October 30, 2020

Review: Where's Waldo? Spooky Spotlight Search

Where's Waldo? Spooky Spotlight Search

Part of the Where's Waldo? series
By Martin Handford
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

Just in time for Halloween comes Where's Waldo? Spooky Spotlight Search, a new Where's Waldo book with a gimmick. You use a glow-in-the-dark wand that slides beneath a transparent image to find Waldo.

The slider isn't super bright, so I recommend using it in a dim room rather than a fully dark one. A flashlight can also be used to make the picture over the glowing star appear brighter.

In some ways, Where's Waldo? Spooky Spotlight Search is more difficult than a standard Waldo book. Since you can only see a small part of the image at a time, it is possible to accidentally skip over the bit Waldo is in. At the same time, the transparency only takes up part of one page instead of the image being a full bleed over two pages. There is much less space to look over. The hardest page had Waldo hidden at the very edge. But Martin Handford's art does always have so much fun packed into it that there is far more to look for than Waldo, the other characters, and even the bonuses listed on each page.

Buy Where's Waldo? Spooky Spotlight Search for the gimmick. It is also good for introducing younger kids to Where's Waldo? It doesn't have as many pages as most Waldo books and has a more limited search area, making it quicker to get through in addition to the glow-in-the-dark mechanic. Kids on the older end of the Where's Waldo? age range might be disappointed by this one.

October 27, 2020

Review: Little People, Big Dreams Coloring Book

Little People, Big Dreams Colorng BookCreated by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara
Available now from Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Review copy

The Little People, Big Dreams series created by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara now contains more than forty books, as well as various compilations, dolls, and other material - such as this coloring book. This coloring book takes material from 15 of the previous books, with each person's name, an identifying title, birth and death years, and a short bio opposite a page to color.

The biographies are cute and often make a thematic suggestion about how the page might be colored. Even after the pages are colored in, kids might want to reread their favorite bio (or have someone buy the full book for them).

The art has lots of nice, big spaces for young hands to fill in. The cartoonish styles from various artists are cute, but I think the majority don't look particularly similar to the people they are supposed to represent. They're most recognizable by the iconography around them. 

I think a nice range of figures are included. There are people famed for science, art, sports, activism, or some combination of notable work. There are men and women, white, Black, Hispanic, and Asian people. With only 15 people featured, I like that an effort was made to include such a variety of inspiring people.

I do think that at only 15 coloring pages (with the opportunity of the graphic borders on the facing pages), this coloring book is extremely slim for the price. The Little People, Big Dreams series easily has enough material to double the size of this coloring book.

October 23, 2020

Review: Search the Zoo, Find the Animals

Search the Zoo, Find the Animals
Illustrated by Sara Lynn Cramb
Available now from Rockridge Press
Review copy

Search the Zoo, Find the Animals is a the companion book to Search the Ocean, Find the Animals. Both are search-and-find activity books suitable for younger children. In Search the Zoo, Find the Animals, each spread features a zoo exhibit in which children can find ten animals accompanied by brief facts that will help them spot the animals.

Author Josh Hestermann is a terrestrial husbandry manager and co-author Bethanie Hestermann is a writer. Together, they write descriptions of the animals and environments that are fun and engaging for children while being factual and informative. There is a small moral lesson about conservation and what children can do to preserve animal habitats (including avoiding products that use palm oil).

There are several different types of habitats explored. Some are geographical, such as "The Green Heart of Africa." Others, like "Life on the Farm" showcase animals that live together due to human intervention. Other animals are grouped by type, such as "Creatures of the Night" and "Reptile House." I think this reflects the way zoos sort animals depending on their needs.

Sara Lynn Cramb's art is as colorful in Search the Zoo, Find the Animals as it is in Search the Ocean, Find the Animals. It isn't my favorite style, but it serves the purpose of the book well. The animals are even easier to find in this book, in my opinion, but there are still shown interacting with their environment and a few are partially hidden.

If you're looking for something for your child to do that is fun and educational, I think Search the Zoo, Find the Animals is a good choice. It is a good search-and-find book for younger children and full of interesting facts.

October 19, 2020

Review: The Cemetary Boys

The Cemetary Boys
Available now from HarperTeen
Review copy

I was a fan of Z Brewer's Vladimir Tod novels, so I eagerly picked up their first standalone novel. Then I let it sit around for ages. The copy compares it to Hitchcock and Hinton, but the movie it brings to my mind is The Wicker Man. (And now Midsommar, though the book predates that movie by some years.) Protagonist Stephen might have seen some horror movies, but there were some obvious gaps in his fandom that might have helped him.

Stephen is a city boy who has been forced to move to the small town his father grew up in - specifically, the home of his horrible grandmother. His mother had to be institutionalized, and with the bills piling up, his father couldn't afford to keep their house. Stephen hates his grandmother, the boring town of Spencer, and his father for getting them into this situation.

I felt so old reading The Cemetery Boys. All I had was sympathy for Stephen's father, who managed to get out of the regressive town he grew up in only to get forced back, all while trying to do the best by both his wife and child. What a horrible fate. Thus, I did appreciate that part of Stephen's journey is learning to appreciate his father.

The bulk of The Cemetery Boys focuses on Stephen's relationship with Devon and his twin sister Cara, who Stephen crushes on hard. To no one's surprise, the twins are bad news and keep getting Stephen deeper into trouble.

There aren't too many surprises in The Cemetery Boys, but there is a nice sense of place and a truly sad conclusion. It's a decent read for young horror fans.

