July 21, 2021

Review: Crush + Color: Twentieth Century Foxes

Crush and Color: Twentieth Century FoxesIllustrated by Maurizio Campidelli
Available now from Castle Point Books
Review copy

I think all of Maurizio Campidelli's Crush + Color coloring books are good fun, but the Twentieth Century Foxes pun in particular cracked me up. I think this is the first book in the series not to cover a single actor. Actors not pictured on the cover include Antonio Banderas, Patrick Swayze, Pierce Brosnan, and more. All have more than one coloring page. An index might have been a nice addition to this one.

Thankfully, the actors are identified on each page just in case I didn't recognize them. Their names are always used in the short fantasy bubble that appears opposite the coloring page. Only one page in a spread is designed to be colored and the pages are perforated, allowing for the pages to be removed and either shared or used for decoration.

The art on these pages goes almost to the edges, but there is a small border. I find most of the images appealing from a coloring standpoint, with a mix of detailed areas for when I want to focus and bigger areas for when I want to zone out. I feel like Campidelli is great at laying out a coloring page. The paper is nice too, much better than a children's coloring book. I used markers on one page without bleed-through to the next coloring page.

I do think that Campidelli's likenesses vary in quality. I don't particularly like his Denzel Washington or George Clooney. But I think his Antonio Banderas and Kurt Russell are great. There is more detail to the faces than the rest of the page, which doesn't always work for me.

Overall though, I very much enjoy this coloring series and think Crush + Color: Twentieth Century Foxes is a fun addition. These coloring books have a fun sense of humor and appealing subject matter.

July 17, 2021

Review: Just Like That

Just Like That
By Gary D. Schmidt
Available now from Clarion Books
Review copy

Just Like That is a companion novel to The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, both of which I haven't read. I thought it stood well on its own, although I did get the sense at the beginning that I was reading the sequel to a book I hadn't read.

Meryl Lee Kowalski is struggling with grief, or the "Blank," as she calls it. Every night on the news, she sees reports of soldiers killed in Vietnam who never got to say good-bye to their loved ones. She struggles to handle the weight of it and the way it mirrors her feelings about her best friend Holling Hoodhood, who died suddenly in a car crash. She never got to say goodbye to him. Her parents don't know how to handle her feelings and are secretly dealing with their own issues, and choose to send Meryl Lee to St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls. 

Meryl Lee struggles to fit into the boarding school culture, which involves things like not talking to the girls who work around the school. It also requires doing a sport, which Meryl Lee had never considered before and initially fails at, until finding something strangely compelling about the violence of lacrosse. She also starts to notice a power struggle between the headmistress and some teachers with different political views.

In a parallel story line, Matt Coffin moves into a shack on the coast. He's on the run from someone, and dealing with his own grief. He starts to carve out a life for himself, a storyline that appeals to the part of me that loved rugged domestic stories like Hatchet and the first Boxcar Children. He also encounters some helpful adults that give him room to approach them - one of whom happens to be the headmistress of St. Elene's.

The eventual meeting of Meryl Lee and Matt is inevitable, but the path to that point is an enjoyable one. Just Like That is stuffed full of incident and ideas and interweaving stories. I never felt like Gary D. Schmidt had lost control of the plot, however. He masterfully balances the disparate elements of Just Like That, tying everything together with the themes of grief and the struggle to heal. Just Like That is  deeply sad novel, but also a very funny and hopeful one.

July 13, 2021

Review: U Up?

U Up?
Available now from Melville House
Review copy

I am a firm believer that protagonists do not have to be likeable. For me to be interested in their story, there must be something intriguing about them, but they don't have to be likeable. U Up? has a protagonist that tests my patience. Eve is relentlessly self-centered, judgmental as hell, and the sort of lesbian who throws around a slur every two seconds like her personal reclamation is activism. (It's a trait that made me wince multiple times a page, on average.) Reading her stream-of-conscious narration was often hellish.

This narration is only broken up by text messages. The poor decision was made, either by publisher Melville House or author Catie Disabato, to print a full-screen of text messages every time instead of just the new texts, often wasting entire pages with repeated texts. In other words, it isn't much of a relief.

