Book Review: Lessons from Shadow: My Life Lessons for Boys and Girls by Shadow Bregman (2017)

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

All I Need to Know about Life I Learned from Dogs

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Shadow Bregman has been through a lot in her short twelve years. She was rescued from an abusive home; pushed around by her older adopted sister, Betsy; and braved the loss of both her mother and sister. She’s got a life’s worth of wisdom to impart to her young readers, but the task requires an astute translator: Shadow is a black Lab, you see! Luckily, her Daddy Walter is more than happy to help.

Lessons from Shadow is a sweet and heartfelt book. Using anecdotes about Shadow’s life as a jumping-off point, Bregman addresses tough topics like bullying, depression, and loneliness in a unique and accessible way. The chapter on sadness hit me especially hard, since I’m grappling with similar issues in my own life:

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Now, it’s just Daddy and me. We lost Mommy and we lost Betsy and now it’s just the two of us together trying not to be sad all the time. It’s getting a little better I guess now that it’s been quite a while. But, you can never forget the wonderful people you knew and the great times you had, and you never should. Always keep them in your heart. Just try and get on with your life and be as good a person as the people you lost were.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the intended audience, though; while the tone seems aimed at younger readers, this is really more of a short chapter book than a picture book. Each lesson is told via one to three pages of twelve-point, single-spaced type. Parents and caregivers should probably expect to read this one to/with their younger bookworms and animal lovers.

The book has a decidedly homemade, DIY vibe to it – which isn’t a bad thing!; I’d love to have similar keepsakes for my own rescue dogs (seven and counting). That said, I think it could have benefited from a more heavy-handed editor. Granted, the story is told in Shadow’s voice and aimed at a younger audience, which speaks to the tone. Yet I noticed several obvious errors (e.g., capitalization), not to mention the many long and meandering sentences.

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The illustrations by Fatima Stamato are charming, and the format is nicely done as well; it has the feeling of a scrapbook. I also love that Bergman has promised to donate the proceeds to Best Friends, of which his late wife Robbie was an ardent supporter.

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The afterward even includes an invitation to email the author herself, which is hecka awesome and makes me even more envious. I know I’d get a kick out of reading letters addressed to my forever dog, Kaylee; Ralphie the one-eyed wiener dog; or little Noodle Mags. When they’re gone, our loved ones live on in our hearts and memories; in the stories they inspire, and the good deeds we carry out in their names. Shadow Bregman is one lucky little girl.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton (2017)

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Super-fied!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Earlier Reviewers program.)

In the second installment of Ben Clanton’s Narwhal and Jelly series, our favorite unicorn of the sea has been bitten by the superhero bug. Narwhal has decided that he, too, wants to be a superhero. He’s got a superhero name (Super Narwhal), a flashy costume (yellow cape), a sidekick (Jelly Jolt), and a secret identity (Clark Parker Wayne) … but no superpowers to speak of. Or so he thinks.

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Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt features the same adorable and irreverent artwork as its predecessor – and yes, there are waffles.

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I actually liked Volume 2 a smidgen more than the first; while both books center the importance of empathy and friendship, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt goes a step further, teaching kids that we all have a superpower that can change the world for the better. Most of us just need to dig (dive?) a little deeper within ourselves to find it.

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Also neat: the educational interlude about real-life superpowered sea creatures.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Nightlights, Lorena Alvarez (2017)

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Lorena Alvarez’s Artwork Positively Shines!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Atoms are the smallest building blocks of matter. We are not able to see them with the naked eye … but everything that surrounds up is made of atoms. The stars … our bodies … the entire universe. They combine in millions of ways to create all the things we see and touch … and all the things we haven’t seen yet.

— 4.5 stars —

Every night when she closes her eyes, shiny little bubbles (stars? bursts of light and energy and joy?) appear over Sandy’s bed. When she catches them, she’s transported to another place: one filled with vibrant colors; giant, wide-eyed creatures; and funky plants of every shade and hue. In the morning, she fills her room with drawings of these other worlds (occasionally neglecting her homework to do so. Oops!)

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One day Sandy meets a mysterious new girl in the schoolyard: tale, pale to the point of translucence, with light purple hair. (Surely the nuns would have something to say about that?) Morfie is at first a welcome distraction; whereas the other kids think Sandy’s kind of weird, Morfie fawns over her artwork. But things take a sinister turn when Morfie begins to visit Sandy at inopportune times, and a nefarious, razor-toothed demon-child haunts Sandy’s dream-world.

