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 Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin

Review by: Cherri
Published: September 22, 2019

This is the story of a girl who was told she was different, whose parents were told to send her away, who was teased simply for being who she was. This is also the story of that same girl who became a champion for animals, a giant of science, and an inspiration to people all over the world, particularly for anyone who has ever been told they don't quite fit in.

The Girl Who Thought In Pictures is a brief biography of Mary Temple Grandin (known as Temple), written by Julia Finley Mosca, who spent many hours talking with Dr. Grandin.

The illustrations, by Daniel Rieley are insightful, reflecting the way in which the young Temple described her thinking - in pictures. Dr. Grandin also contributed personal photos which complement the illustrations and remind readers that Dr. Grandin is a real person.

As a child, Temple displayed behaviours and characteristics that differed from other children. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in 1947, at first these were incorrectly attributed to brain damage, but later recognised as part of autism. Whilst Temple's characteristics led to some difficulties, such as delayed speech, sensory challenges and struggles with managing her frustrations, they also led to a unique way of viewing the world.

When Temple went to live with relatives on a farm, after a difficult time at school in the city, she began to realise that she could see solutions in ways that others could not. And so began a love affair with science, inventions and discoveries. Since then, this quiet girl, has gone on to become an inventor, a respected Animal Scientist, a Professor (earning a Bachelor degree in Psychology, and a Master's and PhD in Animal Science),  and a world-wide public speaker!

The narrative is told in rhyme, covering key moments in Dr. Grandin's life, and younger children may appreciate the simple rhyming text. For older children, and anyone who seeks to understand more about this interesting person's life, there are additional sections at the back, including a letter from Dr. Grandin, Fun Facts, a timeline with significant dates, and more detailed biographical information.

This book is one of a series of books published by The Innovation Press, featuring amazing scientists.

Title: The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin
Author: Julia Finley Mosca
Illustrator: Daniel Rieley
Publisher: The Innovation Press, $17.99
Publication Date: 5 March 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781943147618
For ages: 4 - 8
Type: Picture book

Hayden's Bedtime

Review by: Leanne Barrett
Published: September 20, 2019

Hayden's Bedtime, will become a new favourite for children who delay going to bed, fearing things that hide in the dark. Come play Hadyen and Dad's bedtime game.

The clock says eight and Hadyen and Dad begin their bedtime ritual, ' to bed before it's too late...for what tomorrow brings.' Dad lists all the things that they might do tomorrow; playtime, cooking and swinging.

Hayden begins to prolong getting into bed. He fears what might be lurking in his bedroom once the light is turned off.

Dad checks all the usual places where things might hide, especially under the bed. Dad finds; a half-eaten plum, a missing toy, a smelly sock and so much more.

Now how else can Hayden put off going to sleep?

The story, by Wendy Haynes, flows beautifully off the tongue as you read it aloud and the moments of rhyme are a joyous roll of words.

Take a careful look at the soft, funny and whimsical illustrations by Brett Curzon. He skilfully uses lines and gesture to capture Hayden's emotions regarding his nighttime routine.

Hayden's Bedtime is listed on the 2019 NSW Premier's Reading Challenge Booklist for children in Kindergarten to Year Two.

If you need another bedtime story to help children conquer their fear of things lurking in the dark, then read The Ultimate Survival Guide to Monsters Under the Bed by Mitch Frost and Daron Parton.

Title: Hayden's Bedtime
Author: Wendy Haynes
Illustrator: Brett Curzon
Publisher: Inprint Publishing, $22.99
Publication Date: 19 March 2019
Format: Hard Cover
ISBN: 9780987643506
For ages: 3 – 6
Type: Picture Book


Review by: Amie Sabadin
Published: September 19, 2019

Fabulous, fun and interactive, Boo! By Margaret Wild and Andrew Joyner is a delightful rhyming book about characters who say boo! 

Everyone in this book says Boo! six different babies, the monkey, the piggy and more, but it’s the clever order and context which creates a fun flowing story. From realistic moments to more and more imaginative circumstances, it takes readers on a fabulous uplifting adventure.

The bright, bold, high contrast illustrations are filled with movement and work in unity with the text. A giant tiger reading a book in a bus and wombat with and umbrella jumping in the rain were just two of the fabulous images which instantly made me smile.