In U Up?, Eve is on a rampage because it is the anniversary of her best friend Miggy's suicide and her other best friend Ezra is ghosting her after telling her that he broke up with his girlfriend the night before. Everyone they know tells her to cool it and let him lick his wounds in private, but she's determined that something must have happened to him since he's not answering her calls, and their friendship is extra special.

Oh, and Eve can talk to ghosts. The cover copy mentions that she texts her dead friend Miggy, but I thought that meant she sent texts to the void, saying things to a friend who could no longer speak back. No, she holds conversations with her dead friend Miggy, who also thinks she should cool her jets. Ezra's ex Nozlee can speak to ghosts too, and she and Eve were actually buddies back in New York before they met all their LA friends, because they met in witch school. 

Since U Up? is more literary fiction than speculative fiction, this aspect of the novel tends to recede into the background even though it is the most fascinating thing happening. It's an underbaked element that I kept wishing would be explored more, until it becomes integral to the climax.

I enjoyed the end of the novel more than beginning, partially due to the nature of story about the protagonist going on a journey means that Eve is more bearable by the end. But also because the end has a bunch of weird ghost stuff and that's the best part. 

I found Eve to be a very believable character, but she grated on me too much for me to vibe with her story. I might've enjoyed the full on crazy ghost version of this story, but the one I got dragged for far too long.

July 9, 2021

Review: Kit: Turning Things Around

Kit: Turning Things Around
American Girl Historical Characters
By Valerie Tripp
Illustrated by Walter Rane
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

Kit: Turning Things Around is an abridged collection of the final three core Kit books. (Kit also had a mystery series.) This second volume has more action than the first, but continues to be mostly character driven. These three books don't flow as smoothly together as some of the others.

The first part involves on of the most memorable characters in the series, Kit's Aunt Millie. Aunt Millie is an expert at thrifting and making the best out of what they have. As much as Kit loves her, she still lashes out when Aunt Millie demonstrates how poor she is to her classmates. In the second part, Kit and her friend Stirling visit a hobo camp with their new friend, the homeless Will Shepherd, and end up getting arrested when they ride the rails together. These two misadventures do help Kit in the climax. Her Uncle Hendrick keeps writing editorials criticizing the New Deal, so aspiring journalist Kit writes her own editorial based on her experiences with the people living and working through the Great Depression.

The aforementioned second part struck me as pretty over the top compared to everything else in the Kit books, but I probably would've loved the excitement as a young reader. Overall, this volume brings Kit's story to a satisfying conclusion. The first bit of news she writes in Kit: Read All About It! is a bratty complaint about her mother; in the end, she's using her writing to give a voice to children who are truly in need.

I do feel like abridging this set of books didn't do them many favors since the focus is so different in each that it feels like the book really hops around. At the same time, Kit: Turning Things Around is a pretty quick read with a lively heroine that I'm sure bookish young girls will love.

July 5, 2021

Review: Kit: Read All About It!

Kit: Read All About It!
American Girl Historical Characters
By Valerie Tripp
Illustrated by Walter Rane
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

Kit: Read All About It! collects what were the first three core books in the Kit series in a single abridged edition. (Kit also had a mystery series.) Kit was added to the American Girl lineup in 2000 and was the first girl whose books I never read as a child because I considered myself too old for them.

It's 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio and the Great Depression is in full swing. So far, Kit Kitteridge has been insulated from the worst. But suddenly, her family has to take in boarders and she has to live in the attic. Her brother Charlie reveals the truth: their dad is losing his car dealership. He'd tried to hang on, not firing any employees and paying them from his savings, but now he has to close the dealership and the family must make money in other ways to keep their house. Kit is still better off than many of her contemporaries due to her family's home ownership, but they're teetering on the edge of poverty.

Kit: Read All About It! takes a dramatic period of American history and makes it personal and child friendly, as all the American Girl books did. Kit is motivated by her ambition to become a reporter, and writing her newsletter is also a good way for her to hang out with her friends. There's friction between her and her old friend Ruthie, since Ruthie's family is better off than Kit's. There's also tension with the only boarder Kit's age, Stirling, until they learn how to deal with his overbearing mother. Even though Stirling is her friend, Kit is often frustrated by all the boarders. She doesn't like the chores that come with them and wants more of her own space. Her feelings on the situation are very relatable.

The Kit books aren't as dramatic as the Abby books, but they're still fun, quick reads. Real history is woven into stories of friendship and community. There's also a short nonfiction section at the back of the book. I think this is a good read for about the third-grade level.


