Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review - Iggy Peck, Architect

Iggy Peck, Architect
by Andrea Beaty
illustrated by David Roberts
Date: 2007
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Meet Iggy Peck—creative, independent, and not afraid to express himself! In the spirit of David Shannon's No, David and Rosemary Wells's Noisy Nora, Iggy Peck will delight readers looking for irreverent, inspired fun. Iggy has one passion: building. His parents are proud of his fabulous creations, though they're sometimes surprised by his materials—who could forget the tower he built of dirty diapers? When his second-grade teacher declares her dislike of architecture, Iggy faces a challenge. He loves building too much to give it up! With Andrea Beaty's irresistible rhyming text and David Roberts's puckish illustrations, this book will charm creative kids everywhere, and amuse their sometimes bewildered parents.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is probably the weakest book in the series I've read so far. I wasn't thrilled with the story (although the kid building stuff out his his dirty diapers was an amusing feat). I don't like seeing female characters fainting; it just perpetuates old stereotypes. And the meter in this one, for whatever reason, was clumsy. It was really a stretch in places, and it would be a bit difficult to read aloud.

Quotable moment:

"Good Gracious, Ignacious!" his mother exclaimed. "That's the coolest thing I've ever seen." But her smile faded fast as a light wind blew past and she realized those diapers weren't clean!

Premise: 2/5
Meter: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

Review - Rosie Revere, Engineer

Rosie Revere, Engineer
by Andrea Beaty
illustrated by David Roberts
Date: 2013
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Rosie may seem quiet during the day, but at night she's a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions her one unfinished goal--to fly--Rosie sets to work building a contraption to make her aunt's dream come true. But when her contraption doesn't fly but rather hovers for a moment and then crashes, Rosie deems the invention a failure. On the contrary, Aunt Rose inisists that Rosie's contraption was a raging success. You can only truly fail, she explains, if you quit.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book was the second I've read from this author. The first, Ada Twist, Scientist, was cute, but I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as Rosie Revere, Engineer. Aside from the great message to never give up when it seems like you might have failed, the illustrations are well done and Rosie's inventions (especially the anti-python cheese helmet) are pretty amusing. Like Ada Twist, Scientist, this is another book that may encourage little girls to pursue their STEM dreams. I think I really would've liked this one when I was a kid.

Quotable moment:

Alone in her attic, the moon high above, dear Rosie made gadgets and gizmos she loved.

And when she grew sleepy, she hid her machines far under the bed, where they'd never be seen.

Premise: 5/5
Meter: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.71 out of 5

Friday, January 19, 2018

Review - The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein
Date: 1964
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: library

"Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy."

So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein.

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk...and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave.

This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another's capacity to love in return.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I think I probably read this at one time, given that I liked some of Silverstein's other books (I still remember that poem about the sharp-toothed snail). But, if I read The Giving Tree at some point, it would've been when I was young enough to not be so jaded. Because... holy crap, that is one codependent tree!

The poor thing gives and gives and gives, and while it's heartwarming in the beginning when the boy actually loves her back, it gets to be disturbing as the boy grows up and only comes around when he wants something from her. Apples. Her branches. Her trunk. It's never enough. Even after she's been reduced to a stump, she's still happy when the boy finally comes back to her. If that's not the definition of a dysfunctional relationship, I don't know what is.

If this was supposed to be a book about unconditional love, it kind of failed. If it was meant more as a warning about codependent relationships, then it hit the mark pretty well.

Quotable moment:

"Cut down my trunk
and make a boat,"
said the tree.
"Then you can sail away...
and be happy."

And so the boy cut down her trunk

and made a boat and sailed away.

And the tree was happy...

but not really.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5

Review - Spork

Spork
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Date: 2010
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: library

A humorous “multi-cutlery” tale about how Spork — half spoon, half fork — finally finds his place at the table. A charming story for anyone who has ever wondered about their place in the world.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What a cute little book! To adult readers, it would be pretty clear that we're not talking about cutlery, but about multi-racial families. But it's a great parallel, and addresses some of the issues that kids in such families might face.

