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


Ghost Bird

Review by: Shaye Wardrop
Published: January 22, 2020

It took me a while to review this book — to unpack the genius and unfurl the powerful tendrils of fiction, nonfiction, truth and history.

To say this is a powerful story actually feels like an understatement.

Maybe powerful is not the right word. 


That's a better word to describe Ghost Bird.

It’s a book that completely fills your mind and attention.

Ghost bird is the tale of Stacey Thomson: a twin, a girl from an outback town, an aboriginal girl who wants nothing more than to leave her world behind and escape to pursue her dreams.

But when her twin sister Laney goes missing, and she starts to dream of Laney in a bad, dark place, Stacey must find the strength to face the stories of her people, challenge her family’s ways and find her sister before it’s too late.

Make no mistake, Stacey loves and respects her family more than anything. She obeys the rules and she accepts the directions of her elders. But if she’s going to save Laney, she’s going to have to go where her family has warned her never to go. She’ll have to cross lines that should never be crossed.

Ghost Bird is a story of deep love — the kind of love that exists even when you almost hate the other person. It’s about family, tradition, history and a sisterly bond that can never be broken.

This is also a book about history and about being Aboriginal in a small outback town. It’s about a family that's lived on their lands for generations and what happened to them when the white men came.

I believe this makes Ghost Bird a book every Australian teenager should read. Have you ever thought what it means to live in a town divided? Even now, even today when things have apparently changed, what does living in a town with so much history mean, and how would it affect you?

Ghost Bird is a brilliant and gripping read. Filled with mystery and suspense, it's masterful storytelling. If you love YA that’s real and raw, mysterious and deep, Ghost Bird is for you.

I also suspect this is a novel lots of people are going to be talking about for a long time, so I’d get in early so you can be part of the conversation.

Title: Ghost Bird
Author: Lisa Fuller
Publisher: UQP, $19.95
Publication Date: 1 November 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978 0 7022 6023 0
For ages: 13+
Type: Young Adult Fiction

Running With The Horses

Review by: DimbutNice
Published: January 21, 2020

This is a story of adventure, courage, friendship and horses. 

Having lived their life with horses, every memory of Nina’s and her father Victor’s, are tied to them. Nina’s mother was a show rider who died when she was four years old.

Nina and the old horse Zelda share a special relationship. When war rages across the globe, shops and businesses in their city all close down. 

Then Nina’s school also closes. 

Viktor and Nina, accompanied by their friend Karl, immediately set out to cross the Alps and reach safety for themselves and the four remaining stallions. But Nina refuses to leave Zelda.

They begin a monumental and dangerous journey through a city being bombed. It is Zelda’s finely tuned intuition that saves their lives.

This beautiful and moving fiction story is inspired by the rescue of the Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School during WW2. It has been re-released in a young readers’ edition through Puffin, ten years after the first story was published. It comes with a cloth cover and in a smaller size than the previous picture book published in 2016.

Stunning double spreads depict the escape, travels and threats encountered by the group. Alison Lester’s use of colour emphasizes the terror and danger that the group faced. The vibrant red of explosions, the dark blue shades of danger, the flight of birds in green meadows for hope and resilience, and the brilliance of the snow which heralds safety and new beginnings, accompany her perfect text.

I love her fine-lined images and the alternating use of colour and black and white in the illustrations. This is a perfect gift book for children. It carries a story from history and all the themes that make for perfect reading.
Title: Running with the Horses
Author/Illustrator: Alison Lester
Publisher: Penguin Random House, $16.99
Publication Date: October 2019
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781760892760
For ages: 6 - 8
Type: Picture Book

Myths and Legends of the World

Review by: Shaye Wardrop
Published: January 21, 2020

Bold reader: open your mystical map and get ready.

Welcome to the world of myths and legends.

Myths and Legends of the World is a wonderful and powerful book filled with stories of old from across the world. 

Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, the Americas and the Arctic — there are myth stories included from them all. 

Like the story of the creation of the world from Africa, the legend of Maui and the tale of the rainbow serpent from Oceania, the story of Ganesh from Asia and the story of Niekija and the northern lights from the Arctic.

A lot of research has gone into this book to gather these stories and retell them. Of course, there are multiple variations of all these legends from different regions, but Alli Brydon has done a fantastic job in retelling the core elements of each.

Each legend is also accompanied by brilliant illustrations by Julia Iredale. Stunning colours engage the eye, and Iredale’s print-like style is awe-inspiring. 

This is a beautiful book for curious minds. It’s a lovely introduction to legend stories from across the globe and is sure to get the kids googling to find out more. 

A beautiful addition to your non-fiction library.