July 1, 2021

Review: The Eternaut 1969

The Eternaut (1969)
Written by Héctor Germán Oesterheld
Illustrated by Alberto Breccia
Translated by Erica Mena
Available now from Fantagraphics
Review copy

The Eternaut, serialized from 1957 to 1959, is a seminal work of Argentinian science fiction. The Eternaut 1969 is a reboot that never quite found its audience and was canceled and quickly finished in a few breakneck chapters. In 1976, the author Héctor Germán Oesterheld, would write a sequel to the original, shortly before his works were banned in Argentina.

I appreciate the work Fantagraphics put into this volume. There's explanatory material before and after the story to help place The Eternaut 1969 in Argentinian culture, including the political background of the story. It also discusses its place in the ouevres of both Oesterheld and Alberto Breccia, who did not draw the more famous version. (That was F. Solano López.) This material helps explain why the comic was cancelled and why it still deserves to be remembered as a work of art.

I can understand why it failed. Apparently, many of the complaints sent to the magazine it ran in (Gente) said that Breccia's art was impossible to follow. Breccia's art is often abstracted; when the aliens appear, their form is more suggestion than depiction. There's an intriguing textures and bold use of white. Artistically, it is compelling. But easily comprehensible, it is not. I'm sure the magazine printing also wasn't as neatly done as Fantagraphics' presentation.

The story of The Eternaut 1969 is quite compelling. A time-traveler (traveling through eternity instead of space) comes to tell his tell to a comic-book artist. One day, snow begins to fall in Buenos Aires. It kills. Juan Salvo, his wife, daughter, and friends survive, but soon discover that South America has been sacrificed to alien invaders by the rest of the world. Their small steps toward survival are interrupted when the military presses them into service. The Eternaut 1969 is pessimistic about both world and local governments.

At the time, it made Oesterheld controversial. But seven years later, he would become one of the desaparecidos. Over 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared by the Argentinian government when a U.S.-backed junta took over the country. It's a chilling ending to his biography that adds weight to the hastily finished, imperfect The Eternaut 1969. It's not a popular story, but it is an honest one. In the end, this graphic novel is as compelling for the story of why it failed as well as the art within.

Fantagraphics recommends pairing this work with the original The Eternaut. Their English version is currently sold out, but being reprinted. I do think it is fascinating to be able to compare the two.

June 27, 2021

Review: Eric

Eric
Written and illustrated by Shaun Tan
Available now from Scholastic Press
Review copy

More than ten yeas ago, I reviewed Lost and Found by Shaun Tan. It is a joy to return to his work, although Eric is not new. This was originally one of the stories included in Tales from Outer Suburbia, published in 2009. This is disclosed in the book's legal matter, and I'm sure fans of that anthology would recognize Eric on the cover of this eponymous volume.

Eric is a short, sweet tale. The narrator tells of a strange exchange student who came to live with their family. (No gender is given for the narrator.) The narrator is excited to share their life with Eric, who is quiet and a little strange to them. The mom, of course, chalks it up to cultural differences. Nothing is ever said of the fact that Eric is a small, wispy figure.

Tan's art adds so much to the story. The art expounds upon the text, each giving us a bit of insight into the mysterious Eric. The art is whimsical, full of beautiful details and charming humor. When the art disappears with Eric, the emotional impact is felt. Then, for the first time, color is added to the black and white illustrations.

I can understand why Eric was reprinted as a standalone work. It is a timely story about the joy of sharing your culture with another person and the beauty of experiencing their cultural in return. It is a kind story, and a hopeful one, punctuated by bits of melancholy that make the happy ending that much better. I highly recommend this lovely book.

June 23, 2021

Review: The Hardest Hidden Pictures Book Ever

The Hardest Hidden Pictures Book Ever
Available now from Highlights Press
Review copy
 
I can remember Highlights magazine from my elementary-school days. Decades later, Highlights Press is still publishing books for children. The Hardest Hidden Pictures Book Ever is an activity book for ages eight through twelve, approximately. There are hidden-picture activities on every page, as well as an overall hidden picture activity for the whole book. In the back are the answers.
 
