Childrens Book Reviews

This is Belle

Review by: Michael Lambert
Published: February 14, 2019

Every parent is looking for a book to inspire their children, and this book is special in so many ways.

For starters, the entire book is presented with beautiful graphics. Graphics are a part of every childrens book, or at least they should be, but the graphics often are an after thought. These graphics actually paint the picture that the story is telling. It's easy for a child to focus on the book because of these well presented graphics. Not too "slick", not to goofy, just right to speak to your child.

To further aid in your childs development, the book is written in two languages...showing side by side. Coming from south Florida this is invaluable. But should be considered valuable by anyone interested in language skills. Exposing a child (as well as the parent) to multiple lanaguages as early as possible is a great way to help insure an open mind, for language, as well as various cultures. And obviously a primarily spanish speaking family will be thrilled to have a well written childrens book written in english and the original author!

But there is no doubt that the true value of this book is it's message. I would actually say there are two distinct messages within the book. One is showing that any child that has difficulty finding friends or mixing in should realize that they are not alone. This simple fact can put your child at ease, and allow them to feel less alone and awkward. The second message suggests that the child find things in common with others, and build relationships based on the commonality. A message that should speak to children as well as adults, but too often doesn't.

I have had the opportunity to meet this author, as well as to "fight" with her, as she is a 3rd degree black belt in Aikido, and I am a shodan (1st degree). When Isabel is not swimming, running or pursuing other physical challenges, she teaches Aikido to children and exhibits great patience training the children to be respectful and controlled, but have fun. She and her family are amazing people, and their children are a testament to her ability to speak to and inspire children.

Title:This is Belle
Paperback: 26 Pages
Author: Isabel De La Vega
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication Date: 13 April 2017
Format: Paperback
ISBN-10: 1524687308
ISBN-13: 978-1524687304
For ages: 5 - 12


The Tiny Star

Review by: DimbutNice
Published: October 24, 2020

Greatly talented Freya Blackwood has joined with Mem Fox to produce a work of exquisite beauty; divine in every way. 

Themes cover the joy and happiness of a new birth, the journey through life, and the death of a beloved grandparent. All is presented in a delicate and loving way that children can understand. A story of beginnings and endings.

Death is perhaps one of the hardest conversations to have with a child. The Tiny Staris an example of how to approach loss and grief with children, especially when the loss is a beloved grandparent or other person close to them. 

This story reminds us that a life ending doesn’t have to be a tragedy, but can remain a shining light of love that remains in the memory. It is there always, a star to be seen. A joy to be remembered.

Fox’s text is measured and meaningful and carefully chosen as always. It is Blackwood’s illustrations that bring the book to life through the visual story. Her use of shades of blue as the main colour on every page, bring elegance and style to the whole production.

Most of the heart-warming illustrations are of family gatherings; the sharing of food and love, experiences and togetherness. Many scenes take place outdoors in nature where there are animals and butterflies, ducks, hens, cats, pigeons and even a possum! They depict a life… lived to the full and intergenerational relationships.

With The Tiny Star and the time of year, we are reminded of kindness and sharing, giving and forgiving, and the fragility of life and how it is lived.

Title: The Tiny Star
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrator: Freya Blackwood
Publisher:Penguin Random House, $24.99
Publication Date: November 2019
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780670078127
For ages: 5+
Type: Picture Book

The Worrying Worries

Review by: Shaye Wardrop
Published: October 24, 2020

Once, I found a Worry so I trapped it in a net.

I picked it out and put it in my pocket for a pet.

A little boy finds a worry. 

He takes the worry with him everywhere, but after a while the worry becomes bothersome. 

It grows bigger, it steals the boy’s favourite chair and it itches his skin.

The boy begins to feel ill, but the worry won’t leave him alone. It whispers mean things to him and puts sad thoughts in his head.

The boy knows he cannot keep his worry pet. But he doesn’t know what to do with it.

He takes the worry to a Worry Expert and she teaches him some special tricks to ignore the worry and make it disappear — tricks that all kids can use when they have a persistent worry that won’t leave them alone.

The Worrying Worries is a great picture book for kids. Written in rhyme, the story is fun and upbeat. It’s full of entertaining and relatable shenanigans that engage and trigger giggles. Zehra Hicks’ vibrant illustrations sparkle with colour and the funky characters are joyful (even the Worry, which really is very cute).

All this brilliantly disguises a story that deals with a challenging topic. Worry and stress is very real, for all ages, and if we don’t have strategies to deal with them, they can take over our lives and make things very hard for us. 

The Worrying Worries shows kids some simple tricks to help calm down and ignore worries when they start to shout too loudly in our heads. It also normalises worrying, which I love. 

Never will there be a human being who doesn’t experience worry and stress at some point in their life. Stress and worry is part of life, and we all need to find the right solutions for us (because everyone is different) to deal with them.

