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



Review by: Penny
Published: May 22, 2019

Meet the delightfully kooky Snoozette. This endearing new character from Red Paper Kite publishing lives in a land where clouds are 'always in season' and spends her days speaking French to her cat, boiling the kettle for endless cups of tea and, of course, snoozing.

Snoozette's snoozy days are pretty much the same, giving her a good shot at the Speed Napping World Champion Title. That is, until she sets out on a fantastical journey across the sky.

What follows is a fabulously nonsensical tale of raindrop perfumes, woolly sheep, fairy floss clouds and teacup baths.

Snoozette, with her red knee-high socks, pinafore dress and smattering of freckles, is a sweet, bespectacled character to gladden the heart.

Adults will warm to her tea-drinking, nap-taking ways, and children will delight in her eccentricities and unexpected wayfaring through the clouds.

This large-format book allows readers to pore over the deliciously quirky and colourful illustrations, searching for whimsical details, from clocks and kettles to cakes and creatures.

The endpapers are a fascinating insight into the development of a character, the chosen colour palette and the progress of a picture book. And, in keeping with Red Paper Kite's style, readers are invited to add their own colour and captions to a range of black-and-white illustrations at the end.

Snoozette is a fanciful celebration of imagination, of dreams and daydreams, and is sure to make perfect sense to anyone who loves spending each day with their head in the clouds.

Title: Snoozette
Author: Valentine Paradis
Illustrator: Caterina Metti
Publisher: Red Paper Kite, $26.99
Publication Date: June 2019
Format: Hard Cover
ISBN: 9780648485209
For ages: 4+
Type: Picture Book

Barefoot Bea

Review by: DimbutNice
Published: May 22, 2019

Beatrice Jones refuses to wear shoes, there is simply no need for them.

 This rhyming, hilarious story looks at why convention is not always the best way and how you can be an individual who stands out for all the right reasons.

Beatrice or better known as Barefoot Beathinks nothing of wearing shoes, they slow you down, stop from you from climbing trees or washing your feet by jumping in the rain puddles. It seems Bea has an answer for everything much to the dismay of her parents.

They decide something must be done, Bea must be made to wear shoes, just like everyone else. Worried about their daughter and her safety they come across a special shoe shop that proclaims to have shoes that suit every taste. At their wits end, her parents leave Bea in the shopkeepers’ capable hands, surely Bea will find a shoe that she will like here?

Hours drag by, until finally Bea emerges victorious! Her parents can no longer be mad at her and Bea is extremely happy.

Author Heather Neilly and Illustrator Ruth de Vos have created a book that makes you appreciate Bea’s independence and celebrate her uniqueness. The story is great to read aloud to an audience and children can relate to not wanting to wear shoes. 

The vibrant illustrations add to the delivery of the story and create the character Bea, who enjoys life and her freedom and who doesn’t need to be like everyone else to be happy.

Title: Barefoot Bea
Author: Heather Neilly
Illustrator: Ruth de Vos
Publisher: Yellow Brick Books, $24.99
Publication Date: 1 June 2019
Format: Hardback
For ages: 2 - 5
Type: Picture Book

Bat vs Poss

Review by: Amie Sabadin
Published: May 21, 2019

A delightfully rhythmic story about sharing and making friends set in branches of a sprawling paperbark tree.

Bat vs Poss caught my heart in the very first scene, beautifully illustrated with an Australian native tree; the home of a possum family and other creatures, surrounded by terrace houses, wheelie bins and city lights in the background. Everything about it felt familiar to me, as it would for many people who have lived in urban Australia.

Meek the possum and her sisters are happily living in their home when a stubborn bat named Squabbles moves abruptly in. Squabbles is noisy, messy and rather rude. Unhappy with the intruder, the locals have a neighbourhood meeting where Meek has a clever idea. Will the possums and this uninvited bat ever live in harmony?

My kids and I enjoyed the clever rhyming and upbeat text while exploring important topics such as teamwork, problem solving and standing up for yourself. The stunning illustrations work in unity with the text and perfectly set the homely Australian environment.

Alexa Moses is the author of Slave Girl and other stories, she is also a children’s television screenwriter. Anil Tortop has illustrated over 30 books including The Great Zoo Hullabaloo!, Where's Dad Hiding? and Digby and the Yodelayhee... Who?

