Picture Books

Picture Books 2017 #1: Too School for Cool

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This is a simple little story with a refreshing stroke of creativity. In the story, a little boy on his way to his grandmother’s birthday party badgers his parents with the age-old car trip question: “Are we there yet?” And as he grows increasingly bored, his mind starts to wander… and before he knows it, he and his parents are off on a crazy trip through time and space. The book itself gets in on the act, with the story flipping over entirely, so that the reader must turn his or her upside-down to go on. There’s everything from cowboys and pirates to dinosaurs and flying cars–all the stuff kids in the target audience are expected to like at that age. And there’s even a cute little moral (delivered via pun!) at the end.

It’s not going to be the most riveting read for any adults who pick it up, but children still in the picture book range might just get a kick out of it.

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Here we have another of those picture books devoted to celebrating books themselves. In the story, the titular “child of books” comes crashing in on a wave of words (excerpts from works like Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels) and takes another child off on a journey through the world of literature and imagination. They climb mountains, search for treasure, escape monsters, and more, and it’s all meant to impress upon the reader the value of imagination (and of reading to stoke one’s imagination).

Honestly, this is a book that’s more likely to be appreciated by adult readers than children.

Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle

This is an interactive, wordless picture book about a little girl (the titular Flora) who’s trying to dance with a pair of peacocks who just aren’t having it… until they realize they’ve hurt her feelings. According to the interior book flap, the moral is intended to be, “…that no matter the challenges, true friends will always find a way to dance together,” but it could definitely be taken as a bit of a subtle anti-bullying story if that’s what your looking for.

As with the previous Flora book I read, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. I just don’t think I’m the wordless picture book type, myself, and so I think this is the last Flora book I’ll be picking up. They just don’t have much appeal for an adult reader; the art is nice, but that’s about it.

Otter Goes to School by Sam Garton

This is another in the Otter series of children’s books, and unlike the last Otter book I tried, I found this one to be a very charming, adorable standalone. The reader needs no background knowledge of the author’s blog (I Am Otter: The Unheard Ramblings of a Modern Day Domestic Otter) to follow the story; there’s no missing context here whatsoever. All we’ve got is an adorable story about an otter who, upon learning about the existence of a place called “school”, decides to play classroom with her toys. It’s a really cute little read perfect for a child who’s getting close to the age of going to school for the first time. I actually recommend it!

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

In this story, an elementary school called Frederick Douglas Elementary (which is a real school, by the way) is anthropomorphized. It’s actually a very interesting idea! Adam Rex supplies the reader with a unique twist on the concept of a “first day of school” book, as here we get to see the first day of school from the perspective of the school itself. And oddly enough, it’s actually a fairly touching story; the school has to deal with the reality that most of the children hate being there (at least at first), and its emotional journey in coming to terms with that fact quite nicely parallels a young child’s coming to terms with being a student.

It’s really surprising, sweet, and charming, and I definitely recommend it to any children who might be struggling with the fact that they have to go to school now (or children who will soon be going to school for the first time).

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Picture Books

Picture Books 2016 #6: Dogs, Dogs, Dogs

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I’m Not. by Pam Smallcomb

In I’m Not., we have a couple of caricatured “child” dinosaurs. In the first half of the story, the unnamed main character bemoans the fact that her friend Evelyn is wonderful at so many things, while the main character herself isn’t good at any of them.

The second half, however, switches it up. Evelyn takes the stage to talk about what she isn’t good at, and all of the things she mentions happen to be things the main character does well.

It’s a nice little story about envy and individuality that adults will likely find it as cute as their kids find it funny.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague

An imaginative little boy makes up (or does he?) a cowboy story to share with his class when it’s his turn to tell everyone what he did during summer vacation.

I have to say, any “what’d you do this summer” assignment is automatically better if you can pretend you actually did something fun. It’d certainly be better than my old “I stayed at home and did nothing because my family was poor.” There was never much worth sharing about that one, believe me.

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

This is the first book in a picture series known as Dog Loves, and it’s a brief story about an anthropomorphic dog who loves books so much that he opens up a book store.

Unfortunately, none of his potential patrons seem to share his interest in books, and his store is empty a lot of the time… But that’s okay, because he’ll just pass his time reading!

This is a good choice for a young bibliophile and/or library lover.

Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates

We’re back with the same book-loving dog from the previous book, and this time, he’s having some insomnia troubles. Counting sheep isn’t helping him get to sleep, so he tries counting other animals while using his books as inspiration.

This is definitely another book for book lovers, even though the focus is on teaching a child to count.

A Dog Is A Dog by Stephen Shaskan

This one’s a pattern book teaching kids various animals by telling them that “a dog is a dog unless it’s an X”  (and an X is an X unless it’s a Y,  and a Y is a Y unless it’s a Z, and so on).

The illustrations are quite silly and cute, and the book is actually more baby-appropriately amusing than informational; it’s also quite short (only getting through four animals, including the dog, before it’s over), so it’s definitely baby/toddler fare. It’s pretty adorable, though.

Picture Books

Picture Books 2016 #5: This One’s For Boo

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The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom 

In The Best Place to Read, an unnamed little boy is excited to read a new book, but he can’t find a good place to read it. Eventually, he decides reading in his mother’s lap is the way to go. It’s a bit Goldie Locks-esque, without the being chased by bears at the end.

It’s a good read for a young child in whom you’re trying to foster a love of reading, but definitely not a good for one who you’re trying to encourage to read independently.

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko

This cute little picture book the story of the holiday season a child experiences in a mixed-religion Christian/Jewish household, in which the father is a Christian and the mother is a Jew. It’s another good seasonal diversity story to go along with the other Hanukkah and Kwanzaa picture books I’ve read and reviewed in the past.

I am still, however, looking for one that introduces the idea of Christmas as a secular, cultural holiday instead of a religious one; there are plenty of secular Christmas stories, but all of the ones that I’ve come across simply neglect to mention that the holiday is actually religious for some people; I’d love to find one that handles that issue with some respect and maturity.

I will say, however, that the backlash to this book that’s present on the Goodreads page is truly sickening. Wait until the separatists over there find out that it’s not just the Jews besmirching their beloved “CHRISTmas”. We sinful atheist heathens are merrily violating their traditions, too!

All You Need for a Beach by Alice Schertle

So I’m going to be honest here: this art is fucking hideous. That’s totally a personal thing, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who think it’s quite nice, so I’m not trying to claim some objective criticism here. But, yeah, I hate the way this book is illustrated. It’s horrible.

The story itself, though, is a short little tale goes through all the things you need for a beach, from trillions of grains of sand to an ocean blue–but most importantly, you. There’s not much to it, but it might be a fun beach read for a toddler.

Beach Day by Karen Roosa

And here we have another rhyming book and another beach book. Personally, I think it’s far superior to All You Need for a Beach, and its illustrations are much easier on the eyes. The story essentially just runs through all the various features of a beach and activities that go on at one, but there’s nothing objectionable to its simplicity, and it would be another reasonable book to give your young child during a trip to the beach.

Honestly, reading this was almost a little nostalgic, considering I haven’t had an enjoyable family trip to the beach since I was very young.

The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen

I knew this would make me cry, and I totally did. The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye is a very pretty picture book about an old cat saying goodbye before she goes off to die in private, as cats are often inclined to do, and as I recently lost my own kitty, there was never any chance of me getting out of this one without tears.

Reviews

The Coming of Hoole (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #10) by Kathryn Lasky

The Coming of Hoole (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #10)The Coming of Hoole by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

There’s not much to say about The Coming of Hoole. It continues the legends that started unraveling in The First Collier, but it shifts the focus from Grank to Hoole. I like the inclusion of the polar bears (at this point, I like the inclusion of any non-owl creatures that get treated with basic respect), and I don’t dislike the characters of Hoole or Theo, though Theo seems fairly extraneous.

The mythology is still garbled (I’ve given up on “What the hell are hagsfiends?” and moved on to “What the hell are halfhags?”, which is even more confusing.), but there’s a small victory in that the term Ga’ is finally explained upon its hundredth use. Apparently, Ga’ means “great spirit; a spirit that somehow contains not just all that is noble, but all that is humble as well”.

All in all, I have to give this another two star rating. Parts of the story definitely deserved a three, but a lot of it was positively wince-worthy. At this point, I’m just looking forward to this series being over.