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This sounds maybe a little scarier than it actually is. While Lorena Alvarez’s illustrations do pack a bit of a bite, they’re also lovely and whimsical and full of color and life. The target audience for Nightlights is ages nine and up, but adults are sure to be won over by the artwork. Some of the pages are suitable for framing, okay.

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As for the moral of the story, I’m not entirely sure I got it. In Morfie, I think there’s a message about following your passion because you love it, and not for the praise and awards and external feedback you hope to get from others. Staying true to yourself, because yours is the opinion that counts. It’s also important to strike a balance between work and play, responsibilities and extracurricular activities, science and the arts. And if you know why things are, it only makes them more wondrous.

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I also love the diversity here: from the students to the parents to the nuns/teachers, there are girls and women of all skin tones, shapes, and sizes. Lorena Alvarez was born in Bogotá, and the story definitely feels like it could be set in Columbia.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Yes! See my review for more.

Animal-friendly elements: n/a

 

Mini-Review: The Land of Nod, Robert Louis Stevenson & Robert Hunter (2017)

Friday, February 10th, 2017

An Illustrated Version of the Robert Louis Stevenson Poem

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

The Land of Nod
By Robert Louis Stevenson

From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.

All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.

The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.

Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.

— 3.5 stars —

Robert Hunter’s The Land of Nod is an illustrated children’s book based on the Robert Louis Stevenson poem of the same name; the poem is produced verbatim, and coupled with illustrations to help bring the text to life.

The art is simple yet whimsical, with a dream-like quality. Hunter uses quite a bit of blues and pinks, which is reminiscent of twilight, I guess, but doesn’t always do the poem’s psychedelic potential justice. The palette just feels a little flat for my taste.

Despite the ominous reference to “frightening sights,” the art is very tame and totally suitable for children of all ages.

I especially appreciated the landscape for “Both things to eat and things to see,” which shows a pig happily blowing on a horned instrument in the dreamer’s band, while the leader foists a giant raspberry in the air.

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Pigs are friends, not food! Or BAMF tuba prodigies. Either or.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Ben Clanton (2016)

Monday, December 12th, 2016

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Come for the narwhals, stay for the under-the-sea waffle parties.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

Good thing that waffle is a kung fu master!

Every time I pick up Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, I picture Season Eight Leslie Knope reading it to her triplets before bed.

I mean, there are waffles! With a strawberry sidekick! Fighting robots! And they also know how to party!

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I’m 99.9998% certain that Narwhal the narwhal is Leslie Knope’s daemon in an alternate universe. (That pinprick of doubt? Stems from the shocking lack of waffle toppings. Like, where’s the whipped cream? The chocolate sauce? The gorram sprinkles?!)

So, like, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of a graphic novel for kids. As it turns out, it feels a lot like a picture book, but with panels like a comic book. It’s definitely meant for younger readers, but that’s okay! Adults can still enjoy it too. It’s silly and weird, but also hecka cute and kind of a fun distraction. And don’t we all deserve a little escapism after the dumpster fire that has been 2016?

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The book’s comprised of five short stories that follow a narwhal named Narwhal who’s found himself in strange waters. He befriends a perplexed little jellyfish; forms his own pod, with the help of shark, blowfish, and octopus; shares his favorite book (don’t get the pages wet!); throws a super-awesome party; and celebrates all things waffle-related.

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In summary:

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(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Santa’s First Vegan Christmas, Robin Raven & Kara Maria Schunk (2016)

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Have yourself a caring little Christmas / Let your heart be full.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: The author sent me a free e-book in exchange for an honest review.)

Okay, I won’t even try to play. This book legit made me cry.

Dana is spirited little reindeer calf, living free in the Arctic tundra. It’s the night before Christmas, and she and her friends are racing and dancing and frolicking in the snow and ice, having a grand old time. Their celebrations are oh-so-rudely interrupted by the thundering of sleigh bells. It’s Santa, and he’s come to recruit a new reindeer for the team. He sets his sights on sprightly Dana, and no wonder: she’s positively bursting with joy and energy.

But dear old Santa is about to get schooled. Dana balks at the harness Santa tries to throw on her, instead giving him a lesson in kindness, compassion, and respect for all beings.

Santa, look. I know you meant no harm.
You’re just going along with the cultural norm.
But horses pulling carriages, reindeers pulling sleighs?
It’s all got to end. And I mean starting today!

