings of. . . yeah, you guessed it. The title does not lie!
There’s some really simple quizzes that show this is for the preschool set. Every little article starts with what the baby version of the animal is called, and how it feeds. There’s a big diversity of animals, but I was disappointed not to see a whale or dolphin. Guess they’re not cute enough.

My Favorite Pet: Ponies
Made for the preschoolers, this little book features large photos and some info about ponies. . . but you know that from the title, right?
There’s some incredibly simple quizzes, but then this isn’t supposed to be challenging, just informative, as is the small glossary.

A Day in the Life of a Raindrop
Here’s one that doesn’t actually take the title literally. Instead of some scientific info, it’s a highly stylized cartoon that. . . well, if it teaches anything, it’s strictly by accident.
The raindrop in question is strangely drawn: the body is as expected, with a slightly creepy face, legs, and arms, one of which is holding an umbrella. . . why? Is a pile of wet afraid of getting wet?
If this is for kids, why is the word “oblivious” in there? There are plenty of adults who wouldn’t know that one.
At least the rhymes are well done. Considering his bio says the author has composed hundreds of poems, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. But as a whole this seemed more like a surreal parody for easily amused teens than anything for kids.

Rattlesnake Rules
Told in rhyming stanzas, this book starts by showing off how different animals have different rules before settling into the one in the title.
Using pictographs and a bell she holds in her rattle tail, momma snake—she’s wearing a necklace though she has no shoulders—teaches the little ones all about livin’ the reptile life. There’s rules for humans too, but only one seems to be important: leave the rattlers alone!
I can just imagine a kid asking, “Mom, what does ‘Ace of Spades” mean?”
The artwork features a lot of reds, which at times makes it hard to make out the snakes. And the fact they’re always smiling—which looks more menacing than joyful—makes them look a bit creepy.
More info for the humans in back, more basic facts without rhyme, as well as myths, glossary, and so on.

Brave Thumbelina
For those who don’t know the classic story or need a recap, a lonely woman wishes for a child and gets a seed instead, which grows into a flower that gestates a tiny girl, who’s born fully dressed. After a happy time with her mom in their house, she gets kidnapped by a mother toad, which leads the little one on a long ride of adventures in the outside world. After some good times and bad times she finds herself in the perfect situation and goes to visit her mother, though the fact that Mom must have agonized about her missing daughter is curiously glossed over.
On the first page there’s a huge empty space and really tiny text. Annoying. The situation does not improve.
Little Thumbelina is drawn adorably on every page, though in somewhat of a 20s flapper style. It’s meant to be more stylish than anything else, and probably owes something to the illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s books.

Mina vs. the Monsoon
This book tells of a young Pakistani girl who is obsessed with playing soccer. Sad because the weather prevents her from going out, she tries to make the rain go away—does not sing the famous rhyme but does do a dance—with the help of her trusty, if not real, elephant. At the end she and her mom realize what every soccer-playing kid knows: it’s more fun playing in the mud.
The guide to Urdu and Hindi words would have been more welcome at the front, but at least it’s there.
Not sure what the moral is here. Seemed like a good opportunity to teach patience or acceptance of things you can’t change, but that certainly didn’t happen here.
Boisterously illustrated, with what might be too much color considering how basic the artwork is.

A mosaic on the left hides a number of items listed on the right. The fact they’re the same color makes it difficult, but certainly doable even for small children.
The second page, red, has the viewer looking for a “ladybird,” even though it’s obviously a “ladybug.” Made me chuckle.
Other than that, it’s both pretty basic yet also a nice switch on the average puzzle game.

Around The World in Every Vehicle
I don’t know how true the title is—if I tried hard enough I could probably come up with something they missed—but other than that it’s a good tour of the world, with some famous landmarks standing out.
Nice to see the Charles Bridge in Prague, though the statues left something to be desired. The Haga Sophia looks minimalist-nice. It was an inspired choice to have them drive through Europe, then have the grandparents fly in to drive the van home while they go off to see the rest of the world on faster transportation.
I love the family name: Van Go.
On some pages an incident prompts them to look at similar vehicles around the world: buses, trams, fire engines, etc. It’s hardly ever that fitting with the story, but that’s not what this book is about.
Geographical mistake: They flew around the world twice when they should have gone to Australia between Asia and North America.

STEAM Stories: Robot Repairs (Technology)
In what looks to be a series of 5 books based on the STEAM acronym, this one features the letter T for technology, in the form of robots and their care and feeding.
The robot on the cover looks hilarious!
Great name for a teacher: Miss Eureka. I liked both her look and her personality.
Told pretty simplistically, but with enough fluff to teach kids about technology, especially tools.
Simply drawn, but the better for it. More info on the procedures of each page at the end.

STEAM Stories: The Great Go-Kart Race (Science)
The title is all you need to know about this story.
The kids face various obstacles in the race, like dead batteries and muddy puddles, but no matter how long it takes to get help from a passing tractor or think their next step through, they manage to stay in the race.
Professor Know-It-All! Perfect!
The first page shows the starting line of the race, and there’s a kart in the middle with a smiling kid. . . and right behind him is another smiling kid leaning over so she can be in the shot as well. It looks hilarious.
The last few pages feature a more detailed explanation of the science involved.
The artwork is basic, but cute nonetheless. It doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling, or rather science-telling.

ABC for Me: ABC What Can She Be?
Girls can be anything they want to be, from A to Z
As one would expect, this book goes through the alphabet, choosing one profession for each letter, something girls can aspire to be. I was greatly looking forward to what Q and X would be, but they were kinda letdowns, with the adjectives representing instead of the nouns.
Luckily there’s enough description and artwork to show what each job entails, otherwise it would be really hard for a parent to explain. There’s a good mix, though I know of at least one guitarist who’d be annoyed that she didn’t get in but the keyboardist did.