I wasn't 100% sold on the illustrations, but only because I'm not sure how appealing they'd be to the target age group. The book is fairly monochromatic, with a rather rough look to it. Spork, however, is adorable.

Overall, this is a cute book with a great message about finding your place in the world.

Quotable moment:

One day, after the billionth time he was asked "What are you, anyway?" and the zillionth time he was passed over when the table was being set...

... Spork sighed and thought, "It must be easier to be a single thing." And he decided he'd try to pick just one thing to be.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review - The Chocolate Touch

The Chocolate Touch (John Midas #1)
by Patrick Skene Catling
illustrated by Margot Apple
Date: 1952
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: MG
Book type: illustrated prose novel
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this zany twist on the legend of King Midas and his golden touch, a boy acquires a magical gift that turns everything his lips touch into chocolate!

Can you ever have too much of your favorite food? John Midas is about to find out....

The Chocolate Touch has remained a favorite for millions of kids, teachers, and parents for several generations. It's an enjoyable story that pulls in even reluctant readers.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I started reading this, I felt like I might've already done so. Or maybe I'd just heard about the book. It's pretty old, after all.

This is a really cute, really quick read about a boy named John Midas who loves chocolate more than anything else. One day, he finds a coin with his initials on it, which he uses to buy a special box of chocolate from a mysterious store. Once he eats the chocolate within, things get really crazy when everything he puts in his mouth turns into chocolate.

If you know the legend of King Midas, there are really no surprises here, but the story was cute and had a good message. I did, however, have some issues with it.

The pictures date the story. Aside from some of the names (which could just be written off as whimsical rather than merely dated), it could almost be set in the present day. The book has a copyright date of 1952, while the illustrations are only from 1979. They look like they're from the 1950s, though, and I wasn't that fond of them.

The other issue I had was with one of John's first acts of chocolatitis, where he eats a whole tube of toothpaste. Yes, it turned into chocolate, but in an era where kids are stupid enough to eat laundry detergent pods, do we really want them getting the idea that eating a whole tube of toothpaste is something they should be doing? His mother was bafflingly blasé about the whole thing, so I was prompted to look up when they started putting fluoride in toothpaste. John's mother should've been a lot more concerned.

Overall, though, this was a fun book. The pace is quick, it's easy to read, and it'll introduce readers to the King Midas story if they don't already know it.

Quotable moment:

John took the spoon between his lips. The medicine turned to chocolate. John choked and spluttered, and chocolate syrup spurted from his mouth.

Dr. Cranium dropped the spoon in alarm. When it struck the white-tiled floor, the chocolate handle snapped into several pieces. "Mercy!" said Dr. Cranium. "I've never seen anything like it! The boy's whole system seems to be so chocolatified that it chocolatifies everything it touches."

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review - The Wicker King

The Wicker King (The Wicker King #1)
by K. Ancrum
Date: 2017
Publisher: Imprint
Reading level: YA
Book type: illustrated prose novel
Pages: 288
Format: e-book
Source: library

The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: spoilers - To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

This is a hard book for me to review. On the one hand, I enjoyed it. On the other, there were some aspects that really rubbed me the wrong way. Often, when there are too many of the latter, enjoyment goes out the window. Strangely enough, it didn't here.

The story itself is interesting enough. So are the main characters, August and Jack. Tackling mental illness is admirable, but there were some stigmas that I don't feel were properly addressed (i.e., the first concern of their friends, the twins, was that Jack was going to pose some sort of danger; if they really were the children of a psychologist, I think they should have had a better understanding of the fact that most people with mental illness are not dangerous). There were other aspects of the mental health theme that bothered me as well. Especially the stuff in the mental health facility. I was confused as to why August even ended up there in the first place. Believing that he was sent there instead of juvie for arson simply because he asked/pleaded insanity (it's not quite clear) is a bit of a stretch, especially once we see that his doctors have diagnosed him with things like mild depression, PTSD, and codependency. (Would there be anyone left outside of mental health facilities if that's all it took to get you locked away?) I understand the whole point about the codependency between August and Jack, how it drove their relationship, and why it was important to the story. That's all fine. But when characters end up in a mental hospital, I'd like to see actual severe mental illness. Jack wasn't even technically mentally ill, as his odd behaviour and hallucinations were caused by a physical problem. I'm not sure if that was taking the easy way out or not; if he'd had severe schizophrenia, say, it would have complicated things.