Boo! Is exciting to read out loud, it flows wonderfully and feels like the story jumps out of the pages with enthusiasm, encouraging play and imagination. The thick pages with rounded corners are perfect for toddlers and babies.

Margaret Wild has written over 50 children’s books including The Feather and The Sloth who Came to Stay. Andrew Joyner is an author illustrator of many books including The Pink Hat and Borris.

Title: Boo!
Author: Margret Wild
Illustrator: Andrew Joyner
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia, $19.99
Publication Date: 3 September 2019
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780670078073
For ages: 0 – 5
Type: Picture Book

Stargazing by Jen Wang, 224 pp, RL 4

Review by: Tanya
Published: September 20, 2019

Stargazing by Jen Wang
Review Copy from FirstSecond Books

An act of generosity moves Moon and her single mother into the granny flat behind Christine's house, her world expands and changes in challenging ways. Moon and Christine are both part of the same Chinese-American community, the children of immigrants, but their lives couldn't be more different. Christine plays violin, goes to church, takes Chinese lessons (taught by her mother) and asks to be enrolled at a tutoring center after getting a C on a math test. Moon is a Buddhist and vegetarian who paints her nails, listens to K-Pop and has a fierce sense of justice. Moon welcomes Christine into her world and, with a few tentative steps at first, Christine discovers a life outside of the firm influence and expectations of her parents. 
Moon is also an artist, sharing the contents of her sketchbook, including drawings of magical beings from outer space, with Christine. She even shares her deepest secret with Christine, the fact that she has visions of these celestial beings sometimes and they speak to her, telling Moon that someday she will be reunited with them. As Moon becomes part of Christine's friend group, her unique personality attracting new (and more popular) friends, Christine grows jealous. Her struggles with her sense of self as part of her tight-knit family and community, and the new things she is experiencing and enjoying outside of this world lead Christine to make a hurtful decision that affects Moon. This coincides with a devastating discovery for Moon that Christine blames herself for.

A wonderful afterward from Wang adds insight and depth to Stargazing. While entirely fictional, Wang shares personal elements from her own childhood that made it into the story, including one that I won't share here, as it is a pivotal and surprising part of the plot. Like her main characters, Wang grew up in a community Chinese and Taiwanese immigrant families and their American-born kids, writing, 

The more you're expected to share with a group of people, the more you obsess over the ways you are different. (I was vegetarian, I was Buddhist, I didn't excel at academics, I wanted to be an artist, etc.) If I wasn't like the other Asian American kids, who was I supposed to be like? It's taken me thirty-three years to get to a point where I can comfortable reflect on these feelings. Writing Stargazing was as much about healing myself as about showing the diversity of experience even within a very specific community. As our society continues to diversify (as I would hope), I imagine there will be many more Moons and Christines out there wondering which parts of them are "not Asian," and which parts are just uniquely and wonderfully them.

As I make diversity and inclusion my focus in reading and reviewing kid's books, I am grateful for the experience that Stargazing has given me. Finding stories with characters from a variety of cultural backgrounds and life experiences, created by authors from a variety of cultural backgrounds and life experiences is vital. It is yet another layer, another experience to read about characters struggling to make sense of the the world their families came from and the world they live in and to integrate this all with the unique individuals they are.

I fell in love with Wang's illustrations in 2012 when I read Tom Angleberger's super-kooky Fake Mustache: How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind and immediately bought her debut (YA/Adult) graphic novel, Koko Be Good. She went on to partner with Cory Doctorow on a superb graphic novel about the economies and injustices of online gaming. Last year's magnificent The Prince and the Dressmaker won Wang two Eisner Awards (the Newbery and Caldecott for graphic novels and comics). Click on titles below for my reviews.