My Favorite Machine: Airplanes
Like the rest of this series, the artwork consists of photos rather than drawings, a good idea in order to explain. . . well, what the title says.
Pretty complicated ideas are dealt with very simply.
Some of the photos look more like photoshop or even clip art, but they don’t detract from the simple narrative.

Fall is Coming
A rabbit and a bird go on a bike ride, take a nap, and wake up to find the day has gotten cold. Rabbit learns to dress up. . . and that’s it.
As simple as children’s books are, this one is even more so, with big illustrations and minimal text. There just isn’t much of a story. There’s certainly no lesson, as any kid old enough to read this knows what to do when they’re cold.

Knock Knock Boo Who?
A collection of Halloween themed knock-knock jokes. Yep.
Some are really simple, yet still funny, like boo who and I scream. Others make no sense. But basically they’re at the level that’ll make your small child at least chuckle.

My Cat is Sad / Mi gato esta triste
Kid thinks his cat is sad and tries all manner of ideas to bring it out of its supposed funk. It looks more like the kid is what made the cat sad—and mad—with all his shenanigans, until at the end he finally gets it right.
This cat on the cover does not look sad at all. If anything, it looks angry, claws halfway out. Once in the book the cat appears to be sleeping, except when interrupted by another erroneous idea from its human.
Before each new idea there’s the repetition of the kid saying the cat is sad and the cat sleeping, so the book’s even shorter than it looks.
If this is supposed to teach a kid not to jump to conclusions, then I’m all for it. If it was meant as something else, I totally missed it.

My Favorite Animal: Frogs
Like all books in this series, this one features photographs and facts of the animal in question. Sometimes the words are too big for the age of the reader, but they’re probably in it for the photos anyway.
There’s some simple memory quizzes and a glossary, but again, this is about the visuals.

My Favorite Sport: Skateboarding
As always in this series, this book features big bright photos and some text. A little surprisingly, though I guess it shouldn’t be, all the photos here feature young kids on the skateboards, not all of them with protective gear even though there’s a section on that.
It’s certainly informative enough, though I’ve found that most of these books have words too big for readers of the target age. On the other hand, I think they’re more interested in the photos anyway.

Owl Love You
With plenty of rhyme and nightscapes, this book shows a momma owl’s love for her little one as she teaches about the nocturnal world they live in.
Unlike a lot of rhyming books, this one keeps a very singsongy pace, as though the authors actually know how to write poetry in its proper meter.
There’s a lot of hedgehogs, possibly because they look fun to draw. Bats, not so much. The art is done in broad strokes of watercolor, not all that big a deal but fitting with the theme.


Book Reviews: Every Day Is Kids Day

Gwen the Rescue Hen
A hen dreams of flying, but is rudely woken up by a tornado that sends her out into the world. After being ignored by a giant artificial version of herself, she’s befriended by a boy, and more shenanigans ensue.
I had imagined from the title that the hen would be rescuing others, but not so. The story is silly but endearing, especially the way the boy and the hen hang out.
The artwork is strange, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For one, the start is done negative style: the background is black and the lines are white inside the chicken coop. Said chicken coop shows long lines of hens at work, but on first impression they looks like music staffs.
Special section at the end on chicken facts. Did not know chickens can see in UV! Imagine the research to find that out. . .

This Is a Whoopsie!
Everything you ever wanted to learn about moose—including the plural—from the clumsiest, most self-effacing example.
Like with reindeer, the other moose kid him, but unlike Rudolph, this guy has no self-esteem. After a while it gets a bit boring to hear him say they should get someone else to tell this story.
“As soon as this page turns, go for it!” As if it wasn’t apparent yet, there is no fourth wall here. Whoopsie’s yell blocks some words, while his fall shatters letters so that it’s impossible to see what’s been said. Annoying for those of us with vast curiosities, but there’s some laughs in trying to fix it.
Finally he learns to go with what he’s best at. Even his bird friend sheds a tear at the end.
The artwork is serviceable, getting the job done without trying to be more than that.

Who Did That? A Whodunit for Children
This isn’t really meant as a whodunit, as any children who know about a particular animal will figure it out. . . and if they don’t know the animal, it won’t mean anything to them anyway. No, this is about a moral, or how a child can be smarter than adults by being simplistic, or something like that.
The story’s also simplistic. It’s a cute tale, but it’s doubtful that this will become one of those books that a kid will want to read or have read to them over and over. Let’s hope the townspeople are smart enough—doubtful—to rebuild using steel.
The artwork is simple as well, though there’s a hilarious shot of a beaver on a Vespa!. . . that’s smaller than him.

Diary of a Monster
A three-headed eight-limbed monster tells its diary about itself, which seems rather strange, when you consider the monster should be the only one reading it.
From what I gather, this was originally written in Spanish. I’m always wary about rhyming translations, ever since college where I had to read The Odyssey in rhyming couplets. Some of these verses come in five lines and no rhyme, which only makes things stranger. Even the ones that rhyme are frequently forced.
I can’t help but think this would have been done better without attempting poetry, but also from a better perspective than a diary; perhaps the monster telling another monster, maybe a baby one, would have been a better way to go. Because as it stands, even though it’s about a talking monster, it should make more sense.