Worry not, young ones! Christmas isn’t doomed, but transformed. Dana agrees to help Santa, but as an equal. They deliver toys to all the world’s boys and girls, but during their annual merry-making spree, Santa and Dana also free captive fishes, birds, and horses; deliver farmed cows, pigs, and chickens to sanctuaries; and break the chains that doom countless backyard dogs to isolated and lonely existences. In a lovely show of solidarity, Santa and Dana also help those humans in need, delivering food to the hungry and cash monies to the impoverished. (It’s a temporary fix, sure, but maybe save Murray Bookchin and The Shock Doctrine for the high school years?)

Santa’s First Vegan Christmas is a must-read holiday story for vegans of all ages. I’m 38 and childfree and, like I said, I was positively bawling by story’s end. Parents are sure to love its message of equality, not to mention the fresh rhymes and consistent ethics. It’s hard to know what to expect of vegan-friendly books – after all, there are as many reasons to go vegan as there are vegans! – but Santa’s First Vegan Christmas checks all the right boxes. Farmed animals, working animals, companion animals, human animals – the inherent worth of all creatures is celebrated. Robin Raven even drops the s-word (as in sentience, silly!).

Robin Raven’s lovely and uplifting story is complemented wonderfully by Kara Maria Schunk’s illustrations. The colors aren’t limited to the traditional holiday palette of green, white, and red, but rather feature a shock of bright oranges, deep purples, and sky blues. The bold mix brings to mind the various images of the Aurora Borealis I’ve marveled at over the years. (And no wonder, given the setting.)

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Me: A Compendium: A Fill-in Journal for Kids, Wee Society (2016)

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

A Fun & Very Do-Able Journal for Kids Aged 4-8

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Blogging for Books.)

When it comes to journals, I thought I’d seen it all: Mindfulness journals. Journals for book lovers to track their reading progress. Gratitude journals. Journals with prompts. Collage journals. Journals shaped like ice cream sandwiches. Enter: journals for the preschool set.

Even though, at thirty-eight, I’m well past the target audience, I decided to give Me: A Compendium a try. After all, I love unconventional journals, journals with a heavy graphic element that don’t require so much writing (because who has the time? And also the handwriting skills? Mine jumped the shark shortly after college graduation.) And if it wasn’t for me, I could always give it away.

As it turns out, when the publisher says that it’s intended for preschool through third grade, they are not kidding. And that’s a good thing!

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With its simple style; bold, bright colors; blocky artwork; and age-appropriate prompts/activities, this is a journal that’s both fun and very do-able for younger kids. The layouts are silly yet engaging, with plenty of space to write, draw, or even paste on your response. The paper is nice and thick, which is great for less than perfectly coordinated hands.

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The prompts run the gamut, from “If I were an underwater sea creature, this is what I would be” to “My favorite holiday” and “These are my top three ice cream flavors.”

Okay, on second thought, maybe this book is just my speed.

There are even some goodies hidden under the dust jacket, including a blank cover for the journaler to personalize herself.

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This would make a great gift for a creative or introspective kid, especially one who loves assisting with mom or dad’s scrapbooking (but maybe can’t be trusted with the glue and glitter quite yet!).

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Baba Yaga, An Leysen (2016)

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Charming Illustrations and a Story That’s Suitable for Kids

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

A long time ago, in a land far away, lived a young girl named Olga. Ever since her mother passed away, it’d just been Olga and her father. But he filled her days with games and stories, and they always had food to eat and a place to sleep; things were generally pretty good. That is, until dad remarried.

Olga’s stepmother wasn’t just evil; she was a straight-up witch. Or the sister of one, anyway. Olga’s stepmother fed her scraps and made her do all the chores, all by herself. But Olga never complained, which caused her stepmother to hate her even more. One day, she sent Olga to her sister’s house to fetch a needle and some thread. What might otherwise be a mundane chore was actually a suicide mission: for Olga’s step-aunt was none other than the storied Baba Yaga, child-meat connoisseur. Luckily, Olga didn’t go into battle unarmed: she had a magical doll, gifted her by her late mother, to help guide the way.