Title: Bat vs Poss
Author: Alexa Moses
Illustrator: Anil Tortop
Publisher: Hachette Australia, $16.99
Publication Date: 29 January 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780734418395
For ages: 3 – 6
Type: Picture Book

Leonard Doesn't Dance

Review by: Cherri
Published: May 21, 2019

When Leonard first hears about the Big Beaky Bird Ball, he is eager to join his feathered friends as they practice their dances for the big event. Every bird seems to have their specialty, from waltzing magpies to chickens who cha-cha. But no matter how hard Leonard tries, every step seems to go wrong and soon Leonard declares he is 'never going to dance again.' 

France Watts' alliterative text joyfully rolls of the tongue. Judy Watson's illustrations are vibrant, with rich deep blues, reminiscent of an evening sky, illuminated by the setting sun and a display of fireflies. The landscape feels like the Australian bush, but each spread is populated by an array of birds from all over the world, each with their own distinct plumage and personalities.

As Leonard discovers more and more birds are grooving, rocking and reeling, he steadfastly decides he cannot dance. The heart in this picture book is revealed when Leonard's friends decide they will not go to the ball without Leonard. Because he also cares for them, Leonard does not want them to miss out. A comical encounter leads to a funny resolution in this witty tale.

In Leonard Doesn't Dance, the words and images combine together to create a colourful, exciting dance.

Title: Leonard Doesn't Dance
Author: Frances Watts
Illustrator: Judy Watson
Publisher: ABC Books, $24.99
Publication Date: 20 May 2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978073333040
For ages: 3+
Type: Picture Book


Review by: Tanya
Published: May 22, 2019

Review Copy from Candlewick Books
Words cannot convey just how much I love I DO NOT LIKE BOOKS ANYMORE! It is the best picture book representation of the process of learning to read I have ever seen - in 25 years of reading picture books out loud to audiences and 11 years of reviewing picture books. Actually, every picture book from Daisy Hirst is the perfect combination of authentic kid emotions and experiences, humor and thoughtfulness.
Natalie and Alphonse "really liked books and stories." They love being read to, remembering stories and making them up and Natalie is very excited about the prospect of learning to read. However, when she opens her first reading book, "the letters and words looked like prickles or birds' feet." Not only is Natalie taken aback by the practice she'll have to put in to learn how to read, she's not to thrilled with her first reading book, asking Miss Bimble, the librarian, "But it isn't a story?" Natalie practices and her parents encourage and support her, but she still cannot read...
Natalie decides she doesn't need to learn how to read. After all, she can make up her own stories and tell them to her little brother. Hirst includes their charming first co-authored story, which they decide to draw pictures for so that they can tell it again, in I DO NOT LIKE BOOKS ANYMORE! After they draw the pictures, they decide to get Dad to add their words to the page and give it a good stapling. And, when Alphonse asks her to tell the story to him again, "Natalie found that, mostly, she could read the book they'd written (with Alphonse helping.)" 
I get teary every time I read this book. And, you will want to read this book over and over, as Hirst has tucked wonderful little details throughout her illustrations. Keep your eye out for real books and a familiar looking caterpillar who ends up in Natalie and Alphonse's story, not to mention endpapers that tell a story of their own!

 More amazing books by Daisy Hirst!

 And coming soon....