The Bedtime Battle
One’s a blonde princess, the other a brunette tomboy, but they’re BFFs, and together they fight off trolls and work on faster ways of communication, amongst other things. But there’s still time for tea parties and sleepovers, though the latter is interrupted throughout the night by monsters. After a variety of ways to get rid of them, they finally hit on a solution.
It’s never clear if this is some fairy-tale kingdom or just the imaginations of two creative girls, but I guess it doesn’t matter. They’re really different, but they’re best friends. Period.

Little White Fish and the Beautiful Sea
Everything is colorful, including the titles, to contrast the main character. The tiny sea creature wanders around its small part of the ocean while all the others talk about what they think is the most beautiful object in the sea.
The book ends with a classic friendship motif, but more than anything it’s likely to inspire trips to the aquarium, whether the parents had that in mind or not.

Discover Thanksgiving
Like most if not all of the books in this series, there’s less drawings and more photographs, in this case full of turkeys and families gathered around the table. From the history to the traditions to the food to the traffic to football, it’s all in here, a lot of stuff considering the few pages.
Parents should be wary of the last photo, or they might find their little ones demanding pumpkin pie.

I Like!
Both dancers and vine swingers are featured at the start of this book about things kids like to do, ending with a friendship note.
Incredibly simple, but that’s the point, as this is designed to be one of the first books a child picks up when starting to read. The artwork is fun enough, but not the point; this is made for reading out loud.

I Say Thanks
In rhymes that play out over several pages, this book mentions various things to be thankful for, such as food and family and various activities. Aww, the dog didn’t get thanked. . .
Just like others in this series, this tome is designed for those little ones just starting on their reading journey, so there’s a lot of repetition. Should be read out loud.

The Magic Trapdoor
A hole under his bed leads a boy to a place full of dinosaurs, which he then draws when he gets back home.
In the intro the parent is told that the big print is for the kids to read, while the smaller boxed words are nonfiction background on what is featured on the page. This works very well.
There’s a note at the end about the latest research, which is interesting, and leads to a weblink, should the child want to learn more. And they probably will.

Tongue Twisters
A simple drawing is a paired with a classic tongue twister
Hard to figure what age group these are meant for when most adults would have a hard time, but I suppose kids would enjoy trying it. I’d never heard the one about the butter, and almost made it to the end.

Jurassic Giants
As expected, the T-Rex is the star. Seems like half the book is dedicated to that most famous of old lizards. The comparison to the size of a bus was the best I’ve seen; I knew they were big, but not that big. Not quite as much but still impressive was the drawing showing its height equivalent to three elephants standing on each other.
Giganotosaurus looks like T-Rex’s bigger meaner brother. Would probably beat him in a fight, but—and this is weird to say—T-Rex had him on smarts.
There are bright drawings of well-defined dinosaurs, which is good because all the info dumps are dry, like a lecture.
Holy cow, a crocodile the size of a bus! That’s somehow scarier, since crocs are current and dinosaurs are only seen in movies and at the museum.
Nice glossary at the end, along with instructions on how to build your own T-rex, hopefully not to scale.
I’m giving the text a three for being lackluster though somewhat informative; I feel like it’s not interesting enough to keep the attention of the kids who’d be reading this. The artwork, though, earned a solid four. (I was told there’s be no math. . .)

Monster Sharks
This one sets a different tone than the Jurassic Giants entry right from the beginning, describing the first animals on Earth as “Probably weren’t a lot of fun at parties.” Thankfully it did keep things less serious than that other book.
Megalodon takes center stage, of course. Described as torpedo-like for its speed, it was big and strong enough to take down whales. I’ve seen the skeletons, but that fact brings its size into better perspective.
Fork Tail, Sharp Nose, Ironing Board. . . and you thought Hammerhead was weird.
There’s some nice bits of trivia, particularly the possible inspiration for a famous maritime tongue-twister.
My main complaint with the Jurassic Giants book was its dry lecturing tone. This one inadvertently addresses that, being much more conversational. But even though this has more fun stuff to it, eventually all the info makes it feel overwhelming. Still really good, especially the artwork.
There’s a glossary and instructions for making your own giant prehistoric shark, not to scale.

One Day, So Many Ways
Some of you might be old enough to remember the Day In The Life book series, where photos from all over the world described the differences, and ultimately the similarities, between different cultures. This book does the same, only with children and drawings.
Done chronologically, this shows different homes around the world as they wake up and prepare for breakfast, then through the rest of the day. It’s hard to imagine the kids in the poorer regions looking so happy all the time, but then this isn’t exactly meant to be realistic.
I love that quiet time in California consists of yoga. But the sport to play in the Galapagos is basketball? Some entries are kinda silly, as though running out of inspiration, but for the most part they show kids around the world doing what most kids do, which is likely the point.
There’s a lot of info packed in here, but most of it is captions on the drawings, so many that they seem to overflow the pages.
At the end there’s a list of countries, flags and small details on each, all topped by a Russian girl doing a handstand.

Simone de Beauvoir
The latest in the children’s series featuring introductions to famous women, this entry teaches about a lady whose name is more familiar than her accomplishments.
There’s an interesting dichotomy to her father, wherein he’s very progressive in wanting his daughter to have an education and get a job, but apparently it was all because he was lazy.
“Mind-mate” as well as soulmate. Nice. She didn’t marry that more-famous philosopher, which must have been shocking at the time but is a perfect example of her philosophy.
For those who have read the previous books in this series, it’s easy to notice this is done in a different art style. Everyone’s always smiling, except when her book comes out.
I guess as an introduction it’s okay, and it certainly peaks interest in learning more. “Mother of Feminism” is a nice touch. But I felt there could have been a little more here.