This is a great one for your picture book collection. And if you’re looking for more books to help children build their resilience and emotional strength, check out The Problem with Problems, another brilliant collaboration from Rachel Rooney and Zehra Hicks.

Title: The Worrying Worries
Author: Rachel Rooney
Illustrator: Zehra Hicks
Publisher: Affirm Press, $17.99  
Publication Date: 29 September 2020
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781922400161
For ages: 3 - 6
Type: Picture Book

Super Sloth

Review by: Unknown
Published: October 23, 2020

What's your superpower? What kind of superhero would you like to be?

Super Sloth is the story of a super-chilled animal who discovers his own special talents.

One day after finding a comic book about a superhero, Sloth decides he wants to be a one himself.

He has a ready-made mask, all he needs is a cape.

Sloth has super hearing, too. That means he can hear the cry for help when Anteater steals the mangoes.

Unfortunately Sloth is not fast enough to chase the thief, but he discovers he has another talent that can be put to good use instead.

Will Sloth be able to infiltrate Anteater's lair and stop him from living the high life with the best mango juice? Will Super Sloth save the day?

Robert Starling's superstar sloth and ensemble of South American animals show readers that not everyone's talents are the same; and in the spirit of Aesop's Fables, remind us that sometimes it's better to be a tortoise than a hare.

After enjoying the story of Super Sloth, sloth fans will be able to learn more about these unusual creatures with some fun sloth facts at the back of the book. Did you know that sloths don't sweat or smell? 

Super Sloth is ready for young readers and superheroes in waiting to read, and you can visit the author's website for Super Sloth resources as well.

Title:Super Sloth
Author/Illustrator: Robert Starling
Publisher: Andersen Press, $ 16.99
Publication Date: April 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781783448821
For ages: 4+
Type: Picture Book

Junior HOPE: 50 Ways To Help Our Planet Every Day

Review by: DimbutNice
Published: October 23, 2020

Think you can’t do anything about climate change? Have HOPE!

Hope is a brilliant book outlining the ways we can save our environment in 50 simple actions. 

This book teaches you ways you can open your eyes to the catastrophic events we are hammering at the environment and find our way to help our planet every day. 

This book is directed to the children of our earth to help encourage them to advise our community to pick up rubbish or do plastic beach collections on Clean Up Australia Day. 

Hope helps us respect the different ways we live and encourages us to realise that we still share the world and together we can make it better. 

In 50 creative and exciting ways to help our environment we can all help to save our planet. Using this book, we must ask ourselves, what does it mean to be green?

I love this book because of the creative and easy ways to help our environment through these troubling times. Most of these ways are simple and don’t take much effort to do every day. This book also helps us join in community activities and plastic clean ups. I think this book is for all ages to encourage us to help our environment.

Title: HOPE: 50 Ways To Hep Our Planet Every Day
Author: Penguin Random House Australia
Publisher: Puffin Books, $14.99  
Publication Date: August 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760896737
For ages: 9 - 11
Type: Junior Non Fiction

Auntie Uncle Drag Queen Hero

Review by: DimbutNice
Published: October 22, 2020

This visionary story by Australian author Ellie Royce showcases the world of drag queens with the message that it is ok to allow your true self to shine through.

The story is presented from his nephew’s perspective and observations. Uncle Leo is an accountant who works in the city and helps check his nephew’s maths homework.

On weekends Leo transforms into Auntie Lotta who sings and dances with her friends.

During Mardi Gras, Auntie Lotta is in the parade with her friends, when she spots a puppy break free to join the parade. Nobody else sees the puppy in danger of being run over, except Auntie Lotta who saves the puppy and returns him to his owner.

Then everyone sees it; an article appears in the newspaper and the Mayor wants to give Auntie Lotta an award. But Leo is unsure who should accept the award.

Not all of his friends have met Lotta – what a dilemma. That is until his nephew comes up with the idea of dressing up as both Leo and Lotta. Will it work? Are Leo and Lotta brave enough?

The illustrations by Hannah Chambers are as glamorous as Lotta’s outfits. Colourful, fun and enigmatic they leap off the page.

This inspirational story demonstrates acceptance, equality and courage. The courage to be true to yourself and having an Auntie Uncle is truly the best of both worlds.

This has become one of my favourite books and is the perfect introductory story to be read as part of a Drag Queen Storytime.

