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


Puffin Nibbles Blast Off

Review by: DimbutNice
Published: July 16, 2019

Here is a series of six new titles in the Puffin Nibbles parade. It caters perfectly to early readers with illustrated stories in short chapters full of fun and humour, fantastic characters, and clever use of language that captures children’s imagination and excites their thirst for role playing.

In Blast Off! Adam just wants to be an astronaut. He lives and breathes his longing. When he goes into Mad Marvin’s yard, he gets a taste of what it feels like to travel into space. But, does he still want to be an astronaut now he’s experienced what it’s like?

The Littlest Pirate by Sherryl Clark, Illustrated by Tom Jellett introduces Nicholas, the littlest pirate in the world. Even little people can have big dreams and achieve big things. When Nicholas is told that his family has been captured by pirates, he’s off and away to save them with the help of the cook Greta’s inedible puddings.

Bad Buster by Sophie Laguna, illustrated by Leigh Hobbs is about a boy who’s very bad. So bad, that he has no playmates. His parents are just as bad as he is, but they want to find something to occupy Buster and keep him out of mischief. The Home for Lost and Unwanted Dogs seems to be the answer. Buster is the perfect friend and companion for these discarded animals. They obey and love him. When boy and dogs foil a robbery, everything changes for this bad boy.

In The Mermaid’s Tail by Raewyn Caisley illustrated by Ann James, Crystal wants to be a mermaid. Her mum sews her a mermaid tail which she wears everywhere, but is forbidden to wear it to bed.  On the night that she does, something magical happens.

Scruffy’s Day Out by Rachel Flynn, illustrated by Jocelyn Bell showcases the Jones family that has five boys whose names all start with a J. On a day of cricket out the front, dad saves a dog from being run over. Who is the owner is the first question. The boys’ door-to- door search for the owner finds them new friends and a lasting friendship with Scruffy.

Fairy Bread by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Mitch Vane opens with Becky’s birthday wish. She wants fairy bread and lots of it. More and more is made. But who is going to eat it? No one seems to want to. What can you do with lots of fairy bread except leave it out for the fairies?

A highly entertaining series with lots of positive themes but what ties them together is the role of play, imagination and the support of fantastic illustrations.

Title: Puffin Nibbles Blast Off
Author: Margaret Clark
Illustrator:Tom Jellett
Publisher: Penguin Random House, $9.99
Publication Date: May 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143301851
For ages: 6+
Type: Junior Fiction

Ella May Does It HER Way!

Review by: Cherri
Published: July 16, 2019

From the first pages it is clear that Ella May is a girl who loves to do things differently. In a world of legs all heading in the same direction, Ella May is walking backwards and even climbing a tree upside down!

Mick Jackson has created a feisty character, with heart and determination, who notices the tiniest details in the world around her. Andrea Stegmaier's illustrations show Ella May and her mum living in a houseboat, moored beside a town full of unique and interesting characters. Each page contains visual details that readers will love and Ella May would approve of. 

The story begins when Ella May discovers how much she loves trying new things.  Ella May takes that idea to a whole new level and starts doing everything backwards. Ella May's determination to see things through leads to inventions and some tricky situations.

When Mum realises Ella May is not going to stop walking backwards, Mum turns around too, just to see how it feels, and before long everyone is having a go. Then, just as suddenly, Ella May turns around. While walking forwards, Ella May sees a poster on a wall of someone doing something she has never tried before. Ella May does like to try new things.

Title: Ella May Does It HER Way!
Author: Mick Jackson
Illustrator: Andrea Stegmaier
Publisher: words & pictures, $21.99
Publication Date: 18 June 2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781786039040
For ages: 3+
Type: Picture Book

Duckworth the Difficult Child by Michael Sussman, illustrated by Júlia Sardà

Review by: Tanya
Published: July 17, 2019

Duckworth the Difficult Child 
by Michael Sussman
illustrated by Júlia Sardà
Review Copy from 

Duckworth's parents just happen to be reading a book called Dealing with Your Difficult Child when he comes downstairs to tell them that a snake has come out of his closet. While it seems like the pair already have a pretty good handle on dealing with Duckworth (each parent gives him the "hand of silence" when he interrupts their reading) they follow the instructions in the book and send him off to do chores so that he will "forget such nonsense." 

