Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New Picture Books Focus on Friends

Little Elliot, Big City
            By Mike Curato
            Best for, Girls: Ages 4 - 8
            Rated: 2.75 (Friendship, Feelings of inadequacy)

            Fans of Melrose and Croc will find some similarities in Little Elliot, Big City. Both stories focus on anthropomorphic animals living alongside humans. In this case, Elliot is a small polka dotted elephant living in 1940’s New York City. He feels alone and left out until he meets a small white mouse. They form a fast friendship and work together to accomplish everything they felt they were too small to do when they were alone. This tale is a pretty straight-forward message of friendship and adventure in a big city. Children will relate to feeling different from those around them and the safety they feel among friends.

What’s good: The illustrations are sophisticated without losing their childish appeal.
What’s bad: Boys may find this book a little too sweet for their tastes.

Izzy & Oscar
By Allison Estes and Dan Stark
Illustrated by Tracy Dockray
Best For: Ages 4 – 8
Rated: 3 (Friendship, Imagination, Pets)

This summer adventure opens as Izzy and her friends embark on a pirate treasure hunt. Izzy is the captain of the surly crew, but some of her friends wonder how she can be a good pirate captain without a pet. Every pirate has a pet and as Izzy and her crew find the spot marked with an X they also find Izzy’s pet. It’s a purple octopus named Oscar. It’s certainly an unorthodox pet which adds to the humor when he sits on her shoulder or they go for a walk. As Oscar grows Izzy knows it would be best if her Octopus were back in the sea. But before they can get to the ocean they find a far better place for Oscar – as the lifeguard in their community pool. It’s a ridiculous tale of friendship, pets and great adventure – perfect for the last days of summer.

What’s good: Filled with humorous situations and likable illustrations.
What’s bad:
Children should understand the absurdity of an octopus as a pet, but who knows?

Orion and the Dark
By Emma Yarlett
Best For: Ages 4 - 8
Rated: 3.5 (Fears, Imagination, Friendship)

Some kids find the dark a scary thing, while others look at it as a big adventure. Orion and the Dark gives readers a bit of both philosophies. Although Orion’s parents tell him there is nothing to be afraid of, he sees the world as full of frightening things. The dark is at the top of the list until one night when Dark pays Orion a little visit. This friendly-ish looking creature takes Orion an adventure in the night – bouncing on beds and flying through space. Dark explains how sounds that seem scary in the night are easily explained in the light. By the end of their adventure Orion understands that Dark can be his friend and he’s not afraid of friends. It’s a great tale for children a little shy of the dark.

What’s good: Wonderful illustrations that will keep children and their parents staring at the pages.
What’s bad: Even with its friendly form, the idea that the dark can come to life may be off-putting to some children.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Book Reviews Are Coming!

It has been nearly two years since my last post. Not my last review - just my last post. I've been reviewing books for monthly magazines and city newspapers the entire time. I'm finally ready to begin updating my blog again. Look for new reviews in the coming weeks. I've got a lot ready to post.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New Site Under Construction

Please browse through the archived reviews, articles and author interviews. Keep your eyes open for a new site. In the meantime, look for new reviews in print or online at Kansas City Parent magazine, Upstate Parent magazine,  Lowcountry Parent magazine and the Post and Courier newspaper.

Thank you for your patience,

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Winter's Tale

New rules, laws and regulations state that I have to make it clear on each review whether the book was supplied free of charge by the publisher, author or illustrator. (The mention on my home page isn't enough.) With the cold snap I began thinking about a book I reviewed for my monthly magazine column. It was not provided as a review copy. As a matter of fact, I read it while I spent a couple hours doing research at a local bookstore. I hope you enjoy.
"Black Dog"
By  Levi Pinfold
For Ages 4 - 8
              What is your biggest fear and how do you face it? In Levi Pinfold’s, "Black Dog" the Hope family’s fears are embodied in a black dog a large, scary black dog. The cover hides any dark side and offers only a beautifully illustrated house tucked into a wintry wood. Turning the pages to see what comes next is only natural.
             When Mr. Hope spots a black dog in the yard he is struck by its large size. As each family member describes what they see, the dog grows larger and larger. It begins as the size of a tiger. Then grows to the size of an elephant. Finally it becomes as large as a Big Jeffy – whatever that is.
             But this story is about confronting fears, not watching them prowl around your yard. Although it’s a little expected (some might say trite) little Small Hope, the baby of the family, decides to see what all the fuss is about. She marches out to the dog and they play chase. As they run, all the "big" fears become silly little concerns that are "nothing to be afraid of." By the time Small returns to the house the big, bad dog is just a lovable little hound.
             The rich color illustrations and black-and-white thumbnail sketches add multiple layers to this imaginative tale. There's only one possible complaint for this great story-time pick. Be sure your children understand not to wander away from their families and confront strange dangers lurking outside their homes.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Heroes, Villains and Kisses

The holidays are over and it is time for me to get back to work. So let's not waste any time.