Koko Be Good

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët

Review by: Tanya
Published: September 19, 2019

I Walk with Vanessa: 
A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
Purchased with grant funding 
for my school library

Without words, and with powerful hopefulness, the husband and wife team Sébastien Cossett and Marie Pommepuy show readers what can come of a truly simple act of kindness. The title page shows a family moving into a new home, a page turn shows the new girl, Vanessa, being introduced to the class. It is clear to readers that Vanessa feels separate and alone. As begins her walk home from school alone, she is bullied by a boy. One girl sees this happen. She watches as Vanessa begins to cry, running home, and sees where the new girl lives. She tells her friends what she saw and they all head they separate ways, heads hung in sadness. Several pages show the girl at home, preoccupied, thinking. At breakfast the next day, she has an idea! She heads out early, striaight to Vanessa's house, where she knocks on the door. Holding hands, the two girls begin the walk to school together. On their way, they are joined by the neighborhood kids, new friends are made, there is excitement and smiles on every face. A glorious two page spread is filled with smiling children of all ethnicities and races, all walking with Vanessa. A closer look reveals the bully, facing the opposite direction, his face red with an expression of dismay. Together, Vanessa and her new friend enter school hand in hand.

Backmatter includes tips for children on how to help someone who is being bullied while a section for adults includes helpful words (aggressor, target, bystander) to use when talking about this book with children. It's hard not to read this book without getting a little teary, and look forward to seeing how students at my school respond to it and how teachers use it in the classroom.

Kerascoët illustrated 
Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

They also illustrated the unforgettable adult graphic novel (I read it, loved it, but ultimately decided not to review it here) Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann.

Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Review by: Tanya
Published: September 18, 2019

Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Review copy from Chronicle Books
Brave Molly is an almost wordless picture book with depth. The endpapers show hands sketching a series of menacing creatures, while the title page shows a girl perched in a window seat with a book in a room with cheerful yellow walls, interesting books and toys on shelves and artwork by Molly tacked on the walls. As the story begins, the view shifts to the outside world, with readers seeing Molly in her window looking out at three children passing by. Back inside the house, Molly looks out the window, the creature from her drawings standing next to the children, now sitting on a bench in front of Molly's house, reading. It is immediately clear to readers what keeps Molly in her house, especially when a scan of this two page spread shows readers a desk with the drawings of the creature on it. This is Molly's creature, Molly's dark, difficult feeling. Maybe it is fear? Fear of meeting new people? Fear of connection?Fear of rejection? The beauty of Brave Molly being a wordless picture book is that the readers can personalize the story.
Molly crumples up her drawing of the dark creature and heads outside, but the creature standing between her and the bench where the kids are reading keeps her from connecting with them, despite the fact that the boy waves at her. As the children walk away, Molly sees that the boy forgot his book. She picks it up and walks off after them, the dark creature following despite her efforts to escape it. In fact, the dark creature multiplies as Molly tries to avoid it.
Finally, frustrated, Molly stops, gathers herself, then turns to face her feelings. With confidence and force, she confronts them. With an (almost) clean slate/white page, she looks relieved, happy. She resumes her quest to return the left behind book, realizing that the dark creature has returned. Despite this, Molly continues on, finding the courage to wave at the boy and say, "Hi," as she hands him his book, the dark creature leaning over her. A page turn shows the boy smiling as he takes his book from Molly's hand, and the final pages show the pair on their stomachs, reading the book together.

Boynton-Hughes uses a pale palette for her illustrations, taking the edge off the dark creature just a bit. Molly's red hoodie stands out among the backgrounds, at times seeming like a symbol of her courage. Young readers will connect with Molly and her story instantly, imbuing her experience with their own.

Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott, illustrated by Bob Graham

Review by: Tanya
Published: September 17, 2019

Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott & Bob Graham
Review Copy from Candlewick Press

Want to Play Trucks? is a superb picture book that gently, gracefully subverts gender stereotypes. The story begins on the endpapers where readers see two families walking toward each other, mothers, backpacks, strollers and toys in tow. The title page shows Atwood playground, with benches, see-saws, swings and a sandbox, a city skyline in the hazy background. Together in the sandbox, we learn that Jack and Alex meet there almost every day. Jack likes trucks, big ones, the kind that can wreck things. Alex likes dolls, pink ones with sparkles and tutus. When Jack asks Alex if he wants to play trucks, Alex responds, "Let's play dolls . . . that drive trucks." Play goes well, Alex's doll driving Jack's trucks, until Jack insists that Alex's doll can't wear a tutu and drive a crane. Alex disagrees and an argument seems imminent when Jack, in the simple, straightforward, wonderful way kids have, points out that the tutu can't fit in the driver's seat. Alex promptly changes the doll into purple overalls and play resumes, ending with a visit from the ice cream truck and lots of big smiles. Although Graham, a magnificent illustrator and author, did not write this book, he brings his trademark diversity and compassion to his illustrations for Want to Play Trucks?, perfectly pairing with Stott's story, which does not use gendered pronouns. As Jack and Alex play in the sandbox, passers-by in a wheelchair, a hijab, and even a fellow who, over the course of a few pages, ends up walking off with his dog riding on his shoulders, add depth and humor to the story.