There is an appealing mix of puzzles in The Hardest Hidden Pictures Book Ever. Some art is in color, some black and white, some photographs. Some are small and fit four to a page, some fill a whole spread. In some the objects are identified for you. Others have clues and you have to identify the objects. This book might be mostly full of visual puzzles, but there are some verbal skills involved as well. The hard puzzle has no clues, except for stating how many objects are hidden.

I think a twelve-year-old could easily do these puzzles alone, but an eight-year-old might need a little help. Either way, with more than 80 puzzles, there's enough to keep kids occupied for a while and coming back for more. I also like that the pages are slightly thicker than a basic coloring book so there's less chance of a pencil poking through the page.

The Hardest Hidden Pictures Book ever is a good choice for the child who likes hidden pictures puzzles. This is a nicely made, thick activity book.

June 19, 2021

Review: Cells at Work! Baby Volume 1

Cells at Work! Baby
Written and illustrated by Yasuhiro FUKUDA
Based on Cells at Work! by Akane SHIMIZU
Translated by Dean Leininger
Available now from Kodansha Comics
Review copy

Cells at Work! Baby is one of many spinoffs from the original Cells at Work! In this manga by Yasuhiro FUKUDA, the main character is a red blood cell going about her work, when the body she resides in is born. From there, the cells have to learn how to do their jobs and keep the baby healthy now that it is no longer a fetus supported by the mother's body.

Fukuda's art is adorable. It is very in line with the established style for types of cells from Cells at Work!, but using a chibi style to suit the fact that these are all baby cells. The red blood cell and her best friend, a hemoglobin-F red blood cell, also have very sweet adventures as they look out for each other and their body. The stories are all based around biological fact, with extra informational asides to provide more in-depth facts. Pediatrician Naoyo HASHIMOTO did serve as a medical editor to ensure that the facts in Cells at Work! Baby are accurate to current medical knowledge.

If I have one complaint, it is that generally the female characters are less competent than the male characters. (With the large exception of the mother's grown-up cells, seen shortly before the baby is born.) It's such a small thing that would have been easy to fix.

But overall, Cells at Work! Baby is a charming read about the intricate biology behind a baby taking its first breath and  developing an immune response to antigens. There's plenty of action in a baby's first days!

I think this is an adorable spinoff that is sure to appeal to fans of the original.

June 16, 2021

Review: Cute Little Lenormand

Cute Little LenormandBy Sara M. Lyons
Available now from St. Martin's Essentials
Review copy

A few years ago, a friend turned me on to tarot as a writing tool. From there, I learned techniques to use tarot to help myself make decisions. Lenormand is not tarot, but it is a similar fortune-telling card game. Cute Little Lenormand has been my introduction to this type of cards, and I think it has served well in that capacity.

Author and illustrator Sara M. Lyons endeavored to make a modern Lenormand, with gender-neutral cards and depictions that would be intuitive to modern life. The guide book covers the history of Lenormand, techniques to learn the cards and spreads, and detailed information about ways to interpret each card. There's also recommended further reading. One thing I liked throughout the guide book is that Lyons is very clear that she has her own biases and preferred way to read the cards and her deck is based on her preferences. 

There were very few things I didn't like. I did pick up that Lyons calls card 30, the Lily, "the feminine consort to the Whip's masculine energy. If the Whip is bondage and black leather, then think of the Lily as rose petals, satin sheets, and pink champagne." Lyons went through a great deal of effort to approach the deck in a gender-neutral manner, so throwing in that one random instance of gendering objects threw me. I also found Lyons' approach to card 14, the Fox, slightly odd. She focuses on it entirely as a career card throughout the book, with only a small mention in its write-up that it can refer to a person. This does tie back to her open preferences (she likes to read it as a job significator), but as someone new to reading Lenormand, I could have used more guidance in using it in other situations. Lyons usually provides more information on cards with multiple readings.

I found Lenormand easy to pick up based on this deck and had fun doing simple practice readings and working up to bigger ones. This is an extremely intuitive deck for me. Plus, the art is just cute.

As a physical object, the cards are well made and the mostly pastel pink and blue palette fits the cute theme. I do wish the deck came with a tuck box instead of an envelope in the back of the book. It would be more portable, and I don't like how the envelope looks pushing on the pages.

I think Cute Little Lenormand is a great choice for beginners. It's definitely easy for me to turn to when I'm having trouble making decisions.

