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


Encyclopedia of Insects

Review by: Anastasia Gonis
Published: August 11, 2020

The Encyclopedia of Insects contains the ugly and the beautiful of the insect world. Over three hundred of them from all over the globe appear in this book, each with a role to play.

Insect bodies are divided into three parts: a head, thorax and abdomen.

Explored are their fascinating lifestyles, personal details, habits, habitats and appearance, Latin names, and their contribution to animals, humans and the environment.

Painted illustrations of all are displayed in vibrant colour. Known as the unsung heroes of the natural world, unfortunately, many species face extinction due to climate change and pollution.

Travelling through each entry via an astonishingly clever and informative narrative, we learn about these insects’ life stages – those of complete and incomplete metamorphosis, life spans, wing spans, where they are found and how they camouflage.

Especially interesting is the information available about insects of Australia (just a few). The Eusocial Weevil (Austroplatypus incompertus) found in eucalyptus forests, the gorgeous Jewel Beetles, (Temognatha Alternata) found in the forests of Queensland and the Golden Stag Beetle (Lamprima aurata) found throughout our country.

This is certainly an outstanding reference book for those interested in living things found in nature. Even the 200 species of nomad Army Ants (Hymenoptera) that carry their nests, the queen and larvae, plus the flesh-eating beetles and flies, play a significant role in the cycle of life.

Dragonflies, grasshoppers, slugs, Mayflies, spiders, snails and slugs. No matter how disgusting some people may find them, they exhibit a usefulness and rare value – each and every one of them.
Title: Encyclopedia of Insects
Author: Jules Howard
Illustrator: Miranda Zimmerman
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, $29.99
Publication Date: June 2020
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780711249141
For ages: 12+
Type: Non Fiction


Review by: Anastasia Gonis
Published: August 10, 2020

Mum and daughter have suffered some severe trauma. It’s the two of them now and they have moved to another home.  The child is afraid.  Mum assures her there is nothing to be afraid of here; that there are no dark places at all in the new house.

But under her new bed, hiding amongst cobwebs that hadn’t been swept for years, with dust piles big as rats, the child finds Shadow. She tells Mum, who can’t see him. In fact, she can’t see anything for days at a time. Lost in her thoughts, all she can see is what's in her mind, occupying her every moment.The girl is alone with only Shadow whom she has now befriended.

He becomes her playmate. As they explore the house together, the child’s aloneness dissipates.

She goes willingly from the house with Shadow and wanders into the forest. But her new friend has discovered others like himself there. Together the shadows play, flit and hide behind trees, then slip away.

Darkness falls. All alone, there were no shadows left, just tears.

Daybreak brings the sound of her name.

Full of metaphors and underlying meanings, this book, impressive in every way, could be describing depression, family break-up or violence, or all these things. It speaks of sorrow and internal isolation, but also the strength of love and overcoming personal difficulties.

Beautifully constructed, visually stunning, with illustrations by Anastasia Suvorova, the gentle prose insightfully reveals human frailties and personal agonies, the resilience of children, and how the scars on adult lives affect family members as well as the sufferer. Ideal for adults as well as mature children.

 Title: Shadow
Author: Lucy Christopher
Illustrator: Anastasia Suvorova
Publisher: New South Books, $24.99
Publication Date: December 2019
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781911373834
For ages: 6+
Type: Picture Book

I Am Brown written by Ashok Banker, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

Review by: Tanya
Published: August 10, 2020

I Am Brown
Written by Ashok Banker
Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
Published by Lantana Publishing
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
I Am Brown is "a joyful celebration of the skin you're in." Banker's poetic text begins, "I am brown. I am beautiful. I am perfect," and continues on, presenting an expansively diverse global persepctive. Prabhat's effusive, warm illustrations are filled with smiling, curious, enthusiastic faces, all beautifully brown. Bringing Banker's words to life, Prabhat's pages are filled with children wearing a range of clothing that represents their culture and their interests, from a shirt and a lungee, a kurta and a dhoti, a blouse and a saree and even a business suit and a prom dress. A page with children gathered around a globe shows readers where the kids come from (every continent, minus Antarctica) and give a sample of the many languages they speak (from Chinese, German, English and Hindi to Telugu, Arabic, Russian, Tamil and beyond). Pages show the children dressed to represent various occupations, participating in the many activities they enjoy, eating a wide range of delicious foods and praying at different houses of worship. There are even children who pray, "everywhere" and "nowhere."

Banker and Prabhat close out I Am Brown with children declaring, "I made this car," "I run this company," "I designed that computer," "I won this prize," and, "I wrote this book." The final pages read, "I am brown. I am amazing. I am YOU!"