I’m not super-familiar with the Baba Yaga fairy tale but, from my limited knowledge, An Leysen’s version seems pretty faithful. All the staples are present and accounted for: a flying cauldron (mortar) steered by a broomstick (pestle); a house that sits on chicken legs; multiple witchy sisters (possibly all named Baba Yaga; we never do learn stepmom’s real name); and the ever-present threat of child cannibalism. Despite these more maudlin plot points, the story is rather tame and suitable for children.

In fact, Baba Yaga looks more like a kindly old grandmother – a babushka or nonna, perhaps – than a mean old witch.

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The artwork is really quite charming, with a textured feeling that resembles oil paints on canvas.

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The colors are rich and vibrant, except when they’re not: some pages are much more muted and somber than others, which makes for a rather interesting contrast. Sometimes a single object is imbued with color, as if to draw attention to its import. Likewise, there are variations in the size and style of the text as well, to emphasize tone and volume.

Olga is adorable as all get-out – but my eye was really drawn to the stepmother who, with her purple, upswept hair and seemingly painted-on mole, bears an uncanny resemblance to Marie Antoinette.

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Between Baba Yaga’s slighted maid, cat, and dog, the story imparts a simple yet important message: always treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated, lest it come back and bite you in the … stomach.

Also, don’t eat children.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Life Without Nico, Andrea Maturana & Francisco Javier Olea (2016)

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

For anyone who’s ever had to say goodbye.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Goodreads Giveaways.)

Nico and Maia are best friends: inseparable, even when they aren’t together. Then one day Nico’s father announces that they’re moving to Australia – temporarily – so that he can continue his studies. The days pass quickly – too quickly – and, before they know it, Nico is gone. After a period of mourning, Maia begins to open up to the world again: she adopts a kitten, makes a new friend, and learns the piano. With the blossoming of spring, Nico and his family are set to return. As excited as she is at the prospect, Maia worries, too: is there room in her new life for her old friend?

With charming and whimsical illustrations by Francisco Javier Olea and a simple yet sweet narrative by Andrea Maturana that will threaten to unravel your heartstrings, Life Without Nico is a picture book for children of all ages; for anyone who’s ever had to say an unwanted “goodbye.” It’s a lovely and lyrical rumination on love, loss, and the enduring power of friendship.

Ages 4-7 years.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Ivy in Bloom, Vanita Oelschlager & Kristin Blackwood (2009)

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Give me sunbeams dazzling!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through NetGalley.)

I’m a child of New York, where winters are cold, miserable, protracted affairs. By the time spring arrives (some time in May!), we’ve long since run out of places to pile the snow, and even the promise of weekends spent snowboarding aren’t enough to ease the seasonal depression. I moved to Missouri more than a decade ago, but even these mild winters are sometimes more than I can bear. The cabin fever kicks in mid-January, when all the fun holidays have come and gone, leaving nothing but grey skies and biting air in their wake.

So, Ivy? I feel ya.

Ivy in Bloom is an adorable little picture/poetry book that’s sure to lift the spirits of children and adults alike. It’s March, and cute-as-a-button Ivy Van Allsberg can’t wait for spring to bust up her winter monotony. The story kicks off with longing poetry penned by Vanita Oelschlager, and then transitions into lines sampled from the greats: Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, to name a few.

(While the poets aren’t credited in the body of the text, so as not to interrupt the flow, the back matter reprints the poems, with the borrowed lines highlighted. It’s a neat way to get younger readers interested in poetry without overwhelming them, I think.)

As lovely and cunningly crafted as the text is, the artwork might just be my favorite part of the book. Kristin Blackwood’s illustrations are cute as all get out, and she does a skillful job of reflecting the changing tone of the story. Dreary shades of grey give way to rich browns and (eventually) vibrant, life-affirming greens and yellows and reds as spring blossoms.

Read it: from the bottom of a cozy dog pile; with a cup of warm tea; when you’ve had your first daffodil sighting of the year.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess, Janet Hill (2016)

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

Whimsical Artwork Paired With Sage Advice

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-book for review through NetGalley.)

I don’t usually gravitate to kids’ books, but with a title like Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess I was powerless to resist. Dog Governess? Hello! That’s only my dream job! That and reading books for a living. Preferably from the bottom of a warm, cozy dog pile. But I digress.

I have four rescue dogs (down from seven at the highest point) and also foster, so I’m betting that I’m the target audience for this book. Or one of them anyway. While obviously suitable for kids, Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess is also likely to appeal to adults who love dogs, as well as connoisseurs of irreverent animal art.