Silent Night
The famous nativity story told for very young kids, using the lyrics as a backdrop to the rudimentary artwork. Includes the rarely heard third verse.
What is there to say? If this is simply an illustrated version of the carol, that’s fine, but if this is meant as an introduction to this religion. . . not so much. Kids being curious, they’re likely to ask about the words they don’t know, of which there are plenty.

A Hundred Kisses Before Bedtime
A small chick does exactly as the title says, but rather than giving them all to one person, the kisses are spread around, starting with a crocodile! You would think that would be the last kiss in that short life, but in this world crocs don’t eat. Pigs mix with giraffes, monkeys, and lions; there’s even a penguin! Most of the animals have to be in on it, otherwise the chick couldn’t reach high enough for a peck. On the other hand, rarely are the animals, especially the elephant, drawn to scale when compared to the future chicken.
The chick tells the dog good night, but the sun is high in the sky behind them.
Quite a few animals need to be told to shut up.
It’s all really sweet, but you just know kids are smart enough to see the inherent logic problems and ask their nonplussed parents.

Duck Is Stuck
Animals work together to get a waterfowl out of the ice he’s stuck in, though everyone greets him with the same, ultimately rude, question.
Right away there’s a problem: the text is tiny! There’s plenty of room to make it bigger without messing up the artwork.
At the start there’s a page with the ducks sitting in a lake, but one of them is upside down, the webbed yellow feet sticking out. It made me chuckle. Another shows Duck breaking the fourth wall, looking startled to find himself in such a predicament. Nice to see that even a life-threatening situation isn’t taken too seriously.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ
This has to be the strangest idea for a children’s book. . . maybe not so much for a kid growing up in South Korea, but still. . .
Vegetation and animals can do whatever they want at the border’s no-man’s-land, but not people. A grandfather is a unifying figure in the story, as he climbs to the observatory to take in the view over and over. The reader is led to believe he’s looking at the landscape and all the animals described, but of course it’s so much more than that.
Despite the small article in the back, a parent should be prepared to explain to the young reader why grandfather can’t go over there.
Best part of this is the artwork, done in the beautiful style of this part of the world.


Book Reviews: Nine More Kiddie Tomes

Cutie Saves Miss Bunny
In the latest installment featuring the Chihuahua that loves to explore the desert, we see a flashback of how she’s rescued from the shelter, then back in the present goes outside in time to help a bunny escape a bobcat.
There’s a hilarious shot of a drunk-looking Cutie on her back, though instead of alcohol she’s gorged on food. She doesn’t look any better when excited, though it would help if she didn’t appear cross-eyed.
As one would expect when bunnies are concerned, there’s carrots. There’s innovative use of carrots. And carrot cake. And who knew rabbits liked music so much?
Fun enough for the little ones, especially if they have a tiny dog.

Poof 123: Touch & Learn Numbers
The kid astronaut faces a crisis when the numbers he’s working with don’t like each other any more. Through rhyme and chemistry, he gets them back together.
This is for really small kids, as in those just barely learning numbers and reading. It’s as simplistic as possible, but I guess that’s a good thing. There is a risk of slightly older kids rejecting it, with cries of “I’m not a baby!”

Anne Frank
In keeping with the “Little People, Big Dreams” series, this is a small children’s book on one of history’s most tragic figures.
Right away there’s facts most people don’t know; for example, she was born in Germany and had a sister, two facts I was unaware of.
The shot of her looking up at the “camera” was disconcerting, but then this isn’t supposed to be roses and unicorns. There’s a bird motif that comes off as both sweet and sinister.
After the story is over there’s a timeline, repeating the text but this time with photos instead of drawings.
Especially poignant if you’ve ever been to the museum in Amsterdam.

Jane Austen
This edition of the “Little People, Big Dreams” series features one of England’s most famous authors.
As always in these books, I learn things too, for example that she came from a family of 8. Don’t know why I find that surprising, but I do. Luckily her father, who was a tutor, let her and her sister attend the classes, something rare for girls in those days.
Big new fact: Pride and Prejudice came from a real incident in her life.
Even though I’ve never been a fan of her works, this served to humanize her a bit.
As always, the book ends with a timeline and repeated text, with photos instead of artwork.

Mother Teresa
Another book in the “Little People Big Dreams” series.
I wonder if most people ever thought of Mother Teresa as anything but a religious and social figure. Who was she before that? This little book for little kids provides some answers.
For one, she was from Macedonia, though I don’t know if back then it was one independent country or part of Greece and others. When a new priest came to town, who’d worked in India, it inspired her to become a nun and help people. First she went to a convent in Ireland, then off to India; wonder how different things would be had she stayed on the Emerald Isle.
There’s one illustration that features many of the clichés of India, like the snake charmer, with her in the middle, dressed as a nun and smiling.
As you can imagine, this is mostly about her helping the poor.
Like all of these books, there’s a timeline that repeats the text but is accompanied by photos instead of artwork. This time, for whatever reason, I enjoyed the photos here more than in other books.

Jane Goodall
In this interesting entry of the “Little People Big Dreams” series, we see how the famous scientist became fascinated by animals and went off to Africa instead of college, where she was in the right place at the right time to meet a famous scientist and launch her career.
This is my favorite in the series, even though I’ve never had an affinity for animal science. This one’s more inspirational, and will probably get a lot of little girls interested in the environment and saving the animals.

Lucy Maud Montgomery
In yet another entry of the “Little People Big Dreams” series, we get the first one about a historical person I didn’t know.
Right away she’s adorable with her redheaded pigtails.
Considering what a rough life she had—mother dying, father abandoning her, grumpy grandparents—she somehow managed to have a happy childhood, which seems like a bigger lesson than her career as a writer.