His chores complete, Duckworth returns to his room to practice his recorder and is promptly eaten by the enormous cobra. Communicating in a small voice from inside the snake, Duckworth's parents insist he is wearing a snake costume and, following the instructions in their book, they ignore him so that his fantasies will go away. Things escalate as the recalcitrant Duckworth remains in the snake and, following the instructions in the book, they invite his cousin Digby over for a playdate. Convinced that the snake will eat Digby (his mother's response: "Don't be ridiculous. Digby is afraid of the dark. He'd never get into your silly costume.") Duckworth remembers seeing a snake charmer in a movie and, finding his recorder in the dark insides of the cobra (a great two page spread with upside down Duckworth floating amidst the pervious meals the snake has enjoyed), plays a tune that mesmerizes the snake, allowing him to escape. While his mother is telling him to put his snake costume away, Duckworth walks the snake out the front door. Sussman wryly ends his book, "As he watched it slither away into the bushes, he wondered where he could find a book for dealing with difficult parents."

Júlia Sardà's illustrations are superb: a bit art deco and a little bit gothic, calling to mind Carson Ellis and Edward Gorey. Patterns are everywhere, highlighted by white space and a limited palette of muted colors with the huge, orange snake. As his jacket flap bio notes, Sussman is a clinical psychologist as well as the "survivor of difficult parents," which is intriguing. Duckworth the Difficult Child doesn't tell readers what to think - about Duckworth or his parents, leaving it up to readers to decide who is difficult, who is imagining and who is obtuse, which I love.

The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli, illustrated by Felicita Sala

Review by: Tanya
Published: July 16, 2019

The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli
illustrated by Felicita Sala
Review Copy from Abrams Kids
The Hideout takes readers on a surprising journey. What initially seems to be a journey of the imagination is revealed to be a journey of creation in one of the best picture books I have ever read to put the intangible creative process on the page in a tangible way. Mattiangeli's story telling is masterful, setting the stage with what appears to be an empty child's room and a voice calling for Hannah, who is nowhere to be found. Sala's illustrations are rich with detail, her cool palette evoking a contemplative mood.

A page turn tells - and shows - readers that Hannah (she heard the voice calling, but "it was too late to go back") is in the park and, coonskin cap on her head, slingshot in hand, fountain to drink from, she has no intention of leaving. There is, "just too much to do; she really had to stay." In her hideout, which is a clearing in the middle of a thicket of shrubs, she makes a home - a bed of leaves, a bow and arrow, a fire. She makes herself a cape out of feathers, and one for her companion, the silent Odd Furry Creature. Readers will notice, on the first page, the stuffed toy in a basket in Hannah's room with two horns and a toothy smile. While this toy - and the Odd Furry Creature who resembles it - may be an homage to the creatures (Bernard?) of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, keen eyes will notice a book on the floor with the title, Minotaur. In the end, Hannah brings her imagination to the Odd Furry Creature, making it her own.

Together, the pair collect interesting objects, roast pigeons for dinner and enjoy the solitude and quiet of their hideout, a hideout in a thicket that becomes denser and harder to crawl in and out of as time passes. One day, loud and clear, Hannah hears a voice calling to her an she listens. Folding her cape made of feathers, she places it on her bed made of leaves, doing the same with her friend's cape. They put out the fire and, careful not to get hurt, make themselves small and crawl out of their secret hideout.

At this point in the book, I thought the story was headed in one direction - the magical landscape of imagination. With a page turn I discovered, with great delight that, while The Hideout was definitely going down that path, the destination was a tangible one. Instead of a return to her room, the warm glow of her imagination adventure about her, readers find Hannah at her desk, drawing materials (and other objects from her imaginary adventure) strewn about. Behind her, on a shelf, the feet and tail of a stuffed toy that looks just like the Odd Furry Creature can be seen, as well as a coonskin cap. 

Mattiangeli ends this stunning book with these beautiful words,

From the outside, no one would have imagined that deep within the drawing, at the end of a long road made of brown and green pencil marks. a little girl had lived for a very long time.

The hideout that Hannah creates in The Hideout is both the creature inhabited thicket in the park and the creative space she carves out and inhabits herself as she draws. A subtitle for The Hideout could be Hannah Makes the Creative Space...

Small World by Ishta Mercurio, illustrated by Jen Corace

Review by: Tanya
Published: July 16, 2019

Small World by Ishta Mercurio
illustrated by Jen Corace
Review Copy from Abrams Kids
The only thing I knew about this quiet, superb book before I began reading it is that the wonderful Jen Corace illustrated it. The first page begins, "When Nanda was born, the whole world was wrapped in the circle of her mother's arms: safe, warm, small. But as she grew, the world grew, too." Nanda's (a name I had never seen used in a picture book before) world expands to family, friends and eventually, "scaffolds of steel," and the "microscopic elegance of fractals in the snow." At which point I stopped reading and flipped to the back of the book. 

Is this a non-fiction picture book? Is Nanda a famous scientist? architect? mathematician? astronaut? Mercurio's author's note about her name reveals that, when the time came to name the girl in the book, she:

couldn't stop thinking about a picture I had seen of five women at the Indian Space Research Organization celebrating after they had put a satellite into orbit around Mars. The photograph spoke to girls all over the world. It said, "You can do this." In honor of these women and their work, I named the girl in my story Nanda, which means "joy."