Mother to a monkey named Mitford and Petunia the French bulldog, the redheaded Miss Moon is employed as a governess to sixty-seven dogs on an island off the coast of France. In this book, she shares the lessons she’s learned from her canine companions. Twenty pieces of wisdom, each illustrated by a lovely portrait of Miss Moon and her furry charges.

While Miss Moon’s guidance is indeed inspired – who can argue with advice like “Friends come in many shapes and sizes” or “A good book will chase away the dark”? – really it’s the artwork that will take your breath away. Each scene resembles a painting on canvas; I would happily hang any one of these images on my walls. There are dogs in hats, dogs in Halloween costumes, and dogs dressed as pirates. (So many pirates!) Dogs at the dinner table and dogs riding bicycles. Big dogs and tiny dogs and every dog in between. I think I even spotted my own dogs: a dachshund (no surprise – everyone loves a wiener dog!) and a fox or Jack Russell terrier of some sort (representations of these being a little harder to find).

Even the book’s layout appears to be carefully considered; the colors and background on the “advice” pages complement the illustrations like whoah. Really, this is one gorgeous children’s book – and I say this having only seen the electronic version. Usually I prefer the print version for books that have a heavy graphic element. I can’t wait to get my hands on a “real” copy.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Because I am a Girl: I can change the world, Rosemary McCarney & Jen Albaugh (2015)

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

An Excellent Addition to Middle School Libraries

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Because I am a Girl Manifesto

Because I am a girl…
I watch my brothers go to school while I stay home.

Because I am a girl…
I eat if there’s food left over when everyone is done.

Because I am a girl…
I am the poorest of the poor.

AND YET

Because I am a girl…
I will share what I know.

Because I am a girl…
I am the heart of my community.

Because I am a girl…
I will pull my family out of poverty if you gave me the chance.

Because I am a girl…
I will take what you invest in my and uplift everyone around me.

Because I am a girl…
I can change the world.

An initiative of Plan International, Because I am a Girl organizes and funds projects “that create better lives for girls, young women, and their communities around the world. Girls in different environments have different needs, so these projects cover everything from clean water and nutrition to education and microfinance.” Some of the current projects include improving accessibility to primary and secondary education in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia; combating child labor in India; and improving prenatal health care in Indonesia.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Moletown, Torben Kuhlmann (2015)

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Stunning Artwork, but the Ending Comes a Little Too Soon

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book from review through NetGalley.)

The story of Moletown begins with a lone mole, who tunneled underneath a lush, wild meadow. He was quickly joined by other moles. Content to live simply at first, development slowly spun out of control – and before they knew it, the green fields above their heads had been reduced to barren earth. Meanwhile, the tunnels below grew crowded, the air choked by cars and industry. (Much of which has a wonderful steampunk vibe.) On the brink of collapse, the moles saved their underground paradise at the 11th hour, thanks to a series of green initiatives.

The artwork here is absolutely breathtaking. DO NOT READ THIS ON A KINDLE. Seriously, you’d be downplaying the best part. Kuhlmann’s tiny mole protagonists are simply adorable, and his cityscapes are quite lovely. (Almost deceptively so, given the moral of the story.) He manages to take a mostly monochromatic landscape and imbue it with life and excitement. The story’s presented as a history of Moletown, complete with scrapbook-style pages at the beginning and end. If you can, spring for the hardcover edition: Moletown is a piece of artwork that’s meant to be held, stroked, and savored. Otherwise read it on a laptop, iPad, or similar: anything with generous screen size and color capabilities. A Kindle doesn’t come anywhere close to doing Kuhlmann’s art justice.

Less impressive are the solutions promised in the final pages. The text is quite sparse – there’s only six sentences in the entire book – and Kuhlmann lets his illustrations do the talking. For the most part, this works magically. But the end could have been a little longer, I think. The moles’ climate change initiatives are presented as snapshots at the end of the scrapbook; those positioned on the top and bottom are cut off, and others are partially obscured by overlapped photos, such that they’re difficult to fully make out. Best I can tell, the solutions include wind energy, planting flowers, and preserving green space – not exactly a recipe for change. (The ending is so abrupt at first I thought my review copy was damaged or incomplete!)

Buy it for the gorgeous artwork, but brainstorm some additional talking points for storytime with the kiddos.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Don Tate (2015)

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

“My heart to lift, my empty mind to feed, And all the world explore.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through NetGalley.)