I Spy the 50 States
A bald eagle guides the reader over all 50 states and DC. Each page features people, places, and things endemic to the state, as well as three things starting with the same letter, just like the game referenced in the title. Thankfully a lot of them are captioned.
Can’t help but wonder why New Hampshire got a ladybug, and no other state did, but then I suppose it’s easy to run out of ideas with the tiny states.
The eagle appears in every state. Football and baseball players appear in many, provided there’s a team there. Tennessee gets a porcupine.
Some are obvious, a few are funny, but without context it’s hard to see what the author’s getting at with the more obscure drawings.

The Skies Above My Eyes
The cover made me think this would be about astronomy, but it stays on Earth, at least in the beginning, urging the reader to look up whenever they’re outside. From there it indeed goes higher and higher, all the way to the edge of the solar system, before literally returning to Earth, checking out things like clouds and birds that were missed on the way out.
Educational in a fun way, well-written, but the background is incredibly full and distracting. It seems to all be in shades of blue. It brings an artsy side to science, but it might be too much at once.


Book Reviews: Kiddie Mice, Soccer, Art

Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure
A mouse finds out about an underwater treasure and wants to go find it. He enlists the aid of a professor who in a previous story went to the moon, so he seems to be the right one to ask. The title gives you a hint as to where it ends.
The first page is giant and colorful, all the more for it being a bookstore. When a customer comes in and distracts the clerk, all the mice scurry behind the wall to the University of Mice. (Makes me wonder what they were doing out in the bookstore in the first place.)
Interesting that, at least in the beginning, it’s not about the quest, but the research. Rather than outsource, the professor takes the time to learn all the crafts needed. There’s one moment where it says they worked on the submarine during the night, because they didn’t want humans to catch them during the day. Where exactly were they building it? You’d think if there was enough room in the walls to have a whole university, the professor would find a place to build it. He is the only employee of the place, as far as I can tell, and there’s plenty of room.
Some of the words and ideas here are not likely to be understood by most kids, and the wordiness and length might turn off some with attention span issues. It’s twice as long as most children’s books, but there’s a lot of full-page art. There’s also a lot of text, but it’s small and generally fits on one side of the page.
The requisite front illustration page has old-fashioned blueprints—sepia, not blue—of all the steampunk-y equipment the rodent in question uses for his deep-sea diving expeditions. My favorite artwork is the humpback whale; got this one right, as it’s the only whale that sings.
The idea is great, but there’s too many little things niggling at me that keep me from giving this a higher grade. This is the third in a series, so maybe the author’s got the audience niche down, but I wouldn’t recommend this for any but the brightest of grade schoolers.

My Birthday
A bear throws himself a birthday party and invites all his friends, only to be disenchanted by the low turnout. He goes out looking for them, only to find them doing other things, then gets a surprise when he arrives home again.  Because of some of the things the other animals are playing with or making, it’s easy to see where this is going.
Bear has only one expression: disappointed surprise. He looks that way even before the bad news. I suppose the artwork is fit for a small child, but there were spots that could have had. . . more.

Sammy in the Fall
While I like this author’s writing, I’ve never been impressed by the artwork. These books are as simplistic as you’d expect them to be, considering the age group, but this one is even more so. It basically follows the lead cat as it goes around seeing and doing things that happen in the autumn, usually helping other animals in the process.
It’s really weird seeing a horse that small, especially with reins and a saddle. Sure, a talking horse is fine, but this takes some getting used to.

Joann and Jane: Who Made This Mess?
Two little girls play detective to find out who went into their rooms and made messes. Mom is more concerned with making breakfast, but grandpa offers some help.
At one point one of the girls lifts up the beagle’s ear and asks the dog if it was the culprit. When called on it, she says, “It was worth a try.” Adorable.
The story’s cute enough. The artwork is okay as well. Nothing is made about the family being mixed-race, which is as it should be.

Soccer Stars: Meet 40 game changers
The title tells it all. I suppose since it doesn’t say these are the forty best players in history, I shouldn’t grumble too much about some of the selections, but they’re still weird.
The first image we see is an 8-bit version of a player doing a bicycle kick. It looks hilarious.
It starts with the player the great Pele called the best ever. That means a lot more than, say, fellow Argentinian Maradona saying it. (Of course I hold Maradona in such contempt that there’s no way I’d believe anything he says, but still. . .)
The most interesting fact is that Matthews, who played until he was 50, in over 700 games never received a yellow card, let alone a red. Similarly, Maldini only received one red card in 20 years and over 900 matches. These are the kind of stats I like!
As mentioned, the artwork is on the simple side, in keeping with previous volumes in this line.
As a huge fan of women’s soccer, there are many I would choose before two of the included ones. It leans heavily on present players. I am quite happy that Ronaldo—the original—was included in here, as he should be, but also with enough to show that it’s a different guy than the current Ronaldo.
As expected, heavy on forwards and low on defenders, but more goalies than I would have thought. As a former goalie, that’s fine with me!

Ranger Rick Kids’ Guide to Hiking
This opens with places to hike, starting with national parks and forests, state parks, and the like. After some big photos the graphics settle down into locations on a map of the United States.
There’s what to look for as far as time, elevation, distance and such, followed by sections on what to wear, what to have in your pack, and so on. “How can I have the most fun?” is sure to be the most popular for the kiddies, with plenty of arts and crafts. Hopefully your child won’t feel like they’re in school.
Can’t imagine anyone, especially kids, memorizing all this, so it’s probably intended as a reference guide. Solid, if not exactly attention-getting.