June 9, 2021

Review: What Big Teeth

What Big TeethBy Rose Szabo
Available now from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review copy

A boy runs through the forest, pursued by monsters. He has no chance of escaping; they're toying with him, having fun. I know how fun it is because the narrator is telling me so. In fact, she thinks he looks rather delicious. So begins What Big Teeth. It's an electric, perverse opening, and the book struggles to regain that feel.

After that fateful night, Eleanor Zarrin was sent away from her wild family. Years later she returns from boarding school, fleeing the consequences of an incident with a schoolmate. She returns home a total stick in the mud. She's forgotten her family in those years away and struggles to handle their monstrous nature. She wants them to be polite and mannered and fit in, like she spent so long doing.

For quite a while, What Big Teeth builds mystery after mystery. There are the mysterious incidents that drove Eleanor away from her family and then back. There are questions about Eleanor's nature, who she truly is inside. There's her grandmother's mysterious accountant, who all the Zarrin's are mysteriously in love with (including Eleanor's father, cousin, sister, and self). So much is kept mysterious for so long that I'd find myself startled by facts, like Eleanor's sister Lucy being about five years older than her. 

What Big Teeth is not short on atmosphere. Rose Szabo has a way with creepy imagery and haunting emotions. But this is Szabo's debut novel, and it very much feels like it. The ending of the novel is filled with several chunks of exposition, some of which Eleanor could have figured out much earlier to get the plot moving a little more quickly. When characters are horribly maimed I had little reaction, because outside of Eleanor and Arthur the characters are extremely flat. This is the kind of debut novel that makes me want to read what the author writes next, even if I don't want to read this book again.

What Big Teeth is a defiantly strange novel. It is often deliberately off-putting, which is what makes it appealing to weirdos like me. I'd recommend it to fans of Hannah Moskowitz. A faster pace and more characters to be invested in would have served the story well, but Szabo has shown a strong sense of style.

May 22, 2021

Review: Addy: A Heart Full of Hope

Addy: A Heart Full of Hope
American Girl Historical Characters
By Connie Porter
Illustrated by Dahl Taylor
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

Addy: A Heart Full of Hope picks up where Addy: Finding Freedom ended and collects the final three books in the Addy series, edited to flow as one story. Once again, I couldn't tell where the original books began and ended when reading.

I appreciate that Connie Porter didn't make Addy's story entirely about slavery. The American Girls have the burden of representing history to children, and Addy's time living free in Pennsylvania helps give a fuller portrait of Black lives in the late 19th century. At the same time, Addy:A Heart Full of Hope lacks the distressing details and terrifying flight of Addy: Finding Freedom. Most of the American Girl book series peaked in action with the final "Saves the Day" book. Not so for Addy, whose fundraising efforts can't compare to escaping slavery in a desperate flight.

Still, there are plenty of events to keep young readers turning the pages, including Addy's hope of reuniting with her older brother.

The "Inside Addy's World" section at the end of the novel provides more historical detail on life for Black people after the Civil War. This nonfiction section is an excellent extension of the novel, which is full of fascinating historical detail. I appreciate the advisory board that put so much effort into the Addy novels. I think these books are a great way to introduce young readers to slavery, the Civil War, community organization, and civil rights. I love that they're being repackaged for a new generation.

Since 2021 is the 35th anniversary of the Pleasant Company, a reproduction of the original Addy is currently available for sale, in addition to the current version.

May 18, 2021

Review: Yes, Daddy

Yes, Daddy
Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review copy

Yes, Daddy looks like a salacious summer novel. Jonathan Parks-Ramage's debut is something much sadder. I'm not sure that the blurb does it many favors by promising decisive revenge.

The story starts with a glimpse of the trial of Jonah Keller's ex-boyfriend Richard, a famous playwright. From this glimpse, we know that when the time comes, Jonah is unable to tell the truth. He crumples on the stand and saves his own reputation, not letting anyone question whether he deserved it or what kind of victim he is. From there, Yes, Daddy starts an extended flashback detailing their relationship from beginning to end before revealing what happens after. (While taking some oddly meandering detours along the way.)

Jonah is a deliberately difficult protagonist to like. He's vain, shallow, selfish, and callow. Yes, Daddy forces a reaction to a victim who isn't likeable, who doesn't react like victim narratives say they should. I think it is a valid narrative avenue to explore, but I was pretty sick of Jonah before I made it even a third of the way through the novel. 