My Worst Book Ever! by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman

Review by: Tanya
Published: May 21, 2019

My Worst Book Ever! by Allan Ahlberg,
 illustrated by Bruce Ingman
Purchased from Barnes & Noble (after spotting it at McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers)
My Worst Book Ever! is, as always, a completely entertaining, humorous story from the phenomenal Ahlberg (The Jolly Postman Trilogy, illustrated by his late wife, Janet, as well as newer books illustrated by his daughter, Jessica, among others. But, what I think My Worst Book Ever! does best is give readers a glimpse into the start-to-finish process of writing, illustrating and publishing a picture book. The title page shows the author walking to his writing shed, cup of coffee in hand, cat trailing behind. Once there, he begins work on a new, rhyming story called, Crocodile Snap! Things start well, a list of words that rhyme with "snap" is made, but interferences in the form of a cat being chased by a fox, spilled coffee, a family vacation at the seaside and snails that eat paper interfere with the writing process. Be sure to take note of the fox in the illustration below, as it appears again and a strategic point in the story.
When the story is done, Allan calls his good friend, and "even better illustrator," Bruce. Not only does Bruce have some ideas of his own (there are too many crocodile books) he also has some small children with sticky hands and popsicles... When the illustrations are finally done, the author and illustrator head to New York City to talk to their publisher, who has some exciting ideas of her own. Once the manuscript is shipped off to the printer, another child with sticky hands leaves her mark on Crocodile Snap! In a fantastic two page, gatefold spread, readers are treated to the book that should have been, "A pleasant enough tale, as you can see. Not Roald Dahl, of course, or Julia Donaldson, even, but not bad," and the book that was actually printed - in various languages with a variety of illustrations. This spread is a delight to read, compare and contrast. However, this is not the book that the author intended and knowing it is out in the world this way leaves him "pretty sad after that. Inconsolable." It also leaves him with a bit of writer's block. But, after a week in his writing shed, much coffee and digestive biscuits consumed, another story comes to him - SPIDERS ON THE MARCH! You see the start of a story all over again with the final page showing the author in his shed, wondering, "What could possibly go wrong?" The final illustration shows the cat in the garden, cleaning herself, with the fox peering around the corner of the writing shed once again...

While Ahlberg and Ingman bring high jinks and hilarity to the process of writing, illustrating and bringing a book to print, having worked for a literary agent and publishers, Ahlberg does a great job showing readers how many hands (and not just sticky-child-hands) go into making a book. It truly can be a collaborative process, and if you read the acknowledgements you will often see that!

The Book Hog by Greg Pizzoli

Review by: Tanya
Published: May 20, 2019

The Book Hog by Greg Pizzoli
Purchased at Barnes & Noble
The Book Hog is a book for book lovers about a book lover as well as a book about literacy and the power of libraries. Readers will delight in seeing the Book Hog enjoying books in a variety of places (including the bathroom) and acquiring books from a variety of places. Sharp eyes will notice the Book Hog reading Pizzoli's Geisel Award winner, The Watermelon Seed (which shares a palette with The Book Hog) as well as other great picture books by Pizzoli and friends as well as classics like Amos & Boris by William Steig and The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer in the window of Wilbur's (Independently Owned & Operated) Books. Don't miss the spider and web in the apartment window above the storefront! And - twist! - the Book Hog can't read! Happily for the Book Hog, he discovers this curious place called a library and a magnificent librarian called Miss Olive who inspires him not only to share his stacks of books but to also learn how to read!

The White Snake by Ben Nadler, based on a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers, 64 pp, RL 3

Review by: Tanya
Published: May 17, 2019

The White Snake
Based on a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers
written and illustrated by Ben Nadler
review copy from TOON Books
I love fairy tales, for all their weird qualities, curious characters and impossible challenges, and The White Snake, even with Nadler's smart (and funny) tweaks, this old tale, first collected by the Brothers Grimm in their first edition of the German folk and fairy tales in 1812, stays strange - and delightful!
Randall is a young servant who longs to roam free with the wildlife outside the castle, rather than constantly rearranging paintings for the king, who is deeply concerned with what others think of him. Frustrated with his obsession, the king's daughter Tilda threatens to move to the neighboring kingdom of Borisylvania where the king is a magnificent ruler, beloved by all. Instead, the king sends Randall to Borisylvania as a spy to learn this king's secret to success. Risking his life, Randall uncovers the secret and changes his life. Every night, the secret, final dish of the king's meal is a white snake! Unable to resist, Randall takes a bite and finds he can communicate with animals.
This new ability saves Randall's hide more than once as he leaves Borisylvania to return to King Arnold. Along the way, his innate connection to and empathy for animals slows him down but also leaves many creatures indebted to him. This serves him well when Randall returns to King Arnold but refuses to reveal King Boris's secret. Thrown in the dungeon, his only hope is to enter the contest to win the hand of Princess Tilda, the very person who reveals this plan to him. Winning her hand, Randall reveals to the king the secret he brought back from Borisylvania, an the king says he is the perfect man to rule the kingdom and marry his daughter. While Randall and Tilda have fallen in love, Randall declines the king's offer, telling him Tilda would be a much better ruler. The king agrees, turning the palace into an animal shelter and finally finding a place to hang that picture...
Nadler has done a magnificent job with this story and, reading fantastic back matter by Paul Karasik makes that even clearer. Karasik details the history of the fairy tale, highlighting the differences in Nadler's modern retelling. From giving the characters names (something the Grimms didn't) to giving Tilda a voice and power, to ending the story with a version of The Peaceable Kingdom, a painting by 19th century American artist Edward Hicks who was, "so devoted to the idea of all creatures living in harmony that he painted 62 versions of that scene." I love learning all this from Karasik almost as much as I love Nadler's fairy tale, which includes an angry yeti, a Mongolian death worm (think creature from the movie Tremors) ogres that look like aliens and plants with sharp teeth!