Outside: Discovering Animals
First part is about tracking animals by following clues. Then it goes into bugs. Ugh. I found the amphibian section most interesting.
The presentation is kinda boring. Maybe it’s the lack of bright colors compared to other books like these. The drawings are really simple! Some are simple sketches, others have color.
It’s fine as far as facts go, but I didn’t get much fun out of it. I don’t think this’ll keep kids that interested.

A Boy and a House
A little boy who really shouldn’t be walking alone in that neighborhood at night finds an open door and doesn’t hesitate to go in. (There’s a sign just inside that says “Close the doors.”) After finding a kid’s drawing in the lobby, he follows a cat up the spiral staircase and into someone’s apartment. Other than picking up more drawings, he basically ignores all the paintings and knickknacks and books, instead heading right for another stairs, and then another, always following that cat.
It’s important to note that there’s no words in this entire book, other than what’s written on the walls, and that’s minimal. It’s like watching a vintage silent movie. I wish the kid was more interested in his surroundings, but children’s books are always short on space.
The artwork has a grainy quality—from a photography perspective—and the colors are muted, but that tone works here.

How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read
Bored with more typical animals, Julia wants to meet a bear. Having read it a book—not Winnie the Pooh—to get it to show up, she sets out some honey. It doesn’t help, but she keeps trying.
Why would anyone have a farting contest with a skunk? Not only are you bound to lose, but. . . does she have a nose?
I guess in a world where animals talk, a treehouse that big isn’t so unrealistic. Getting a bear up there, though. . .
The artwork feels strange. It’s not trying to be realistic, and that’s fine, but somehow the little girl’s face is too pronounced. But the colors are bright and enticing.

The United States of Sports
In this book written by those  geniuses from Sports Illustrated,  The states go in alphabetical order, so the first thing you see is a full-page photo of the Alabama football coach. There’s stuff on stadiums, whether they’re pro franchises or college, rivalries, and so on. “Enemy of the state” was funny. Loaded—or overloaded—info graphics saturate the pages.
For most states they give equal billing to all the universities. For California they featured u$c and gave only a tiny blurb to UCLA, Cal, and Stanford. Even in the index they only mention the Trojans. The authors are dead to me.
There’s a full two-page photo of a dog surfing; neither a sport nor a stadium, just sayin’.
This is supposedly for kids, but I doubt the creators had them in mind when they made this. Especially when you consider the state of today’s youth and their short attention spans, this is more likely to be boring rather than interesting even to the most ardent sports fan.

The People Awards
If there was some criteria to how these selections were made, it eludes me. While I appreciate Ellen DeGeneres and what she’s accomplished, she’s next to Nelson Mandela. Cleopatra and Pele are another curious pairing.
Every entry receives an award; Abraham Lincoln gets the “Stopping slavery” award, so you can see how specific this gets. Nobel gets the “giving out prizes” award.
Lots of interesting stories, but nothing stands out.

The Know-Nonsense Guide to Space
A not-well-thought-out alien in a tiny spaceship takes a trip through the solar system. One page of facts is followed by a drawing of the planet, or whatever the chapter is about. It made me smile to see Earth gets the Goldilocks story. The asteroid belt was the most interesting, from shapes to distance between them. And there was a fascinating definition of the Oort cloud.
“Milkomeda (groan).” Nice. Self-deprecating and meta at the same time.
There’s also a section on technology, from telescopes to the space station.
Unlike a lot of children’s books I’ve read recently, this one does feature the simple language and short sentences that would make it easy for kids. Mercury with a thermometer is cute, but for the most part the drawings are kinda silly, especially Uranus.
Science and humor mix nicely here.

If I Had A Dog
This story is of a little girl who either wants a dog or doesn’t, mainly changing her mind because she likes to rest and not get slobbered all over.
The intro notes that this isn’t so much a book to be enjoyed for its story as much as to help learning to read. At the end is a list of words featured in the book, which the child now knows how to read.
The illustrations are done in a throwback style that at times is too cute, if that’s possible. You get that sense right from the little girl on the cover.

Little Hoo Goes to School
A very simple story in which an owl is going to his first day of school and is reassured of all his questions before he can ask them. I’d be more concerned as to why Momma Owl is feeding her kid pickles, but all seems to end well. It’s part of a long series, and without reading any others I can’t tell if this is meant to entertain or simply provide a bit of psychology for those kids starting school.
As expected for such a young audience, the artwork is all exaggerated broad strokes, making things easy for the little ones to understand.

Discover Nests
Like the title shouts, this is a small primer for little kids on what nests are all about. From building materials to size and occupants, it shows just about everything there is to nests, because if you think about it, there really isn’t all that much to it.
As expected, most of this is taken up by bird nests, but other animals have their pages as well. I think a rabbit’s hole is more likely to be called a warren, but why quibble? Other than the gross closeup of a slug, the photos were well-chosen. Perhaps a penguin would have been a better inclusion than some of those in the latter pages.

I Like Art: Renaissance
As always, I like books a little more when the title tells you everything you need to know.
The little redheaded guide is drawn as far as possible from the style the book describes, hopefully on purpose. She does have a huge smile. But she talks in big words, probably above the heads of the kids reading this.
Botticelli is mentioned, but the examples are religious rather than his most famous works. For those who know art, a lot of the selections are suspect. There does seem to be a religious undercurrent to them.


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.


Book Reviews: 22 Reasons Kids Love This Blog

Storytime: Astromouse
A baby mouse totally buys it when told the moon is made of cheese, and instantly decides he wants to go there. He doesn’t think it through. In the end he figures things are just fine the way they are.
It’s a pretty cute story, amusingly told. Not the twists one would expect at the end, even though the ending itself was never in question. The artwork and syntax make this a good bet for pre-kinders.