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Reviews

The First Collier (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #9) by Kathryn Lasky

The First Collier (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #9)The First Collier by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Say goodbye to Soren, the Guardians, the Band, the Chaw of Chaw, the wolves of the Beyond, Coryn, and even the Pure Ones. Because for some reason or other, we’re blasting thousands of years into the past to deal with mythology that was never mentioned in the series until The Hatchling (but mostly The Outcast). And don’t worry your pretty little heads, because this mythology will directly contradict what’s been said before and will confuse the hell out of you.

Actually, you know what? Worry.

Continue reading “The First Collier (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #9) by Kathryn Lasky”

Reviews

The Outcast (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #8) by Kathryn Lasky

The Outcast (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #8)The Outcast by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

The Outcast is the continuation of Nyroc’s change-of-heart story. He’s betrayed his mother and the Pure Ones and reinvented himself as Coryn. But he’s also come to realize that there’s no place for him in the owl kingdom, so he sets out for the volcano wasteland called the Beyond the Beyond. I will admit that every time “Beyond the Beyond” was mentioned, I would think of the Mysterious Beyond from Land Before Time and the “Beyond the Mysterious Beyond” song from the seventh movie. (Enjoy. Or, for diehard fans of the first movie, mourn.)

Anyway, the story leaves the owl world for the first time, bringing us in contact with our first creatures who escape blatant discrimination: the wolves. The wolves for some reason have Scottish-style clans and one of them is led by a Caligula who maims his children. (Did you think “acceptable racism”, child enslavement, and cannibalism were inappropriate in a RL 4 book? Try some violent domestic abuse on for size!)

(With the wolves of the Beyond, of course, comes the spin-off series. But more on that in my review of the entire Ga’Hoole series.)

Unfortunately, this story also marks the major plot shift of the series. Suddenly the Guardians of Ga’Hoole take a back seat to the Ember of Hoole, and a whole new mythology shows up. Speaking from the perspective someone halfway through of To Be a King looking back on The Outcast, this shouldn’t have been part of the Ga’Hoole series. Or, more accurately, The Hatchling should have started a second Ga’Hoole series instead of tacking onto the original six books. Because in all honesty, the series is fundamentally changed by The Hatchling and The Outcast. The protagonist changes from Soren to Coryn. The genre changes from adventure to fantasy. Things that were perfectly non-magical and explained mundanely in the first six books are suddenly magical and fantastic in the later books. Focus shifts from dealing with the Pure Ones to reliving myths (myths that are invented in these books rather than explained prior and feel “fake” as a result).

So what should have happened? Well, the first six books should have been the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. Then The Hatchling and The Outcast should have been the Ember of Hoole series or maybe the Coryn of the Eclipse series, or whatever better title the publishers could have come up with. The First Collier, The Coming of Hoole, and To Be a King should have been the Legends of Ga’Hoole series (by which I have heard it called by fans). As I haven’t read the last four books, I can’t say how they should have rolled out, but it shouldn’t have been with all these fundamentally different stories mashed under one heading. I mean, really. If you’re going to have a mid-series three-book flashback trilogy, you’re writing a universe, not a series.

Anyway, on to the mid-series three-book flashback trilogy. Brace yourselves, mythology Retcons are coming.

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Reviews

The Hatchling (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #7) by Kathryn Lasky

The Hatchling (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #7)The Hatchling by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★★☆

As of The Hatchling, the Ga’Hoole story shifts focus. Soren and his friends step down from their main character positions for the next two books, and Soren’s nephew Nyroc takes over.

Nyroc is the second egg of Kludd and Nyra (the other broke before hatching), born during an eclipse and so destined to be either Nyra Junior or the super special awesome second coming of Jesus Hoole. As he’s the new protagonist, I’m sure we can all tell which he’s going to be.

Beyond the predictability, however, this is the best book of the series thus far. There’s no nursemaid snake in this one, so the series’ biggest reminder of its inherent racism is gone. Better yet, Nyroc actually makes friends with other species, which is (sadly enough) mind-blowing in this universe. And unlike Soren and his friends, Nyroc’s anti-prejudice standing is actually genuine. His mother’s a hateful bitch, and so he, unlike the other owls, learns that racism isn’t only reprehensible when it’s directed toward owls. It’s reprehensible period. And it’s great to have a character who finally reflects that.

The Hatching is the only book so far in the series that I truly enjoyed. Sure, it has some stupid bits and a lot of predictability, but changing the protagonist is the single best thing that’s happened for the series so far. I really hope Lasky can keep this up.