George Moses Horton (1798–1884) was an African-American poet – the first black poet to be published in the Southern United States, as a matter of fact. Born into slavery, he taught himself to read and composed and memorized poetry in his head. When he was 17, his master decided to divide the estate. George and his family were separated, with George going to the master’s son.

On weekends, he traveled to nearby Chapel Hill to sell produce – and his poetry. Students at the University of North Carolina, taken with his verse, bought love poems at twenty-five cents apiece; Horton befriended the writer Caroline Lee Hentz, who helped him learn to write, and arranged for his work to be published in the Gazette. He also published a book of poetry, The Hope of Liberty, in 1929. With his earnings, Horton bought his time from his master (in an arrangement that was illegal) – but he was not allowed to purchase his freedom.

Despite his success and support from college students and faculty, Horton remained a slave. Many of his poems protested the “peculiar institution” of slavery, though he was forced into semi-retirement (from poetry, that is; he was still made to work on his master’s farm) by the start of the Civil War. Horton lived to see the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and became a free man at the age of sixty-six. After the end of the war, Horton traveled west with the Union army and transmuted his journey to verse.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: A Tale of Two Mommies, Vanita Oelschlager & Mike Blanc (2013)

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Family is as Family Does

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book from review through NetGalley.)

If you have a momma and a mommy, who fixes things when they break?

Oh, Mommy has all the tools. There’s nothing she can’t fix or make.

The young and super-adorable protagonist of this picture book lives in a non-traditional family, a same-sex household with two moms. As they play on the beach, his friends ask which of his moms – momma or mommy – help him with various tasks. Just as in a family with one mom and one dad, we come to see that each parent has different strengths and talents: Mommy makes a mean rice and beans, while momma is aces at climbing trees. (But kiddo empties his own pockets, mkay!) Of course, both moms are there when he needs to talk; there’s no shortage of tender loving care in this family.

When I reviewed A Tale of Two Daddies back in April, I hadn’t realized that Oelschlager and Blanc had already written a sequel. Happily, A Tale of Two Mommies shows much greater racial diversity than the original: the MC is a little boy of color, and one of his friends looks to be of Asian descent. (The third member of the trio is a cute little red-headed girl.) The two mommies are presumably white, making this a nice selection for families of interracial adoption, as well as those headed by same-sex couples. It also helps to bust up gender roles, as the moms perform both “masculine” and “feminine” tasks.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest that A Tale of Two Mommies is just for adopted kids or LGBTQ families: children from all backgrounds can benefit from its simple yet compassionate message. Non-traditional families are just like yours, at least in the ways that count most.

As a vegan, I could have done without the panel on fishing, but otherwise I recommend A Tale of Two Mommies wholeheartedly.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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Mini-Review: The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids, Ammi-Joan Paquette & Marie LeTourneau (2012)

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Rock that Conch Shell!

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through NetGalley.)

I was six years old when Splash first came out; and, although I probably didn’t get to watch it for a few more years, once I did I was officially hooked on mermaids. I used to swim around the pool with my legs mentally fused together, pretending that I was diving to depths much greater than our paltry four feet. I didn’t get to go to the beach often – the nearest one prohibited swimming due to pollution – so on those rare occasions when I was able to visit, my mom practically had to drag me home. To this day, I still have a thing for mermaids (and Daryl Hannah).

I wish I had a copy of The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids twenty-five years ago.

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Mini-Review: This Is Sadie, Sara O’Leary & Julie Morstad (2015)

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

There’s a Little Bit of Sadie in All of Us

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through NetGalley.)

Sadie likes to make boats of boxes
and castles out of cushions.
But more than anything she likes stories,
because you can make them from nothing at all.

Sadie is a little girl with a big imagination. She can talk to birds, sail ships, and fly among the clouds. In her many lives, she’s been a mermaid, a boy raised by wolves, and a hero fit for the grandest fairy tales. Sadie loves stories, and this is hers.

This Is Sadie is a lovely, playful ode to the power of imagination and the transformative potential of stories. Many of Sadie’s adventures are inspired by popular children’s books – Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, and every fairy tale ever – which makes this simple picture book a wonderful tool for cultivating a love of reading at a young age. Parents and teachers can use it as a jumping off point for discussing their own favorite kid’s books, or perhaps encouraging kids to find new favorites of their own as they grow.