Almost as exciting as the many ways that I Am Brown is groundbreaking is Lantana Publishing, a relatively new publisher in the United Kingdom dedicated to, "publishing inclusive books that celebrate our differences." Their books (28 so far!) are a beautiful collection award-winning, multicultural picture books where, "children of all backgrounds get to go on adventures, discover the world, meet fantastic creatures, make friends and become the heroes and heroines of their own stories." I'm especially excited to get my hands on their newest book I'll Believe You When . . . Unbelievable Idioms from Around the WorldIn addition to a commitment to diversity, Lantana is also committed to minimizing their carbon footprint by using non-petroleum based inks and Stewardship Council certified paper AND, through their A Book for a Book program, donating one book for every book sold to the Read for Good charity.

ACT by Kayla Miller, 224 pp, RL 4

Review by: Tanya
Published: August 07, 2020

(CLICK Series, Book 3)
Color by Jess Lome, Lettering by Chris Dickey
Published by HMH 
Exclusive Edition purchased from Barnes & Noble
What I love most about Kayla Miller's graphic novels (and all great graphic novels) is the surprising way multiple ideas are layered into the story and given a complete arc. With ACT, the third book in this stellar series (scroll down for a peek at book 4) Miller presents complex ideas like class inequality, privilege, social activism, and peaceful protest, to name a few, in a context that will resonate with young readers, while also providing back matter that will inspire further reading (and baking!)

Olive Branch, and (almost) everyone else in sixth grade are excited for the class field trip to the big city to see a Hamilton-esque musical that leaves them singing all the way home. When Olive discovers that students from families that can't afford the cost of the field trip are left behind, she is upset. Unable to get her skate buds, Trent and Sawyer, to share her concern, Olive is inspired by her Aunt Molly (a librarian!) and lots of research, to organize a peaceful protest. A sit-in and a petition generate some interest, but not enough to bring about change, leading Olive to make the big decision to run for class president - against Trent and Sawyer.

While the platform of candidate allows Olive a louder voice and bigger audience, it also makes for problems with friends and classmates. Willow's new friendship (is it s crush?) with Hugh, acting campaign manager for Trent and Sawyer (who are running solely to bring better snacks to the cafeteria) brings challenges for the friends while classmates refuse to support Olive, worried that her work to lower the cost of field trips for a few will result in the cancellation of field trips for everyone. With campaign manager Ava on her side, Olive runs an admirable campaign, but not without a few sleepless nights. As in the first two books, Miller uses Olive's dreams as a way to visually work through her anxiety and fears, allowing readers to experience the emotions with her. 

What I love most about ACT, besides everything else, really, is the deeply satisfying ending Miller delivers, showing readers that, just because you want to do good, are compassionate and work for equal opportunities for everyone, you don't always have the support of others needed to make changes. Alongside this hard truth, Miller also shows readers that change is possible and sometimes others do hear you when you use your voice to speak out and, ultimately, there is good to be found in everyone. Even chocoalte-pudding-loving skate dudes.

In an interview, Miller shared that they always do visual research in order to draw things accurately (like skateboarding and drumming) for ACT, it was the first time they read for research, learning about how kids have been involved in social and political movements. Along with an excellent suggested reading list in the back matter, Miller also created a four-page, illustrated short list of the peaceful protests Olive studied while researching at the library. A key part of Olive's work to bring equity to campus involved a bake sale to raise funds for students who can't afford the cost of field trips. Happily, Miller includes the recipe for "Mint Chocolate Chip-Ins," a recipe they created on their own!


Peace, Love, Action: Everyday Acts of Goodness From A to Z by Tanya Zabinski, Foreword by Ani DiFranco

Review by: Tanya
Published: August 03, 2020

Peace, Love, Action: Everyday Acts of Goodness From A to Z 
written & illustrated by Tanya Zabinski
Foreword by Ani DiFranco
Published by Plum Blossom Books
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
Peace, Love, Action: Everyday Acts of Goodness from A to Z is an essential book for young (and old) for so many reasons. Zabinski's thoughtful organization of ideas, careful selection of activists to introduce readers to and "What You Can Do" page that follows each biography, along with her bold, block print illustrations and portraits, are engaging, accessible and, most of all, inspirational. 

In her introduction, "What Is a Peaceful Activist," Zabinski uses quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi to unpack her definition, writing, "Peaceful activism is not only what we do; it's also how we do it." Choosing love over fear, peaceful activism is about, "doing what we have the power to do. It involves inner work and outer work. It's personal and communal. . . A peaceful activist needs both inspiration and action." Zabinski's book delivers inspirational encouragement through both her biographies of peaceful activists and her "What You Can Do" pages that also include "Did You Know" paragraphs that give an extra serving of information about the featured peaceful activist and/or what they are advocating for. 

