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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