This is a dark novel, beyond the graphic scenes of sexual assault. Yes, Daddy also deals with harmful religious counseling, invasive and vicious tabloid journalism, incest, probable murder, and suicide. While it doesn't have a completely downer ending, it isn't very uplifting, either. All catharsis is minor.

I think Yes, Daddy is a well-written novel that tackles thorny issues and a prickly protagonist with sympathy. But I didn't much enjoy the experience of reading it.

May 11, 2021

Review: Addy: Finding Freedom

Addy: Finding Freedom
American Girl Historical Characters
By Connie Porter
Illustrated by Dahl Taylor
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

Addy: Finding Freedom collects three books in the Addy series, edited to flow as one story. I couldn't tell where the original books began and ended when reading.

Addy was the first Black doll made by the Pleasant Company, before they became American Girl. I appreciate the lengths they went to in order to tell Addy's story with historical accuracy and keep it appropriate for young girls. The novels were written with the help of an advisory board made up of historians and other experts, which I actually think would be useful for all the American Girl historical novels.

The story starts in 1864, when Addy is a slave on a plantation. The story does not gloss over the realities of slavery. One visceral, unforgettable image is when Addy is forced to eat the worm off a crop because the overseer was unsatisfied with her work picking insects. (This is a real thing that was done to children.) Even in escape, Addy's family has to make decisions about who is too young and too old to make the journey. Her father and brother are also sold before their family can make their attempt.

Not all of Addy: Finding Freedom is so gut wrenching. There's quite a bit of detail about the Black community in Pennsylvania. There are concerns about work, school, housing. No one can escape having a mean girl in their class. Addy is also concerned with paying it forward and helping others who are starting with nothing like she and her mother did. Along the way, she even gets a Christmas miracle.

The Addy books have meant a lot to generations of children. I'm glad the books are being republished with fresh, appealing covers. There's also an interesting section in the back with further historical information.

Since 2021 is the 35th anniversary of the Pleasant Company, a reproduction of the original Addy is currently available for sale, in addition to the current version.

May 8, 2021

Review: Dinosaurs: A Smithsonian Coloring Book

Dinosaurs: A Smithsonian Coloring Book
Illustrated by Rachel Curtis
Available now from IDW Publishing
Review copy

Dinosaurs: A Smithsonian Coloring Book combines facts with full-page coloring. Like many adult coloring books, there is only one coloring page per spread. However, the facing page isn't wasted. Instead, it is filled with facts collected by employees of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Much has been learned about dinosaurs since my childhood, and I felt like I learned something. There are also colorable borders around the facts.

The art itself is lovely and no space is wasted - the art goes all the way off the page. There are lots of fine details giving the dinosaurs and their environments texture. This works well for me, but I think this book would be frustrating for young children who like dinosaurs. It also might not be good for those with motor control issues.

The paper is nice and holds up well to both crayons and colored pencils. It even holds up okay to markers, although there is a little bleeding. Overall, it is a well-constructed coloring book. These are not perforated pages, which I don't mind as I don't decorate with my coloring.

I think Dinosaurs is a terrific coloring book for adult coloring fans. The ink illustrations are so lush.

April 13, 2021

Review: A World Full of Poems

A World Full of Poems
Selected by Sylvia M. Vardell
Illustrated by Sonny Ross
Available now from DK Children
Review copy

It can be easy to think of poetry as boring and stilted, though I think Amanda Gorman provided a recent reminder of the power and vitality of poetry. A World Full of Poems aims to introduce children to a range of poetry. Family and Friends, Feelings, Science and Art, and Body and Health are just a few of the topics covered.

In addition to the variety of content, the poetry is appropriate for very young children to elementary school children. (Though more lean to the very young side.) The authors come from many countries and represent several different ethnicities. There's classic poetry from Emily Dickinson and Robert Louis Stevenson next to new poetry by Linda Sue Park. Many different forms of poetry are represented, especially those that appeal to children. Shape poems, sound poems, silly rhymes. 

Sylvia M. Vardell is a professor of children's literature and clearly has a depth of knowledge in the field. Though I'm sure parents reading to their children will find poems they like collected within this anthology, these poems seem selected strictly for child appeal. The illustrations by Sonny Ross are also very child friendly. They're bright and bold and I'm sure many children will be captivated by a picture and drawn into the poem the picture was created to accompany.