By Sybil Nelson
For Ages 9 - 13   
            Teen superheroes, hormones, villains galore and family issues make this installment of the "Priscilla the Great" series a must read. Rated 4 (peril, teen romance, adventure)

            Sybil Nelson picks up Priscilla's story a couple months after the first book in the series ended. As with the first book, this one is filled with action, adventure, super villains (some new) and super powers. Although this story has its share of fighting and bad guys, you may be surprised to here me say that it's not about that. It's about family and boyfriends. 
            To begin with, Priscilla is struggling with maintaining a long distance relationship with her boyfriend. It doesn't help that she has to erase his memory after every visit. While her boyfriend situation is happening, Priscilla's mom is sick and getting sicker. To top it off, something dangerous is nagging at the family and nobody knows what it is. 
            Filled with character development and and action, Nelson doesn't have to try very hard to maintain plot momentum. She even finds a way to squeeze in the kidnapping of the president's daughter and a daring rescue. Fans of the first book, and preteen girls looking for a strong teen character, won't be disappointed. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment. 

            Nelson has also made her fans very happy with a new series about Marco Avalon. The first issue can be found on Amazon.com and the second should be coming out soon. My 12-year-old son loves the "Priscilla" series and is bugging me for the new "Dark Marco" book. So I'll review it after we've finished it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dragon Tales

Dragons seem to be a big deal on the book shelves these days. So here are two quick reviews of books for your kids to enjoy.

"How to Train your Dragon: How to Steal a Dragon's Sword"
By Cressida Cowell
For Ages 8 - 14
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon, Toothless star in the very entertaining ninth adventure of the "How to Train your Dragon" series. A dragon rebellion, featuring Tonguetwisters and Vampire Ghouldeaths that are attacking the Archipelago. Can Hiccup save the day? To do so, he’ll have to outwit a witch, beat his arch nemesis and with one sword battle an angry horde of dragons. 
What’s good: Compelling action and adventure and that will keep even reluctant readers enthralled.
            What’s bad: After nine books some of the content seems predictable.

"Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy"
By Tui T. Sutherland
For Ages 8 - 12
Fans of the “Warriors” series should find “Dragonet Prophecy” series equally entertaining. Follow this diverse world of dragons as they try to avert war. The action is plentiful, as is the adventure. They always seem to go hand-in-hand. The dragons show all the traits of humans – selflessness, bravery, anger, rage and more. Kids will be able to relate to the dragons and eagerly read their continuing tales as the series progresses. 
What’s good: Interesting characters and plenty of adventure.
          What’s bad: Dark, moody and possibly too violent for younger readers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

One Week Until Election Day

I know the storm is on everyone's mind as well it should be. We're all concerned for the people affected by Sandy. That said, we're one week away from electing the president of the United States. So I'm going to review one more picture book on the presidential election.

"Grace for President"
By Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated bu LeUyen Pham
For Ages 5 – 8
        Why can't a girl be president? Grace sets out to prove that they can as she runs for class president and learns all about campaigning. Rated 3.5 (politics, election, elementary school)  

When Grace’s teacher unrolls a large poster of the American presidents, Grace is shocked to learn that there are no girls on it. After sitting and thinking at her desk, Grace finally makes the announcement that she will be president one day. This spurs her teacher to organize an election. Each student in her class represents a state and can cast the allotted number of electoral votes for that state. Grace’s opponent turns out to be a very smart and popular boy who has shrewdly studied the electoral map and knows that boys hold a higher vote total. Then the campaign begins and Grace pulls out all the stops. She gives stump speeches, hands out cupcakes and even begins fulfilling campaign promises before the election. Does it all pay off? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Since this book is about politics you might wonder about agendas or bias. I’m sure you can find some if you look. Maybe it’s the name of the elementary school – Woodrow Wilson Elementary, the fact that it’s a popular white boy running against an African American girl, or possibly that the book only discusses the electoral college and not the popular vote. It’s sad that we adults think in those terms. We end up missing the real take away from the story. If you believe in yourself, don’t take anything for granted, don’t expect anything to be given to you, and work hard for what you want, you can accomplish anything in the United States of America.