Georgia O’Keeffe
A quick colorful biography of the famous painter, meant for kids.
Broad lively artwork from the very start, where while one boy chases chickens another is being chased by a girl with a wooden sword. Unfortunately this is not Georgia; she’s over on the side playing with a snail. One panel has her and a flower on the sidewalk as the only color in a bleak scene, showing she was more into studying her surroundings than those around her. Moving to New Mexico seemed to do the trick, unlocking all her powers of observation and her ability to translate it with a brush.
Since I learned about her through Steigletz, I was glad to see him included here. And for those worried about it, the paintings she’s most famous for are not included here; it is a kid’s book, after all.
At the end are photographs of her with almost the same text as shown before, without the artwork.

Harriet Tubman
A quick colorful biography of the fearless anti-slavery heroine, meant for kids.
Some will be confused as to who is being talked about in the beginning; it isn’t till later that it’s said that she changed her name to Harriet. All of the things she’s famous for are here, along with a few facts I didn’t know about but only serve to elevate her already heroic status. It’s easy to imagine kids who’re oversaturated with today’s superheroes being swept up by her story.
At the end the text is repeated without the artwork, just elevated a bit for the adults.

If All the World
A little girl spends a year—though that’s probably a metaphor—with her grandpa, whom she clearly adores. She even wishes she could replant all his birthdays so he never grows old. But how does she cope when he’s no longer there?
Her answer probably doesn’t help with the pain, but becomes a fitting tribute, and is likely a good idea for those who have recently gone through it.
The artwork has a sketchy—as in being colored sketches, not unclear or hinky—quality to them that help the story along.

Power to the Princess
According to the blurb, these are fairy tales retold for the #metoo generation, mostly text with some cute humans colorfully drawn in the margins, plus an occasional full-page artwork.
Best line, the one that best describes what this book is about: “And that is how Belle became a princess. But not that kind of princess.”
In case you were wondering if this is written in old-style English, one of the fairies likes to say, “Well, that was awkward.” Another story contains the line, “But he was a vegetarian, so that made it weird.” Possibly my fave comes from Snow White: Her hair, pitch black, was now white as snow. “Huh, that’s a new one,” Neve said in wonder.
There are labor unions, sleep clinics, fitness centers, and a detective who’s assigned to cold curse cases. Sleeping Beauty becomes an expert in the field of narcolepsy. No one needs to tell this guy not to date a damsel in permanent distress. And someone could make a fortune teaching the woodland-creature hair-braiding class.
But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows (BTW, there isn’t one unicorn or rainbow in the entire book). Some of the modern-day counterpart jobs were farfetched; somehow Belle becomes an undercover cop! It’s great that the princesses in the Little Mermaid got married, but there was no hint of them being anything more than friends before that.
The artwork is pretty much as you’d expect it. Snow White is a little jarring at first, with the overalls and white hair. Her stepmother, on the other hand, is just my style, even with the Medusa head.

Gina From Siberia
Unlike the husky that shows up every once in a while, Gina doggie doesn’t look like a snow dog, but living in Siberia gives you no other choice. Somehow she loves it, and doesn’t want to go when the family moves.
There’s a whole page of things she saw on the trip, some of them funny.
Dogs aren’t allowed on the train, but rather than put her in the basket, mom dresses her up as an ugly baby. Not smart. (The bio says this actually happened, so I can nitpick.) And dogs are allowed on the plane. Huh.
Knowing this is a period piece does not make seeing the hammer and sickle on the flags any less strange.
Gina does not like heat sources, considering she thinks radiators and vents are monsters. But for everyone except me, pizza makes everything better. And just like that Gina isn’t homesick anymore.
Incredibly simplistic artwork, considering it’s such a big story.

The Truth About Dinosaurs
A modern-day chicken tries to prove it’s actually a dinosaur, and in the process gives a lesson on actual dinos. It’s all done through the similarity of feet and a photo album, but don’t worry about there not being cameras to shoot the dinosaurs back then; after all, this story’s told by a talking chicken.
Dinosaur eggs look like gemstones.
This one got me with a line in the blurb: “For curious people from 4 up to 250 million years old.”
Silly, but educational.

Watermelon Madness
Noura loves watermelon so much she won’t eat anything else. (Even I have something other than bacon and ice cream once in a while!) She throws a tantrum when her mother feeds her something else, then goes downstairs in the middle of the night and scores a giant watermelon, taking it int her room and hiding it under her bed for munching in the morning. Then weird stuff happens.
If you want a kid to do something, I suppose there are worse ways of letting them know the penalty for disobeying. Could also serve as a lesson for parents to be more tolerant.

Little Tails Under the Sea
Other than the fact they’re in a sub instead of a plane, the format holds as the two little guys explore the world they find themselves in. The last one with the dinosaurs got a bit silly, so it’s good to see them back to something more realistic. . . if I can actually say that about talking animals.
As expected, they jaunt underwater, mostly staying away from other animals while describing them, giving the educational content this series always provides. And as always there’s some friendly critter that helps them out of the mess they made, though in this situation I would not have expected a polar bear.
I can just imagine the orca’s rage to be described as a big sea panda.
At the end there’s more info about each animal.
This was at least as good as the dinosaur one, though I liked the previous ones better. Nothing wrong with this one, though.

Diary of a Witch
Told in rhyme, this is a witch telling her story to her diary.
The wallpaper front page has a few sketches of scenes, such as broom, hat, cauldron, cat, but there’s also a hilarious shot of a jousting knight after a running spellcaster. See what happens when you forget your broom?
This redheaded witch has a heroic honker.
There’s an early shot of her reading about 80s glamour while complaining about her frizzy hair. Then she ditches the robe for heels and a leather miniskirt. . . kinda disturbing. The fact she’s in a fast car with a younger man might indicate her version of a midlife crisis.
So, basically she’s reexamining her life, trying to decide if being bad is a bad idea.
It’s cute, and not at all scary, but then I doubt it was meant to be.

