September 21, 2020

Review: A Wave of Stars

A Wave of Stars
By Dolores Brown
Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
Available now from NubeOcho
Review copy

I was attracted to A Wave of Stars due to the arresting cover, with adorable turtle and a seal clutching a merman plush. I am glad I decided to pick it up, because the art is beautiful throughout.

 Sonja Wimmer's art has a softness to it that makes the characters look extra cute. The bright colors are well-suited to a story that partially takes place in the ocean. There are also lots of fun details for young readers to spot, like where the merman plush is on each page as it gets tossed through the waves with Mimbi and Kipo, the seal and turtle. There's also a really fun use of color and style where not only are some detail images done in black and white, but some images turn black and white when they cross a border.

The story by Dolores Brown is quite simple. Mimbi and Kipo are told a legend about the moonbow (a rainbow at night), and then they see one and are turned into human children against their will. With the help of a thankfully kind fisherman, they are able to turn back and go home. The flow of the text was somewhat choppy, in my opinion. Also, Mimbi and Kipo's distress at being turned into humans might be too much for more sensitive children.

I think A Wave of Stars is best used in a setting where a child can really linger over the illustrations instead of having to hurry on to the next page to finish the story.

September 17, 2020

Review: The College Vegetarian Cookbook: 150 Easy, Budget-Friendly Recipes

The College Vegetarian CookbookWritten and illustrated by Stephanie McKercher, MS, RDN
Available now from Rockridge Press
Review copy

Stephanie McKercher is a registered dietician as well as a food blogger. Her first cookbook, The College Vegetarian, focuses on dishes that are easy and quick and inexpensive to make, and that use few ingredients and tools. This focus means that the recipes are also handy for those of us who are well past our college years.

The first chapter of The College Vegetarian is a handy reference that covers  cooking techniques, how to store the ingredients and food, and other basics. It also introduces the main ingredients for a healthy, inexpensive vegetarian diet and discusses what nutrition each provides. (It also further convinced me I could never actually be vegetarian as I don't like beans, tomatoes, or mushrooms.)

The recipes contained within The College Vegetarian are quite simple. Most involve around five steps. Some in the drinks section only have two steps. There were a few recipes that struck me as perhaps too simple for even a basic cookbook. "Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Bowls," for instance, is instructions on how to add things to yogurt to jazz it up and add additional ingredients. But I can acknowledge that parfaits are a dish.

There were also times I felt McKercher went too simple. The "Vegan Gumbo" uses only vegetable broth. Gumbo is a roux-based soup. Now, you would need to adjust roux to make it vegan instead of just vegetarian, but with single search, I found three-ingredient vegan rouxs. I don't think it would've added that much complexity, and making a roux is an excellent foundational skill to learn for making all sorts of soups. 

I made a few test recipes. In general, I found that the times took about twice as long if you needed to chop your vegetables or do other prep that was taken for granted. Every recipe I tried was also distinctly underseasoned. I would add extra salt and pepper to taste. The strangest issue I ran into was making the "Broccoli Cheddar Strata," which called for an 8-by-11 inch glass baking dish. I have an 8-by-8 dish and a 9-by-13 dish, and another search reassured me that those were the two standard glass baking dish sizes (along with a 9-by-9 square). It's just an odd thing to mess up.

But I do think that these recipes are quite nice and a good intro to vegetarian cooking on a budget. I certainly have plenty of ideas to try out.

September 13, 2020

Review: Looking for Ladybug in Ocean City

Looking for Ladybug in Ocean City
Written and illustrated by Katherina Manolessou
Available now from Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Review copy

This is the second Look for Ladybug picture books, but like many picture books of a similar type, you don't have to read them in any particular order. In this book, animal detectives Daisy and Bell lose their pet ladybug in Ocean City and look for her in all sorts of undersea landscapes.

Look for Ladybug in Ocean City is designed for younger children than Where's Waldo? or the I Spy books. The pages are less crowded, although there is still plenty to discover within the bright, inviting illustrations. There's five items to look for on every page, three items mentioned in the text on every page, and plenty of other things for children to spot on their own.