So, while Nanda is a fictional character, her character is inspired by the Sanskrit word for joy and the image of Indian women scientists celebrating success. And Mercurio imbues Small World with this possibility and joy, space and science, learning and community. Corace's illustrations match this with intricate patterns on every page, smiles, celebration and thoughtful reflection. As Nanda grows and her world expands, Mercurio keeps her story wrapped in the theme of big and small, ending with grown Nanda, lifting off Earth in a rocket, then standing on the foreign soil of another planet, looking at Earth, "softly glowing, A circle called home: safe, and warm, and small."

Small World does with poetic creativity and remarkable subtlety what so many well intentioned but trite and boring picture books (written to be graduation gifts) try to do year after year: inspire young readers to be curious, to expand their worlds, to love life and to love the Earth that supports life. The next time you need to give a book as a gift - be it for a newborn or a graduate - skip Seuss and go straight for Small World.

Go For the Moon: A Rocket, A Boy, and the First Moon Landing by Chris Gall

Review by: Tanya
Published: July 15, 2019

Go For the Moon: 
A Rocket, A Boy, and the First Moon Landing 
Review copy from MacMillan Publishers
Gall begins his oversized picture book-science book hybrid with the words, "The moon is out tonight." Through the (semi-autobiographical) character of a boy, readers experience the wonder of the Apollo 11 mission and the moon landing while getting lessons in rocket science at the same time. Gall's illustrations are crisp and detailed, reminding me of a mash-up of the styles of Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express) and David Macauly (The Way Things Work). Insets reminiscent of paper photographs keep the narrator part of the story as Gall shows readers size comparisons (the Saturn 5 was taller than the Statue of Liberty and weighs as much as 400 elephants) job qualifications for the crane that lifts the three sections of the rocket (they have to be able to lower a practice section onto an egg without cracking it!) and so much more. The narrator also gives readers a deeper understanding of rocket science through the model rockets he builds over the course of the story. 
The drama of the launch, travel and lunar landing, as well as man setting foot on the moon are followed by the personal and national excitement as the astronauts safely return to Earth. The final pages show the narrator and his family (Dad standing by with a tray filled with glasses of Tang) building and enormous model rocket with a parachute. A page turn shows a field of enthusiasts as all their rockets zoom into space.
Chris Gall imbues this fantastic oversized picture book with  a personal connection that adds to the excitement of this already exciting historical event - the Apollo 11 mission that put a man on the moon. I couldn't help myself and after reading the first pages, I skipped to the back matter to see if there was an author's note. Sure enough, like the boy in his book, Gall watched the moon lading "in front of a snowy black-and-white television" and built all the models from the Apollo program. Eventually, he progressed onto to building rockets that burned solid rocket fuel (at age 12!) and studying the night skies from his front yard with an antique telescope. As an adult, he earned his pilot's license and BUILT HIS OWN PLANE!

Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare

Review by: Tanya
Published: July 15, 2019

Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare
Review Copy from Holiday House
Hare's Field Trip to the Moon is a fantastic wordless picture book that is filled with wonderful surprises, starting on the title page. Tucked in the upper left corner of the verso page is a space station, topped by a carnival-ride-mechanism that seemingly flings the school-bus-rocket-ships into orbit. As one of these school-bus-rocket-ship lands on the moon, it is clear that there is a straggler in the group. A student at the end of the line (the helmet prevents us from knowing more about the child), drawing pad and box of crayons in hand, soon falls behind and sits drawing the Earth, as seen from the moon. 
When the straggler is left behind, they sit down to wait and draw. Focused on the their drawings, the student doesn't notice when camouflaged creatures emerge from the dusty grey moon surface. Amazed by the drawings, the colors especially, they gather around in awe. Sharing the pad and crayons, the student finds new friends and they make new art together, at first with trepidation and then with enthusiasm, sometimes on paper, sometimes on themselves and the surface of the moon. 

When the busses return to retrieve the student left behind, there are hugs - and reprimands for drawing on the moon itself. After cleaning up and returning to the bus-rocket, the hiding moon creatures wave goodbye, each one with a crayon in its hand. Back on the bus, helmet removed, we see the student with only the grey crayon left in the box drawing a moon creature. Another surprise, and what I LOVE LOVE LOVE about Field Trip to the Moon is not knowing the gender of the main character, even when the helmet comes off. Hare has drawn this marvelous, generous, creative child (who brings paper to the moon when others bring devices, which they can be seen engaging with on the final page of the story) truly gender neutral, and for this I applaud him, his editor(s) and Holiday House! Field Trip to the Moon is Hare's debut picture book and I can't wait to see what he does next - he is a stunning visual story teller!