The book also suffers from the YA absent-parent trope, and I didn't buy it. Yes, there are neglectful parents out there, but in this case it seemed too convenient, a contrived way to further drive August and Jack into each other's arms for emotional support. August's mom is some sort of agoraphobic who sits and watches game shows all day. After he ended up in the hospital, she didn't visit. I'm not even sure if she was mentioned again after that point (if she was, it was so brief a mention that I've forgotten). And Jack's parents were just unrealistic. They're supposedly away on business all the time, but they couldn't even be bothered to come home for Christmas (even after saying they would), which affords a perfect opportunity for August to "defend" his friend by punching Jack's father in the face.

The supporting characters were just... weird. John Green lite. I've never met any teenagers who talk the way the kids in this book talk. (See quote below: Rina's only supposed to be around 19.) Everyone seemed to be harbouring a secret desire to be a poet. While it made the book sound really pretty, it was jarring, rubbing against the grain of my own experiences of high school and teenagedom. I also hated Gordie, August's girlfriend. She was vile. At one point--the only point in the story, actually, where anything like this took place--there was a disgusting scene in the school bathroom which involved her giving oral sex and "riding" August's fingers (it didn't help that he just wiped his hand on his pants and went back to class when they were done). I felt like I was going merrily along, then found myself stumbling through a bit of porn. It was a short scene, but still... if you're not expecting it, it might be a bit jarring.

However, I couldn't put it down. I wanted to find out what would happen with August and Jack. Would it be something good? Or would everything fall to pieces as their lives spiralled out of control?

Quotable moment:

"Every part of the human condition is packaged neatly in fairytales. Every bit of culture that makes us who we are." She tutted at him. "When I was a girl, such things were regarded with respect."

"I've always had trouble with that," he replied dryly.

Rina scoffed and settled down on the floor. "I know. But one day you'll learn it. All virtues not granted at birth are taught to you by life, one way or another. My mother told me that."

"Your mother sounds wonderful," August said, closing his eyes.

"She was."

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, January 8, 2018

Review - Lumberjanes

Lumberjanes (Lumberjanes #1)
by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters & Brooke A. Allen
Date: 2014
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 27
Format: e-book
Source: library

WHY WE LOVE IT: Five best friends spending the summer at Lumberjane scout camp...defeating yetis, three-eyed wolves, and giant falcons...what’s not to love?!

WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls and features five butt-kicking, rad teenage girls wailing on monsters and solving a mystery with the whole world at stake. And with the talent of acclaimed cartoonist Noelle Stevenson, talented newcomer Grace Ellis writing, and Brooke Allen on art, this is going to be a spectacular series that you won’t want to miss.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together...and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! Not only is it the second title launching in our new BOOM! Box imprint but LUMBERJANES is one of those punk rock, love-everything-about-it stories that appeals to fans of basically all excellent things.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Our library needs to seriously get with the program. This is the only volume they have, even though it looks like most of the installments were published in 2014 and 2015. On its own, it's not very impressive. There are too many characters (some with weird speech affectations), and we jump into the end of the action... only to be told what happened earlier. It's an illustrated story, for goodness sake; if this isn't the place to show rather than tell, I don't know what is.

The illustrations are cute, but nothing special. Maybe I just didn't have time to get attached. I actually like the backgrounds better than the characters themselves.