The sparse text, penned by Sara O’Leary, shines next to Julie Morstad’s charming illustrations, which are as beautiful as they are whimsical. It was the picture of Sadie, sporting a fox mask and staring out from a field of wildflowers, that first caught my attention. The rest of the artwork is drawn in a similar style and does not disappoint.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: A Tale of Two Daddies, Vanita Oelschlager, Kristin Blackwood & Mike Blanc (2010)

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Bold & Vivid Graphics Paired with a Sweet & Simple Message

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through NetGalley.)

When a young girl’s classmate inquires about her two daddies, the pair go through a rhyming checklist of tasks to see which daddy – Poppa or Daddy – will likely come to her aid in each scenario.

Who’s the dad who helps with homework?
And which dad helps when you’re covered in dirt?
Both my dads help with my math.
But Poppa’s the dad who helps in the bath.

While it soon becomes clear that each father has his own special strengths and areas of expertise (just as with same-sex couples), there’s no shortage of TLC in this family.

This picture book pairs catchy verses with bold, vivid digital graphics to impart a message that’s as simple as it is (sadly) necessary. It’s a heartwarming little book that’s sure to appeal to younger readers.

Though I feel a little weird singling out a book with such a small cast of characters (two; four if you include the dads, who only appear as disembodied arms and legs) for lack of racial diversity, I think it’s worth noting that the girl and her friend are both light-skinned – a fact which might limit this book’s appeal to white families.

I viewed this on my laptop (a .pdf file accessed through NetGalley) – but the artwork is so clean, and the text so sparse, that it seems like it should be easy to read on a Kindle as well. That said, you’re sure to get the maximum aesthetic impact with a PC, laptop, iPad, or similar device.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart, Jennifer Adams & Ron Stucki (2014)

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Edgar Avian Poe: The Early Years

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program.)

Edgar is a rambunctious little toddler who just so happens to be a raven. One day his mother goes out, leaving Edgar and his sister Lenore to fend for themselves. What starts out as a fun afternoon of coloring ends in disaster, when Edgar starts chasing Lenore around the house with paper airplanes and accidentally knocks over the bust of his namesake, Edgar Allen Poe. Edgar attempts to hide the evidence, but Poe’s head is way too large to stuff under the floor boards – and with Lenore threatening to Cindy Brady him, it’s unlikely he’ll escape punishment anyway. What’s a toddler to do?

Part of Jennifer Adams’s “BabyLit” series, Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart is a fun way for parents to instill a love of literature in their kids from the crib onward. Other books in the series include homages to Dracula; Jane Austen; Moby Dick; Romeo & Juliet; Jane Eyre; Wuthering Heights; Frankenstein; The Wizard of Oz; A Christmas Carol; and Sherlock Holmes – and Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart is preceded by the similarly Poe-themed Edgar Gets Ready for Bed. (Quoth the raven: “Nevermore!”)

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Book Review: Dave Loves Chickens, Carlos Patino (2013)

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Pro tip: You can get a good deal on this title if you buy it through United Poultry Concerns’ website!

Give a Cluck about Chickens!

five out of five stars

Chickens are kind of awesome. They can distinguish between more than one hundred faces (chicken faces, that is!). They enjoy sunbathing – and dust bathing! When they sleep, chickens often dream – we know this because they experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. A mother hen will bravely protect her chicks from predators; using “chicken” as a synonym for “cowardly” doesn’t quite fit. Chickens can travel up to nine miles an hour and, when not slaughtered for their meat or caged for their eggs, chickens can live anywhere from five to eleven years in the wild.

But don’t take my word for it. Just listen to Dave, the three-eyed, double-horned, snaggle-toothed, lumpy blue alien. (Okay, so maybe I put a few factoids in his mouth in order to spice up this review, but you get the gist!) He’s pretty smart, you know; he’d have to be, to master space travel and all.

A visitor from Far, Far Away, Dave can’t understand why we love some animals and eat others. All animals are pretty cool and have a right to be free – chickens included!

With bold, bright colors and fun graphics, Dave Loves Chickens is an adorable picture book that encourages kids to respect animals by not eating or otherwise exploiting them. The message is presented in a fun, engaging, and gentle way, stressing the unique attributes of chickens as opposed to, say, explaining the horrors endured by battery hens in egg-laying facilities. Dave Loves Chickens is an excellent resource for parents and guardians who want to raise kind, compassionate, and critically-thinking kids.

And this 35-year-old enjoyed the artwork and enthusiastic message, too.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)