Title: Myths and Legends of the World
Author: Alli Brydon
Illustrator: Julia Iredale
Publisher: Lonely Planet Kids, $29.99
Publication Date: 8 November 2019
Format: Hard Cover
ISBN: 9781788683074
For ages: 9 -12
Type: Non Fiction

The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski, 272 pp, RL 3

Review by: Tanya
Published: January 21, 2020

The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowsk
Published by RH Graphic
Purchased at Barnes & Noble

I am SO excited to finally be reviewing a title from this new imprint dedicated to "a graphic novel on every bookshelf" because it is headed by Gina Gagliano, a powerhouse in the comics industry known as a "force for good when it comes to making sequential storytelling accessible, exciting and interesting." A fellow Reedie, Gagliano spent over ten years running the publicity and marketing and eventually designing the publishing strategy for my favorite publisher of graphic novels, FirstSecond. I received a digital review copy of The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski, but I needed to hold this book in my hands and am very glad I bought it. Everything about the design of this book - from the raised lettering on the covers to the quality of the paper and the vibrancy of the art, this book is everything I would expect from a publishing director Gagliano and the team she has assembled. I can't wait to read the rest of the Spring 2020 titles!
Troïanowski's gorgeous graphic novel is as vibrant and colorful as Robin, the runaway princess of the title. Divided into three adventures, the story begins when Robin sneaks out of the castle to go to the Aquatic Carnival in Noor, the Water City. Approached by a wolf, Robin escapes when the narrator asks readers to "close the book, shake it up and down three times, and then turn to the next page," to help the wolf's clutches. Troïanowski drops these interactive moments into the story with perfect timing, adding to the excitement and enjoyment of the princess's plight. Other interactive moments include shouting the name of a character to break a mermaid's spell, finding a path through a maze, using numbered passageways to help the queen (who can fly) find her daughter and finding the pattern in a pond full of colorful lily pads in order to safely cross. 
In the forest, Robin meets up with four brothers who have been left by their parents, Hansel and Gretel style. The gang has adventures that are colorful explosions of imagination and humor. Robin is kidnapped and helps write her own ransom note, the brothers are trapped in a web inhabited by pin cushion spiders with multiple button eyes. Every city, neighborhood and house Robin and her friends visit (willingly or unwillingly) is intricately crammed with details, and all the flora and fauna come in kaleidoscopic colors. The various locales (maps included) from the forest to the ocean to exotic ruins and mysterious islands are equally intriguing. The Runaway Princess is an absolutely delightful, interactive book that readers will read over and over.

I AM LOVE: A Book of Compassion by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Review by: Tanya
Published: January 20, 2020

I AM LOVE: A Book of Compassion
by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Review Copy from Abrams Kids
 I AM LOVE: A Book of Compassion is the fourth in the I AM series by Verde and Reynolds, and if you have read the other three, then you know it is a superb, important, must-have book. As these four books follow a pattern, I feel compelled to repeat words from my January, 2019 review of I AM HUMAN: A Book of Empathy. With simplicity and clarity, Verde and Reynolds's book raises emotional intelligence. With joyfulness and love, Verde and Reynolds give us yet another gift, another way to teach and show our children both what is beautiful about humanity and how to face the challenges of being human. Focusing this book on the concept of compassion, Verde begins in a rainstorm, with the narrator, a marvelously genderfree character, noticing someone going through a storm (literal and emotional), seeing fear, and asking, "What can I do to help let the light back in?" Pausing to find an answer, hands on heart, eyes closed, the narrator responds, "I have compassion. I act with tenderness. I am love. I can listen and not say a word. I can be there. Love is being present." Verde and Reynolds go on to show that love is comfort, love is gentle, love is gratitude, and love is self-care. Love is creative, love is understanding, love is effort, love is remembering, and love is tiny gestures. Finally, noting that we are all made of the same stuff, the narrator shows that love is connection.

Verde's writing is informed by her work as a children's yoga and mindfulness instructor and she ends each book with instruction for yoga and meditation practices for young and old. Where I AM HUMAN ended with instructions on the Loving Kindness Meditation, Verde ends I AM LOVE with Heart-Opening Yoga Poses. In her author's note, which I am going to quote at length, as I feel like the current geopolitical state of the world, not to mention the climate, demands we think about this for ourselves and our children, Verde writes, 

There is a lot of research showing that the way we carry ourselves is directly connected to our emotions and state of mind. When we see children hanging their heads or slouching, those can be signs that they are feeling unhappiness or anxiety and are trying to physically and emotionally protect their hearts. When you heart is closed off or "hurts," it is difficult to connect with others and to see, feel, or share love.

Heart opening yoga poses allow us to lead with our hearts by opening and expanding the front of the body. These poses bring space and breath into the body and have been shown to positively affect mood and outlook and to create feelings of compassion and love. These activities can be done in school or at home, in any order, with others or along, and they should be repeated a few times to fully experience the effects.

Like all the I AM books, I AM LOVE is empowering for readers of any age, but especially young readers, giving them tools to cope with the challenges of life and embrace the wonder and beauty.