Title: Auntie Uncle Drag Queen Hero
Author: Ellie Royce
Illustrator: Hannah Chambers
Publisher: POW Kids Books, $28.99  
Publication Date: 28 April 2020
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781576879351
For ages: 3 - 7
Type: Picture Book

The Witches: The Graphic Novel by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu, 304 pp, RL 3

Review by: Tanya
Published: October 22, 2020


The Witches: The Graphic Novel 
by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu
Review Copy from Graphix

Confession: Despite being a reader of many books by Roald Dahl, as a child and adult, I have never read The Witches. Or seen the 1990 movie version starring the stellar Angelica Huston. Which means that, along with no knowledge of this book, I also bring none of the childhood baggage that comes with an adaptation of a beloved classic. I also bring a preexisting appreciation for the work of Bagieu, especially her graphic novel biography anthology, Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

I read all my Roald Dahl books before Sir Quentin Blake became his official illustrator so I don't immediately associate Blake's style with Dahl's works. That said, I do feel like Dahl's writing is perfectly paired with a loose, frenetic illustration style, especially one that looks a bit like it is from previous decades. Bagieu brings this, and more to her illustrations for The Witches which, based solely on multiple viewings of Mr. Bean and Absolutely Fabulous, have a very 1980s British-y feel to them. And, without giving too much away, her characterization of the Grand High Witch when she reveals her true self is awesome. Bagieu tells the story primarily through panels, using other forms, like pages from a notebook and an instructional manual, along with a color palette that matches the grim tone of the story.

For those of you like me who are new to The Witches, it begins with a young boy and his Grandmamma, his new guardian after the death of both parents. Both the boy and his Grandmamma are shades of brown, something I am sure is a welcome update to the story. Reading other reviews of The Witches, I can also tell you that the boy that the Grand High Witch uses to demonstrate her potion that turns children into mice, is now a girl, another welcome change. And, Grandmamma has both her thumbs, an update that makes me want to read the novel now... Grandmamma, a witch hunter since childhood, fills her grandson in on everything about witches just before they head of for a restorative visit to the seaside in the hopes of remedying Grandmamma's wicked cough. It just so happens that the pair are staying at the very hotel where the Grand High Witch is holding a special meeting, a meeting the boy finds himself trapped in, allowing him to hear her plan to turn all of the disgusting, stinking children into mice with a disgusting, stinking potion to be administered through, what else, candy! How the boy (and the girl, who also gets turned into a mouse) foil the plan, save the day and live their lives as mice play out, true to Dahl's penchant for gross, awful adults and crazy plans to save the day.

While I can't compare Bagieu's version to the original, I'm not sure you need to. It's a treat to see Dahl's tone come through in Bagieu's illustrations and I am sure she will bring many new readers to The Witches.

The Witches & the Grand High Witch
1990 & 2020

The Little Kitten by Nicola Killen

Review by: Tanya
Published: October 19, 2020


The Little Kitten
Review Copy from Simon & Schuster
The Little Kitten the kind of holiday picture book I adore - it evokes the event, but can be enjoyed any time of the year. Killen's gentle, kindhearted story - with just the right amount of suspense - is made even better by special touches that add magic to the already charming illustrations. A palette of greys and black is accented with two shades of orange, including orange foil on just the right amount of autumn leaves and perfectly placed cut-outs that draw the story along.

Ollie, in her cat suit, heads outside with Pumpkin, her cat, to play on an autumn morning. A pile of leaves reveals a little black kitten and new playmate. After a while, Pumpkin curls up for a nap while Ollie and the kitten run father and farther into the woods. There, she finds trees plastered with missing cat posters and a very familiar looking cat. "I need to take you home," Ollie whispers to the kitten. A gust of wind and a whoosh of leaves lead the pair to the kitten's home just as Ollie realizes she has forgotten Pumpkin - and she is a bit lost. A familiar meow guides here home where Ollie and Pumpkin curl up under a blanket. Through a window, A witch and her cat can be seen zooming by on a broom, an orange-foil-tail of sparks behind them. The next day, a thank you gift (a pumpkin with a cat face) appears at their door.

The perfect book for the littlest listeners who are just starting to be aware of Halloween. And, of course, this a a superb story for cat lovers of all ages! The Little Kitten is the newest addition to the Little Animals Series, that includes The Little Reindeer and The Little Rabbit.

Max Meow: Cat Crusader by John Gallagher, 240 pp, RL 2

Review by: Tanya
Published: October 16, 2020


Max Meow: Cat Crusader by John Gallagher
Review Copy from RH Graphic

I never want to start a review by enthusiastically comparing one book to another, but, considering the unstoppable juggernaut that Dav Pilkey's Dog Man series has been for the last four years, I am surprised that Gallagher's new graphic novel series aimed at the same audience is the first book to curl up next to it on the shelves! With bold colors, tons of action, monsters, robots, mini golf and meteoric meatballs, Max Meow will satisfy fans of Pilkey and well beyond. Even better, while there is a funny, fuzzy hero, the costar of Gallagher's series is a human! Max's friend, Mindy Microbe, girl scientist (with brown skin and curly hair) - spoiler! - transforms into Science Kitty after an explosive experiment with the meteor-meatball that turned Max into the Cat Crusader. While it's definitely fun seeing the Cat Crusader go up against baddie Agent M (a mouse, whose alter ego is Pep Svenson, feline golf pro!) I can't wait to see how the game changes when Science Kitty is at his side!