Although A World Full of Poems is grouped into thematic categories, I think it is best encountered by browsing to random pages and reading a few poems at a time. I do have a few small quibbles. For instance, the Family and Friends section includes three poems that are specifically about fathers and none about mothers. Overall, however, I think this is a wonderful introduction to poetry for young readers.

There's also a helpful index as well as several activities included in the back.

April 10, 2021

Review: It Only Happens in the Movies

It Only Happens in the Movies

By Holly Bourne
Available now from HMH Books for Young Readers
Review copy

It Only Happens in the Movies looks like a romcom. But really, it is the bildungsroman of protagonist Audrey, who hates romcoms. Her parents perfect romance fell apart and now she lives with her mother (who is in the throes of a breakdown), her brother is at college and no help, and her father lives with his new family. Her recent breakup caused her to quit drama to avoid her ex. Yet just as she starts a school essay on the terrible fantasy of romcoms, she finds herself living in one with her new coworker.

When Audrey starts working at a movie theater, she knows Harry is bad news, even before everyone warns her not to get invested in his flirting. Then he casts her in his zombie movie and Audrey starts regaining confidence in her talent as well as falling for the parts of him that aren't a suave ladies' man.

I enjoyed how UK author Holly Bourne used and subverted common YA romance tropes (from both books and movies). Audrey's issues are very realistic and often painful. I truly sympathized with her when the full truth of her first relationship came out. I also really enjoyed that Audrey not only made personal growth, but found the support she needed from friends and family over the course of the novel. I particularly loved that her friends didn't begrudge her being distant while she went through a difficult time.

It Only Happens in the Movies is a fun YA novel that seems like it is going to veer into cliche at times, but makes up for it by completely sticking the landing. It is a great choice for contemporary fans.

April 4, 2021

Review: ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, Artist Series

The Lion and the LambIllustrated by Joshua Noom (The Lion and the Lamb), Lulie Wallace (In Bloom), Jess Phoenix (Garden), and Jake Weidmann (Dwelling Place)
Available now from Crossway
Review copy

To coincide with Easter, Crossway released several new editions of their English Standard Version (ESV) translation of the Bible, including a single column journaling Bible. This version was released in six special artist editions with beautiful covers. I have been able to experience and review four of them. 

Personally, I do not love the ESV (2001). The ESV is a lightly revised version of the 1972 version RSV. The translation project was approached with a conservative evangelical ideology. One thing I do like about this translation is that it follows the Colorado Springs Guidelines, which means that it translates words that are gender non-specific in Greek or Hebrew as gender non-specific in English rather than making a male translation the default. (For example, "anyone" instead of "any man," which is generally a better translation anyway.) While the ESV isn't an entirely accurate translation of the Bible, it does have the appeal of being a very literal yet idiomatic and approachable version.

The text of this Bible is printed in 7.5 font with a pre-lined column of two inches along the side for notes. The paper is thin, but since there are so many pages, the bulk of the book prevents a pen or pencil from breaking through the page. (Though I would not recommend writing forcefully.) The lines make the journaling area best for those with small handwriting, or who are willing to ignore the lines. I do love having an area to make notes directly in the Bible.

Each of these would make a beautiful gift. They come with ribbon bookmarks and a clear sleeve protecting the cover. There is also a small slip of paper inside each explaining the artist's inspiration. The only thing I dislike about this artist series as art is that three of six covers feature floral themes, especially since one of the regular editions also features flowers. It seems somewhat repetitive.

"The Lion and the Lamb" by Joshua Noon was the first piece to capture my attention. It has an almost woodcut look to the art, or, thanks to the paneled style, a church's stained glass window. There are foil accents on the front, back, and side, which makes the bold art style even more eye catching. The classic lion and lamb symbology is featured, but other common images like the dove with a sprig of greenery and the burning bush are also included. I think it is fun to try to recognize all the elements represented.

In Bloom"In Bloom" by Lulie Wallace is cloth over board, other like the other three I am reviewing, which are hardcover. She does have experience with textiles, and the images of flowers printed on cloth remind me of Sunday dresses. However, the cloth does run the danger of snags. Wallace's artist card mentioned that she wanted to make an appealing design for a Bible left out around the home. I do think this would look nice sitting on a coffee table, but I also find that very generic and not what I look for in a Bible.