We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders, with an introduction by Harry Belafonte

Review by: Tanya
Published: May 15, 2019

We are the Change: Words of Inspiration 
from Civil Rights Leaders
With an introduction by Harry Belafonte
Review Copy from Chronicle Books

From the first page:

This book was inspired by the continuing work of the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, which guards the rights of all Americans under law.

"So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we'll be called a democracy."

- American Civil Liberties Union Founder 
Roger Baldwin

Belafonte's introduction begins with a meditation on, "three revolutionary words: We the People," and ends with a message to readers, "our future leaders, who will continue to learn the historical accomplishments, along with the mistakes, of our ancestors." What follows are fifteen quotes chosen and illustrated by artists, all with a passage from the artists about what the quote they chose means to them. Back matter includes illustrator biographies.

As someone who works in an educational setting with kids of various ages, I love that We Are the Change works can be read on many levels. The illustrations alone often tell stories that make you think and make you want to know more. The quotes chosen, from politicians, activists, authors, artists and even a queen (married artists Selina Alko and Sean Qualls both chose quotes from Maya Angelou) cover a range of important figures and make for a great introduction and much inspiration.

While I could write paragraphs about each and every quote and illustration and what it sparked in me, I will hold up two here. Raúl the Third, illustrator of the Lowriders trilogy of awesome graphic novels, written by Cathy Camper, and the upcoming picture book, ¡Vamos! Let's Go to the Market, chose this quote:

"People have a right to different opinions, but those difference should not turn into hatred. We should love and care for each other because we are all one human race." - Dolores Huerta

His reflection touches on being made to feel, "less than American," growing up because his mother didn't speak English and knowing that certain people had been, "taught to believe that I might be dangerous." Over time, he realized that these opinions had created, "walls that were being used against me and other like, me, keeping us from achieving out true potential. It took a long time to overcome the obstacles and feelings of insecurity that these opinions had formed within me, and today when I look back at them as an adult I knwo that I was fortunate to survive and to become the artist that I am today."

Greg Pizzoli, illustrator/author of many fantasitc picture books, chose this quote:

There is but one coward on earth and that is the coward that dare not know. - W.E.B. Du Bois

On his choice, Pizzoli writes:

I don't want to be a coward. I want to be brave. I don't want to look away. But at times, and nowadays it's quite often, things seem so bad, so overwhelmingly bad, that looking away seems the only option. It's not. There is protest, there is charity, there is action. This quote resonated with me for two reasons: it calls out those in power who refuse to acknowledge the rights and liberties of the powerless, and it also asks of us to recognize how we are complicit in the problems to which we are oblivious or that we choose to overlook. I am happy to contribute artwork for this edition and to support the work that the ACLU does to ensure that the voices those in power "dare not know" are known, and heard.

As a middle class white woman working with a population of students that is almost entirely Latinx, largely children of immigrants and immigrants from Mexico and Central America, Raúl the Third's quote from Dolores Huerta reminds me once again of what my students experience daily and the unseen challenges they face, on top of the visible ones they meet every day. Greg Pizzoli's quote from W.E.B. Du Bois reminds me that, in the face of this, I can't put it out of my mind, I can't ignore it. I can't be a coward.

Thank you to Chronicle Book and all the contributors to We Are the Change for this thoughtful, inspirational book and for their support of the ACLU.