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Reviews

The Burning (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #6) by Kathryn Lasky

The Burning (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #6)The Burning by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

With The Burning comes the end of the series’ focus on Soren, the Band, and the Chaw of Chaws. (At least so far as I’ve read at this time of writing, which is up to To Be a King. The focus changes again after that, but from where we seem to be going, it looks like it’s going to be Coryn’s story from The Golden Tree to the end.) It’s a massive disappointment, of course, as the Chaw of Chaws was the single best aspect of the story. As a matter of fact, they’re just about the only aspect that make any sense.

Exhibit A: The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, an ancient order of owl-knights, act like they don’t have any more experienced or trusted warriors than the adolescent protagonists. The King and Queen, the teachers, all the other Guardians–they all leave every important aspect of the story up to the main characters with zero in-universe justification.

Exhibit B: Kludd’s initiation into the Pure Ones inexplicably demands the murder of a family member, ignoring the fact that there couldn’t be a more counterproductive method of proving one’s worth; if the Pure Ones want to build a pure race/society of Tyto Albas, why would they purposefully kill off the potential breeders?

Exhibit C: There’s no sense of time flow to the series. The narrative skips over massive periods, giving off the impression that only a few weeks are passing. And then a single line will suddenly clarify that years have gone by without so much as a nod.

Exhibit D: The protagonists are just as prejudiced and ruthless as the antagonists, and yet the narrative never once hints at the possibility that maybe the war isn’t as morally black-and-white as the protagonists think. When the protagonists do something, it’s good. When the antagonists do something, it’s bad. No one questions this. Not the snakes that the protagonists have enslaved. Not the other birds that they spend so much time insulting. Not even the vultures that Twilight threatens to maim (in order to get them to join the Guardians in fighting the Pure Ones).

So I’m hoping that with the shift of focus that’s coming in the next book, things will start to improve again. Unfortunately I’m starting to suspect it’s not the Ga’Hoole series that doesn’t work for me so much as it is Lasky’s writing in general. I’m honestly wondering if what this series needed was just a brutally honest editor. There’s enough here that it could have been great: an awesome team of characters at the core of the story, a secret society of owls who can use their specialized training and intellect for both war and humanitarianism (well, the owl equivalent of the term) depending on which needs doing, two opposing Big Bads to give the story some hints of moral ambiguity and opportunities for awesome team-ups and war tactics, a Cain and Abel aspect to explore psychologically, etcetera, etcetera. Instead, everything was handled in a rather clumsy fashion, and what could have been a great plot has thus far been lost on me.

Maybe I’ll have better luck with Warriors.

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Reviews

The Shattering (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #5) by Kathryn Lasky

The Shattering (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #5)The Shattering by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

As of The Siege, the series started improving slightly, and that continues into The Shattering. The racism is being scaled back a bit (mostly because of Mrs. P’s reduced presence in the story) though it still rears its ugly head at times, biology failures still pop up every now and then (the characters seem to be under the impression that bats are blind birds, which, uh, is certainly saying something about their understanding of the world around them), and the plots are still melodramatic and juvenile (the entire plot of The Shattering is painfully clear by the time you reach page fourteen), but I think it’s slowly improving from its dreadful beginning. If Lasky can keep this up, my opinion of this series might just turn around soon!

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Reviews

The Siege (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #4) by Kathryn Lasky

The Siege (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #4)The Siege by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

This series is so strange to me. As I said in my previous reviews, I’m really bothered by all the discrimination on the part of the protagonists and the plot’s inherent hypocrisy. On the other hand, there are nuggets of awesome tucked in here and there.

For example, I felt the sudden creation of the Band was something of a cop-out because there wasn’t really much building of the comradarie; the four owls were suddenly friends for life, no questions asked. But the Chaw of Chaws? It took the Band’s stated relationship and build upon it to get a killer team with a solid friendship as backbone. I felt like I was watching the Harry Potter kids become a family again. I love well-developed teams of characters, and the Chaw of Chaws fit the bill perfectly.

But there’s just so much nonsense elsewhere that the awesome bits are lost in the sea of bullshit. It is so disappointing to me that the relationship dynamic between Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, Otulissa, Ruby, Martin, Eglantine, Primrose, and Ezylryb got bogged down by all the bungled racism, the juvenile handling of mature themes, and the wishy-washy world-building.

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