While I would love to share everything I learned about all twenty-six amazing and inspirational peaceful activists, Zabinski's choice to feature Colin Kaepernick (K is for Kneel) is timely and potent, especially considering that this book, published in 2019, was probably written in 2018. I have only come across on other children's book, Enough is Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America, featuring Kaepernick. Sharing his story, the evolution of his peaceful protest from sitting to kneeling (after talking to Army veteran and former Seattle Seahawks player Nate Boyer) Zabinski makes clear to readers that Kaepernick, "paid a heavy price for his protest," but continues is social action "off the field," making "powerful institutions like the NFL and the White House ask important questions about patriotism, racial equality, free speech, and protest itself." And, if this is still hazy for young readers, Zabinski, in her "What You Can Do," asks, among other important questions, "Can you be respectful and critical at the same time?" as well as inviting readers to list at least three things they love about their country and "at least three improvements that you would like to see made in your country."

Back matter includes excellent resources, websites and more, with at least three, but usually more, resources for all twenty-six peaceful activists. Books, movies, song books, apps and, of course, websites invite readers to self-educate and explore more. From a racial equity resource guide to the Laughter Yoga Institute to a website that shows you how to make a family cookbook, Zabinski's resources are every bit as educational and inspirational as the 119 pages that come before.

OFFLINE for July

Review by: Tanya
Published: June 29, 2020

"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it."

Arundhati Roy, "The pandemic is a portal," free to read at Financial Times. Thank you to my brother for sharing this article with me. 

I will be taking the next month off from reviewing as I continue my walk through the portal that is this pandemic, getting "ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it."

Trespassers by Breena Bard, 256 pp, RL 4

Review by: Tanya
Published: June 26, 2020

Trespassers by Breena Bard
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
With her debut graphic novel for young readers, Bard delivers a welcome addition to the graphic novel shelves, creating a hybrid I hope to see more of. Trespassers is the perfect blend of  the kid-friendly intrigue of a Nancy Drew mystery and the emotional realism of a Raina Telgemeier novel and just long enough that (most) readers won't tear through it in one sitting.

Headed to their family cabin by the lake for the week, eighth grader Gabby Woods is happy to to curl up in a corner with her stack of Agatha Christie mysteries, leaving the canoeing and card playing to her older sister and younger brother. Unfortunately, her well-meaning mother encourages (forces) Gabby and Simon to spend time with their new neighbors on the lake, Paige and her little brother Bryan. Paige is a straight-up nightmare, and Bryan is not much better. Bristly and sarcastic, she is immediately outed as a shoplifter by her littler brother, who is not above blackmailing her to get what he wants. Where Gabby and Simon clearly come from a connected, loving family, the Martin kids back talk and lie to their mother, who makes repeated empty threats while their father absents himself from parenting by deferring to his wife. As a parent, I wanted to reach into the panel and pull Gabby and Simon back from interacting with Paige and Bryan. But, Bard is a story teller who knows how to hook readers and I wanted to see how/if Gabby and Paige find a way to be friends.

Gabby's love of mysteries, and her attempt to write one of her own (which Bard marvelously includes in pale blue panels throughout the story) make for an initial, if fraught, connection with Paige. When Gabby lets Paige read the start of her story, Paige has some unkind comments that gradually morph into constructive criticism. The pair decide to work on the story together, conjecturing over the mystery surrounding a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque house down the lake that has sat empty for years. Fanning the flames of their fabricated story is Gabby's elderly neighbor, Gene, who knows the trues story behind the empty house. Paige pushes Gabby to get material for her story by breaking into the mystery mansion, Simon and Bryan trailing after them. As tension mounts, the pair begin to suspect the kindhearted Gene of playing a part in the mysteries of the empty lake house and their investigation intensifies. 

Bard brings her story to an exciting, satisfying climax that resolves the questions surrounding the lake house and allows for understanding and connection between Gabby and Paige. Armed with creative inspiration, provided by Gene, Gabby leaves the lake at the end of vacation, ready to keep writing her story and happy to have a writing partner in Paige.

Normally, I let the illustrations show the diversity of the characters in a picture book or graphic novel, but I could only find the first pages of Trespassers, showing the Woods family, who present as white. Although their identity is never directly addressed and has no bearing on the plot, the Martins, parents of Paige and Bryan, appear to be a interracial couple.