October 15, 2020

Review: National Parks of the U.S.A. Activity Book

National Parks of the U.S.A. Activity Book
By Claire Grace
Illustrated by Chris Turnham
Available now from Wide Eyed Editions
Review copy

National Parks of the U.S.A. Activity Book is a companion to Kate Siber's National Parks of the U.S.A., but is perfectly enjoyable even without reading that informative book first. (Although some readers might be interested in seeking out more information after enjoying the activity book.)

I think this activity book is appropriate for elementary school children. Most of the activities are fairly simple, but some require strong reading skills. I do wish that the book hadn't been printed in cursive, since some schools don't even teach cursive any more and it is an upper-level skill for part of the age range. It might be best for siblings to share, especially since there is a game needing more than one player.

This is a shorter activity book (around 16 activities) and while a few will take longer - a game, designing your own park - most are fairly short. One is also a wildlife spotting activity, which can't really be done most places.

There are several facts included, especially in the true or false activity, but for there isn't much beyond a few tidbits per activity. Once the activities are done, National Parks of the U.S.A. Activity Book doesn't offer much further value.

However, I do still like this activity book because it is gorgeous. It is oversized compared to most, with a pearlized cover. Chris Turnham's art recalls classic travel posters for the national parks. It is showcased in borders, illustrations of animals, and a few human figures of multiple races. The best part of this activity book, to me, is the included fold-out poster and stickers. The poster is a map with little illustrations representing each park, and the stickers feature many plants and animals shown throughout the book. They're beautiful, and I think kids would have fun with both.

October 11, 2020

Review: Zendoodle Colorscapes: Outrageous Owls

Outrageous OwlsIllustrated by Deborah Muller
Available now from Castle Point Books
Review copy

My current enjoyment of coloring books continues. Zendoodle Colorscapes: Outrageous Owls: Wacky Birds to Color and Display features one of my absolute favorite animals. There are more than 60 owls to color in this fun coloring book.

Like many coloring books aimed at adults, the art is only printed on one side of the pages. I do appreciate that Outrageous Owls has perforated pages in case I do want to remove any from the book cleanly. Perhaps if my niece or nephew colors one while visiting.

Many of the scenes in Outrageous Owls are fairly typical: owls on a branch with hearts, mother owls with baby owls, an owl with a moon. But many live up to the subtitles promise of wackiness. There is an acrobat owl, a pirate owl, a hippie owl, a rockstar owl, and more. The combo of fantasy and realistic situations helps this coloring book from feeling to samey for me, given that it only has one subject. I particularly like the ballerina owl and the several owls pictured with books. (If I were going to display any, those would be it.)

The paper is a nice weight and works well with both crayons and colored pencils. Each illustration by Deborah Muller goes almost to the edge of the page and involves a nice mix of large and small areas to color.

I think Outrageous Owls is an excellent addition to my coloring book collection!

October 7, 2020

Review: A World Full of Dickens Stories

A World Full of Dickens Stories
Illustrated by Jannicke Hansen
Available now from Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Review copy

Of all the books I had to read for high school English, Charles Dickens' works were some of my favorites. Thus, I was quite intrigued by an anthology for younger readers that I could share with my relatives. A World Full of Dickens Stories: 8 Best-Loved Classic Tales Retold for Children includes versions of Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Hard Times, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, and A Tale of Two Cities.

I wasn't sure if this would be child-friendly excerpts or the whole enchilada. Angela McAllister does cover the entirety of each story in about fifteen pages. I quickly found that I preferred those told in first person, since they had more personality. The third-person stories read more like summaries. Personally, I adore Dickens' humor and found it entirely missing from these versions. A few of his most famous lines are preserved. There are also a few more difficult vocabulary words included, with an index of terms at the back of A World Full of Dickens Stories.

This is a beautiful volume, with a lovely cloth spine and foil on the cover. Jannicke Hansen's pictures add a lot of appeal, with a limited color palette and melancholy tone. There's a personality to them that I think is missing in the simplified text. I do understand the difficulties McAllister must have faced, as Dickens' long, twisty sentences aren't very child reader friendly.

I do think A World Full of Dickens Stories is a decent introduction to these tales, and could perhaps be followed with some of the better movie versions. I would note that although this is an illustrated children's book, it is not meant for toddlers. Dickens' stories involve quite a lot of deaths, many of them unfair, and that is not bowdlerized.

October 3, 2020

Review: The Farm That Feeds Us

The Farm That Feeds Us
Illustrated by Ginnie Hsu
Available now from words & pictures
Review copy

The Farm That Feeds Us: A year in the life of an organic farm is an 80-page nonfiction picture book. I feel that it has the most appeal to a narrow age group, probably first and second graders. The Farm That Feeds Us is too dense to appeal to younger children, but older children probably feel like they are beyond children's books.

Broken into sections by the four seasons, The Farm That Feeds Us covers various farming activities in no particular order other than the seasonal theme. Each spread covers one topic and then moves to the next. This is not a sun-up to sun-down description of activities, but covers everything from crop growing to animal husbandry to jam making. Every once in awhile there is some shorter, more poetic text to break up the larger informative paragraphs. Perhaps this text could be used by parents to make a shorter version for younger kids. I will admit, even I learned a few things from this book.

There are things to appreciate. The Farm That Feeds Us is very informative. It also has a focus on ethical consumerism and the advantages of patronizing smaller farms. It might also get kids interested in trying some new fruits and vegetables after they read about them. The art doesn't do much for me, but I think it has kid appeal and it is easy to tell what is happening on each page. I do like that a variety of people are shown throughout the book.

I think The Farm That Feeds Us has noble goals, but I wouldn't expect most kids to be all that interested.


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