(There is one time where Ladybug is hidden in a corner, so be careful where you rest your hand on the page!)

My favorite spread was that covering "The Museum." On the gallery walls were fish versions of famous artworks. I found them hilarious! There are several jokes in the design that are likely to amuse an older reader who is challenging a child to look for Ladybug.

This is a very beautiful search and find book for children.

September 9, 2020

Review: Ghostwriter

GhostwriterWritten and illustrated by Rayco Pulido
Available now from Fantagraphics
Review copy

In 96 pages, Rayco Pulio delivers a taut thriller that makes excellent use of the graphic novel format. I can see why Fantagraphics decided to translate Ghostwriter from the original Spanish.

Set in Barcelona, 1943, Ghostwriter follows Laia, a scriptwriter for a popular advice program on the radio, as she hounds the detective she hired to find her missing husband. Laia's advice is constrained by religious control and patriarchal oppression; she has to write that women should stay by their husbands and try to be better wives, no matter what horrors are in the letters sent to her. Laia's dead-eyed rage is a simple thing to understand.

I adore how the words and images work together to tell the story in Ghostwriter. Many things are shown before they become important, but since they were shown, the connections make sense and everything feels intentional. One of my favorite bits is when Laia throws a coin-like object in a jar in the first few pages. It gave me pause at first, trying to figure out this small object in black and white. Later, it became sinister.

For all the twists and turns it takes, Ghostwriter is not a very complicated story. Laia's motives are simple, no matter how convoluted her methods. There is a delightful economy to this dark little tale. Ghostwriter also isn't afraid to be a little silly or to include moments of juvenile behavior.

I quite enjoyed Ghostwriter and hope more of Pulido's work gets translated.

September 5, 2020

Review: A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes

A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes
Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

The Smart Girl's Guide to Boys has been fully updated to become A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes: Dating, Rejection, and Other Stuff. This book is a timely, relevant guide for young girls who are starting to become hormonal.

 The most obvious update to the material is the A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes acknowledges that girls might have crushes on boys, girls, both, or neither (and that the same goes for boys). Most of the examples use boys and straight is generally assumed as the default, but there are nods to same-gender attraction throughout. (There is no trans inclusivity that I noticed, which is a lack.)

Elisa Chavarri's cartoons liven up the proceedings and also work to include all girls. There are boys and girls of many ethnicities shown, some variations in body types, and a very few disabled people. 

 I appreciate that the focus of A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes is on how to handle crushes without losing sight of yourself and the things you value, such as schoolwork and friends. It covers many tricky situations, including how to say no clearly to someone who asks you out (without being mean) and how to dump someone (with signs of when it needs to be done).

The content is carefully targeted to the age group and doesn't go past kissing and hand holding. The book gets raciest when talking about things to watch out for. For instance, if a boy sends a girl a photo of  a woman in lingerie, that is harassment, not flirting. A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes also covers tough situations like if a friend's boyfriend is being mean to her or if friends report to you that your boyfriend is mean to people when you aren't around. Though domestic abuse is a heavy topic, these red flags are handled at an entirely appropriate level with sensible advice.

I also appreciated how A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes handled the role of social media and texts in modern-day flirting and dating, with reminders that texts and photos can be forever through screenshots and forwarding. The example shown is an embarrassing photo wearing a face mask, but teaching children to stop and think before sending even innocent photos is a good foundation. The book also emphasizes that selfies should also never be sent to people you only know through online games, but only to people you know in real life.

A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes also doesn't give in to silly romcom logic. If someone starts dating someone they knew you were crushing on, that's fine. A crush isn't dibs. You can date someone a friend used to date and broke up with. There's also some handy gentle advice on how to avoid getting sucked into drama.

I think A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes is a handy book to pass on to any young girl in your life. I suggest reading it first, so you know the jumping-off points for anything you might want to talk about in more depth.

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