Giant: A Panda of the Enchanted Forest
A giant panda sits in a tree, trying to stop eating and start sleeping, while other animals take in the scene. He only talks to the tree, though he’s surprised when it talks back. When an emergency strikes the forest, the two have to team up to save the day.
Pretty simple story, so it should appeal to the smaller kids, as long as they don’t get frightened. I didn’t find it particularly interesting, but then I’m not the demographic this book is going for.

Luke and Lottie. It’s Halloween!
A small brother/sister duo prepare for their first Halloween, which doesn’t bode well because they’re easily scared of the decorations.
There must not be a lot of streetlights in this neighborhood, considering the big lanterns they carry. And because they’re holding hands with Dad, they’re not gonna be able to carry their bags full of candy.
There’s one shot I love where Dad’s dressed up as a vampire and pretending to be scared of the ghost and the witch, and in the background Mom is giggling.
I learned banana ghosts desserts looks pretty cool, though not exactly mouthwatering.
Basically Halloween described to kids who’ve never seen it, or are scared of their first one. Pretty straightforward with some cute moments.

If a Dog Could Wear a Hat
A little pigtailed redhead is home in bed, apparently sick, if the thermometer and her sad face are clues. Looking for something to pass the time, she dreams in rhyming couplets of her dog doing various occupations, based on the hat the canine wears.
As you would expect, it’s too cute for words. Though relatively simple, the art shows exactly what it needs to and nothing more. Erin’s smile is so infectious, which is perfectly shown on a page near the end where she’s sitting on the floor surrounded by hats.
Ends with a twist!

My Favorite Pet: Hamsters
An early primer on what’s probably the world’s cutest rodent, with facts told in photos with captions.
The first quiz was a little too simple, even for a three-year-old.
Hamster balls are to hamster wheels what yoga balls are to exercise bikes.
There’s a glossary at the end which shows just how young the audience for this book is, but it’s fun enough, and there might be facts even adults don’t know.

Swim Little Fish
A small red fish does un-fish things like jumping out of the water and getting a tan before returning to its home in a seashell, getting into bed and looking out the window at the sea full of stars.
Big bright drawings show this book is meant for the littlest of kids than can understand what they’re seeing. It’s cute enough, though if you get kids too old for this they’ll ask why fish are doing human things.

Annabel and Cat / Annabel y Gato
The simplest of drawings help tell the story of. . . well, look at the title. On the opposite page is a description in both English and Spanish. The Cat is right there with Annabel as far as activities go, from putting on plays to arts and crafts, from making snowmen to eating pancakes to going to the library. Other than the wall shadows and the safari, there isn’t anything here that would have been different had Annabel been on her own, but then it wouldn’t be as cute.

Discover Military Equipment
As always in this series, rather than drawings, it’s photographs with captions.
Starts off with throwing knives, which I’m sure every kid will now want. In general, it’s a bit strange to be teaching kids about all the different ways someone can be killed.
More than once a chapter started with “____ changed warfare,” enough times for me to think it was purposeful, though it did make it boring.

My Favorite Machine: Fire Trucks
As always, this series has photos instead of drawings, which I think makes it better (ignore the part where I’m a photographer).
Lots of beauty shots in red; just about the only blue was a light. The most interesting photos were the ones showing the equipment stored in every nook and cranny.
There’s some really simple tests, with the answers in the back, alongside a glossary with incredibly basic definitions, which show this book is meant for very young children.

Snowy: A Leopard of the High Mountains
A family of snow leopards runs away when they hear human hunters, but the youngster is separated and feeling lonesome. A marmot drops from a tree, yet is not afraid of being used as lunch. Instead they snuggle and keep each other warm, then set off with the help of other animals to get the kid feline home.
As a lesson in teamwork and helping others, it’s fine. I just don’t find it very believable—and that’s after granting animals can talk—that such cooperation could exist amongst ALL animals, especially between predator and prey.

The Flying Rock
Kid getting picked on loses it and throws a rock at the bullies, only to find he’s got more of a pitcher’s arm than he suspected, plonking one of them on the head. He runs home to tell his grandpa what he did, and gramps sits him down for a lecture and a story. That story is about how you never know if luck is good or bad until the full circumstances play out, which I had heard before as an ancient Chinese parable.
The moral of the story the grandfather gave didn’t seem to fit, but the end of the framing section did bring it together. Won’t spoiler it, but let’s just say the medical stuff might be too much for small kids to handle. Other than that, it was a good story well told.

Just the Right Size
A quick tour through the animal kingdom, differentiating by size. Example: “A ladybug can land on a tree branch, a giraffe cannot. But a giraffe can do something else that’s great.” You get the gist, the point being that every animal is good at something no matter what the size.
Ends with a lesson and an interracial family hug, which is nice but a little highhanded, and probably not going to be understood by kids small enough to read this.

10 Reasons to Love … a Lion
As the title says, this book is all about why you should think lions are cool, though that also depends on your point of view. Saying that unlike other cats they enjoy hanging out together is one thing, but it takes a totally different meaning when you’re running for your life.
Each page features a beautiful drawing, filled with color and staring lions, as well as text and captions on other animals, as well as plants.
My favorite fact was that porcupines got the lions’ number!
Pangolins sure have gotten famous recently.
Nice to look at, some fun facts. Sure to be a hit with kids.