Max Meow has a panel layout and short chapters that will keep readers tearing through what is actually a pretty long book. Word bubbles are good-sized with the black dialog popping, making this a great transition book for readers ready to step up a level. And, like Pilkey's books, Gallagher gives readers a step-by-step lesson on how to draw the Cat Crusader.

Coming April 2021!

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Review by: Tanya
Published: October 14, 2020

Our Little Kitchen

by Jillian Tamaki

Digital Review Copy from AbramsKids

Tamaki's bright, boisterous illustrations swirl, unfurl and burst off the pages of this deliciously uplifting, inspiring picture book. Drawing from her own experience volunteering at a community kitchen for many years (see her Author's Note), Tamaki takes readers through the Wednesday experience of a diverse group of people who come together in the kitchen, exploring the pantry, the garden and the donations, then turning them into a meal for those in need. Donated day-old bread is perked up in the oven, older carrots are turned into soup and bruised apples are made into a crumble - with the illustrated recipes for vegetable soup and apple crumble as endpapers! As the volunteers prepare the meal, their voices add to the chopping, sizzling music of the kitchen. The perspective of the illustrations changes with every page turn, zooming in and out, up close, overhead and even a cut away, all perfectly capturing the many hands (and movements) that make the meal. As the call to the table is made and the cooks hustle to get their dishes out, readers can feel the excitement and anticipation. The meal is served and the glorious pages that follow show the food being shared, enjoyed, talked over and, finally, cleaned up. Not only is Our Little Kitchen a marvelous example of the power of community and volunteering, it is a celebration of the power of food to bring people together, in the kitchen and at the table.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, with pictures by Jon Klassen, 136 pp, RL 3

Review by: Tanya
Published: October 12, 2020


"tip-claw" and "hot paw-pie" 
"rocket potato" 
a "muffin tin barnacled with batter" 
"pickaxe-and-dynamite" pajamas that are "nonrestrictive - sweat-wicking, too"
 "a hedgehog wearing a tam o'shanter peeking out from behind the New York Times Book Review"

These are but a few examples of the absolutely unforgettable, image rich, laugh-out-loud gift Timberlake has delivered with her story of Badger, who resides in Aunt Lula's brownstone in North Twist, and Skunk, who has been invited by Aunt Lula to take up residence there as well. Klassen's illustrations bring this already vivid story to life with a palette that roots it in the natural world. I have a deep love for what I'll call the "opposites attract-animal buddy" story, and while comparisons to Arnold Lobel's inimitable Frog and Toad are inevitable here, Skunk and Badger, for me, evokes my all-time favorite opposites attract-animal buddies, Mole and Rat from The Wind in the Willows (you can read my reviews of recent adaptations of this classic here and here). With Frog and Toad and Mole and Rat, the friendships of these creatures and how they learn from each other and overcome their differences is almost as enchanting to me as the domestic lives they enjoy, together and apart. This is something that Timberlake brings to the page in a palpably cozy way. Although the main characters are animals (something Timberlake never strays too far from in her anthropomorphization) the comfort and joy they experience in their home, wether it is the solace Badger finds as he sinks into deep examination and contemplation during his "important rock work" in his carefully arranged rock room or the enthusiasm and artistry of Skunk as he cooks. The camaraderie of Skunk and Badger sharing a delicious meal (not to mention this important Law of Nature, one that has been followed in my home for decades - I cook, you clean) is the sunshiny calm before the inevitable storm.

Despite Skunk's best efforts - and the fact that Aunt Lula has written to assure Badger that sharing her home with the homeless Skunk (who reads Henry V on "Long Story Night" and wonders why, "if it were true that kindness and gentleness were the best way to win a kingdom - or win anything at all - wouldn't everyone do it?") is a kindness that will benefit them both - ultimately, Badger finds he cannot tolerate his new housemate, saying, "You're a skunk. I am a badger. We are not family. That's scientifically proven!"(be sure to read Timberlake's acknowledgements, which have sent me down a rabbit hole). Unkind words are spoken and suitcases are packed. And I haven't even mentioned Speedy Stoat Delivery, Quantum Leaping Chickens and "E Huli Māko"and the ukulele.

In a time when there is so much uncertainty, so much division among us, Skunk and Badger brings comfort, insight and the opportunity to empathize and learn. Skunk and Badger is an instant classic (the book design, from the matte texture of the dust jacket to the trim size and mix of black and white and color illustrations, is a delight) that is perfect for your own Long Story Night because you will want to read it cover-to-cover!