Two of my three children are adults now, and I always thought of myself as both conscious of gender stereotypes and actively working to avoid them when they were little, but I find that, working with children aged five through twelve every day for the last five years, these stereotypes are deeply ingrained in my subconscious and I am constantly checking myself, my thoughts, perceptions and presumptions. I am deeply grateful for a book like the one Stott and Graham have gifted us. It is the reminder that I need, repeatedly, that children aren't born with ideas about gender and we, as gatekeepers and influencers, need to be conscious and intentional about what we imprint on them.

Bob Graham's picture books are every bit as marvelous as thoughtful, unforgettable and sweetly straightforward as this one. He has a way of telescoping, going from a compassionate worldview to a beautifully intimate moment in 32 pages. I hope you will seek them out!

More books by Bob Graham

April and Esme Tooth Fairies

How to Heal a Broken Wing

Guts by Raina Telgemeier, 224 pp, RL 4

Review by: Tanya
Published: September 16, 2019

Review Copy from Graphix / Scholastic

With GUTS, Telgemeier delivers her most important graphic memoir to date, giving readers an honest, powerful look into her struggles with anxiety. Preceding SMILE and SISTERS, Telgemeier begins her story with 9-year-old Raina suffering a stomach bug and throwing up, along with most of her family. This is the start of a growing anxiety that affects every aspect of Raina's life, from sleep to eating to school. A nervous and anxious kid to begin with, Raina develops an intense fear of throwing up again that begins to affect every aspect of her life. Describing the specific and individual food preferences of her mother, father, little sister and baby brother, her tastes narrow and she begins to fear sharing food with friends at school. Telgemeier's panels showing Raina's fear and anxiety are powerful, whether they are surreal, like the four page spread showing a bout with nausea after Raina's fears first set in, or realistic, like when a presentation in front of the class causes nerves so intense she flees to the bathroom.

After several doctor's visits and a clean bill of health, continued stomach pain, sick days, and nail biting cause Raina's parents take her to a therapist. Raina is hesitant at first. Without word bubbles, illustrations showing her talking with her therapist, her fears, worries, questioning expressed visually. Over time, Raina comes to learn how to face her anxieties when they arise with breathing techniques learned from her therapist. As this is unfolding, Raina is facing challenges at school with friends. Taunting from a mean girl makes her gut trouble worse, as does the dawning knowledge that girls in her class are getting their first periods. Then her security, her best friend Jane, tells Raina that she is moving. Through this, readers see Raina's parents working to meet her needs, partitioning off their own bedroom in the family's small apartment so Raina can have her own space. There, headphones on, Walkman at her side, Raina creates comics about her life. As GUTS comes to a close, readers see Raina practicing her breathing techniques and experiencing relief - and finding the courage to stand up in front of the class and teach her peers how to use these techniques. Raina even mends fences with the mean girl, finding a way to use her creative talents to mend fences.

In an author's note at the end of the book, Telgemeier tells readers that she has "dealt with stomach aches and anxiety for most" of her life, her panic attacks coming out of nowhere when she was nine. She became "obsessed with every little funny feeling" in her stomach and worried about eating the wrong foods that might make her throw up, sharing the clinical word "emetophobia," or fear of vomit, which apparently is quite common. Then, with the same brave honesty on exhibit in SMILE, Telgemeier let's readers know how she is doing now, as an adult, wanting readers to know that this is, "my personal story." She shares the different therapies, trainings, medication and meditation apps she has tried along with the wide range of testing she has undergone to find a physical source. Hoping that readers might recognize their own struggles in hers, wherever their anxiety is rooted, she encourages readers to talk to an adult they trust, encouraging them to talk about how they feel, ending with these words:

It takes guts to admit how you feel on the inside, but chances are, others will be able to relate. You'll never know unless you try!