Garden"Garden" by Jess Phoenix does have a cloth spine. The art is repeated on the front and back and does not wrap around the spine. There is one tiny difference - a small cross on the cover. There are gold foil accents, including the cross being an entirely gold outline. Phoenix's artist note says that she wanted to keep the cross in the center of her design, which represents Jesus as the gardener of her life. I find it less generic than Wallace's cover, but it still doesn't wow me as a Bible cover, especially given all the potential botanical imagery there is to mine.

Dwelling Place"Dwelling Place" by Jake Weidmann didn't capture my attention on the screen, but I find it beautiful and vibrant in person. There is a great deal of detail to the swallow that can't be seen in a thumbnail. In addition, Weidmann is a Master Penman and the swirls surrounding the swallow have a beautiful fluidity to them. The dark colors glow against the cream background. The inspiration for this piece is the swallow who delivers a message of hope in Matthew. I'm not sure I'm convinced by switching a sparrow for a swallow, but it is a beautiful bird.

Overall, I think this artist series is a very nice project. I like journaling Bibles and I like the idea of using the cover as a canvas for works of that match the mood and tone with which one approaches the Bible. I do wish I'd also gotten to see "Sanctus" by Peter Voth in person, but I am glad I got to experience four of them since the thumbnails don't do them justice. I think these make wonderful gifts if you know someone who would vibe with one of the covers.

March 15, 2021

Review: Zendoodle Coloring: Baby Unicorns

Baby UnicornsIllustrated by Jeanette Wummel
Available now from Castle Point Books
Review copy

I enjoyed Zendoodle Colorscapes: Outrageous Owls: Wacky Birds to Color and Display by Deborah Muller enough to try out a different line of Zendoodle Coloring books with Zendoodle Coloring: Baby Unicorns: Magical Cuteness to Color and Display by Jeanette Wummel. Magical cuteness is right.

These unicorns, big and small, are adorable. Many of the scenes depicted are family scenes, and I think this would be a fun coloring book to work on with family. I find it fun to color with others - especially if it keeps the kids quiet for a bit! (Talk about stress relief.)

In Baby Unicorns, the art is only printed on one side of the pages to make them nicer for display. The paper is also thicker than an inexpensive children's coloring book and the pages are perforated along the spine. It is well done for those who would like to turn the pages into posters.

These unicorns come in a variety of poses (especially profile and straight-on view). The scenes vary, although few include more than two unicorns. These images don't have as much detail work as some. There are detailed areas, but the majority of each image is large areas. It's easier than some adult coloring books, which has its own appeal.

Baby Unicorns is an absolutely delightful coloring book!

January 20, 2021

Review: Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (Take Along Storyteller)

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (Take Along Storyteller)

By Scarlett Wing
Available now from Cottage Door Press
Review copy

The legacy of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood lives on with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. This Take Along Storyteller set also reminds me of my childhood in the 90's since I had a set of books that came with tapes I could put in the cassette player and read along with. I loved those books.

This set contains nine books and one book of songs:

  • Daniel Goes to the Dentist
  • Daniel Learns to Ride a Bike
  • Daniel Goes to School
  • Potty Time with Daniel
  • The Baby is Here!
  • Visiting Grandpere
  • Neighbor Day
  • Pajama Day at the Library
  • Daniel Meets the New Neighbors
  • You Are Special

The books are thin hardcovers. They aren't super durable for young readers. The stories themselves are simple and perfectly suited to the age group with nice messages. The words are simple to better help kids follow along as they learn to recognize them. The pictures feature the familiar characters from the show. I know parents really appreciate "Potty Time with Daniel" and the potty song. 

The included storyteller does require 3 AAA batteries. There is a screw to keep kids from removing the batteries on their own. There's a dial to select narration for one of the books and a dial to select a song. The song dial was stiff at first, but then moved along smoothly. There is a low and high volume, but even the low is pretty loud. I found the narration and songs both to have reasonable audio quality.

I do wish this set had something to keep int all together. It comes in a cardboard box that clearly isn't meant to be kept.

But this is a wonderful little set for preschool Daniel Tiger fans, carrying case or no.

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