Playing with Collage by Jeannie Baker

Review by: Tanya
Published: January 17, 2020

Playing with Collage: 
Learn the Art of Collage from a Master
Review Copy from Candlewick Studio
Baker is the author of many stunning picture books using natural materials to create her complex illustrations that often seem to jump off the page. With this beautiful picture book, she gives readers tips on the tools needed, the various materials to consider and the methods to employ when crafting a collage. Divided into four main sections, she guides readers on creating a collection of materials and how to play with it. While Playing with Collage is ideally a book for older readers, with an adult nearby, it can be enjoyed by and adapted for young readers looking for a new creative outlet. That said, Baker does remind readers not to collect anything that is still living for use in a collage, and not to touch anything sharp or dangerous. She also lets readers know when to bring an adult on board for supervision, like when she tells readers how to cook noodles for use in a collage.
Even if you have no intention of making a collage of your own, this is a fascinating read with superb photography and design.

A few of Jeannie Baker's Books:

Boxitects by Kim Smith

Review by: Tanya
Published: January 15, 2020

Boxitects by Kim Smith
Review Copy from Clarion Books
Boxitects is a standout picture book for featuring two main characters of color. It's also a great story that shows kids the value of collaboration while also putting maker-kids (and speciality schools) on the page. 
Meg IS a boxitect - she loves making things out of boxes, from tall towers to twisty tunnels. Meg is proud of her work, and her mom is proud of her, too - so proud that she sends Meg to a "Maker School where she could be even more brilliant and creative." I know (hope?) that by now almost all school districts have speciality schools that support and inspire kids who have a passion for creative expression, be it making, coding, drama or art. I love that Boxitects puts this kind of school on the page (you can't be it if you can't see it) and hope that creative young readers will be inspired to find their own Maker School.
 Meg meets all kinds of makers at her new school, from blanketeers and spaghetti-tecs to tin-foilers and egg-cartoneers. As the class's first boxitect, Meg feels special . . . until Simone shows up. Simone makes things that Meg has never dreamed of, and she is always nearby, offering Meg advice on how to make a better build. While the text doesn't reveal this, illustrations show Meg's growing frustration with Simone. When the 5th Annual Maker Match demands that Meg and Simone work on a build together, the two refuse to partner. Instead, Meg builds a treehouse and Simone builds a ship, each trying to outdo the other until disaster strikes. After some finger pointing, Meg and Simone call a truce and find that, working together, they can create something new and better.

Back matter includes four pages of information, instruction and inspiration for budding boxitects. Experiments and challenges with cardboard are partnered with step-by-step plans for a tunnel and castle.

The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

Review by: Tanya
Published: January 13, 2020

The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, 
a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art 
illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
Review Copy from Candlewick Press
With The Secret Kingdom, Rosenstock and Nivola tell the story of a creativity, passion and perseverance that spanned decades, producing one of India's most popular tourist destinations. Born in the Punjab region, Nek Chand grew up farming and hearing stories, so many his head was overflowing with them. At the edge of the village stream, using the natural resources at hand, he built a world to hold these stories. Nek dug "silt palaces and spilled waterfalls, molded clay goddesses and planted stick kings. He found rocks shaped like jackals, monkeys, and geese, and made them pounce, scamper, or fly."
When parturition split India, Nek and his family fled to Chandigarh, walking twenty-four days from Muslim Pakistan to Hindu India. Soon, Nek began to build a new, hidden city. Using natural resources and refuse, Nek recreated the village he grew up in. A stunning two page, gatefold spread begins with an illustration of Nek at the foot of a waterfall he built, his statues flanking him. It opens to reveal four pages of photographs of Nek's Secret Kingdom, a work of art that "tells the stories all people need to hear . . . stories of coming home."

Rosenstock's author's note adds depth to an already dramatic, triumphant story, providing details about the city of Chandigrah and the ongoing government threat to raze Nek Chand's lifework. Sprawling across twelve acres of unused land at the northern edge of India's only planned city, Nek's secret kingdom, now called the Rock Garden, stands in stark contrast to Chandigrah. Designed in the 1950s by Le Corbusier, the "European-style, poured-concrete buildings" of Chandigrah were meant to show off an independent, modern India. Instead, Le Corbusier's designs clashed with the country's landscape and culture, with Nek Chand's art returning soul to the city. When the Rock Garden, which Nek began in 1958, was discovered by the government in 1973, they had to be convinced not to destroy it. Nek continued to build, even starting a program for citizens and businesses to recycle waste to be used in his art, completing a second phase of the garden in 1983. In 1984, he was awarded India's highest civilian honor, naming him a national treasure. Despite this, destruction was a continued threat. In 1990, hundreds, including many children, formed a human chain around the garden to prevent bulldozers from tearing it down. An internationally recognized artist, Nek Chand toured the world before his death, at the age of 90, in 2015. His sculptures have been exhibited in museums in Europe, Asia and the United States, where the largest collection of his work outside of Chandigrah resides at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI. Sadly, Rosenstock notes that, "City agreements to protect the site are not always honored. As a result, the Rock Garden is deteriorating."
Back matter includes an author's note, an extensive bibliography and information on how to help preserve and protect Nek Chand's Rock Garden.