Since these installments are short, I wouldn't mind reading some more to see if the characters or story grew on me. But I wasn't that enamoured with this one to want to seek out the rest. If the library gets the sequels in the future, I might pick them up. Otherwise, I probably won't bother.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.86 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - The Stonekeeper's Curse

The Stonekeeper's Curse (Amulet #2)
by Kazu Kibuishi
Date: 2009
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 219
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this thrilling sequel to AMULET #1: THE STONEKEEPER, Emily and her brother Navin head for Kanalis, a beautiful and mysterious city of waterfalls, where they hope to find the antidote for the poison that felled their mother. That cure lies in the eggs of a giant serpent atop Demon's Head Mountain, but the kids' archenemy, Trellis, is headed for the peak, too. A battle that will engulf all of Kanalis is looming. It's up to Em to triumph over evil while controlling the amulet's power... without losing herself!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was definitely weaker than the first volume. More graphic, too, with some of the scariest illustrated villains I've seen in a while. However, it reads pretty young. I know it's supposed to appeal to kids, but a tween telling her mom to basically go away and let the kids handle things because it's too dangerous is way too unrealistic for my taste.

While this series is aimed at middle graders, the plots and themes are kind of simplistic and unsophisticated. The robots and Miskit (What the heck is he? A robot? An animated toy? He heals, so I'm assuming he's organic, but... I don't get it.) were one thing in the first book, but now we've got talking animals and trees, and I'm finding it all just a bit silly. I probably won't be continuing with the series.

Kids might like it, though...

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 ladybugs

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Review - NewsPrints

NewsPrints
by Ru Xu
Date: 2017
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 208
Format: e-book
Source: library

Blue is an orphan who disguises herself as a newsboy. There's a war going on, and girls are expected to help the struggling economy by selling cookies. But Blue loves living and working at the Bugle, the only paper in town that tells the truth. And what's printed in the newspapers now matters more than ever.

But Blue struggles with her secret, and worries that if her friends and adopted family at the Bugle find out that she's a girl, she'll lose everything and everyone she cares about. And when she meets and befriends Crow, a boy who is also not what he seems, together they seek the freedom to be their true selves... and to save each other.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Thank goodness there's going to be a sequel! I was a bit worried there for a moment...

This is one of the better graphic novels I've read. With its sort of steampunk 1920s setting and nicely drawn illustrations, it's a fun book. While it wasn't the most original in terms of some of the themes (i.e., girl pretends to be a boy so she can actually do stuff in a rather sexist world), it had a decent plot (though not what the synopsis led me to expect). Some of the characters were a bit of a miss for me (the mayor was kind of inconsistent, which didn't make him very believable), but others were downright cool. Crow was absolutely precious and had some of the best lines; I'll be picking up the sequel in the hopes that we get some more of his story!

Overall, this was one of the more engaging graphic novels I've read in the last month or so. I read much of it in one sitting, eagerly turning the pages. It's definitely one to check out, if you like this sort of format and are looking for an entertaining experience.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up (Sunny #1)
by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Date: 2015
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 224
Format: e-book
Source: library

Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer. At first she thought Florida might be fun -- it is the home of Disney World, after all. But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park. It's full of... old people. Really old people.

Luckily, Sunny isn't the only kid around. She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they're having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors. But the question remains -- why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place? The answer lies in a family secret that won't be secret to Sunny much longer...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, that was underwhelming.

After reading the note at the back, I understand the message the authors were trying to get across. Unfortunately, that message was wrapped up in a disjointed, boring story that didn't really engage me at all. I wasn't all that impressed by the illustrations, either; maybe they just weren't my style.

Overall, I don't know if I'd recommend this book. There've got to be better ones out there with a similar message. For this age group, entertainment is important; if kids don't want to read (or finish) a book, the message will probably be lost on them.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 1.86 out of 5 ladybugs

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review - The Dam Keeper

The Dam Keeper (Dam Keeper #1)
by Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi
Date: 2017
Publisher: First Second
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 160
Format: e-book
Source: library

Life in Sunrise Valley is tranquil, but beyond its borders lies certain death. A dangerous black fog looms outside the village, but its inhabitants are kept safe by an ingenious machine known as the dam. Pig’s father built the dam and taught him how to maintain it. And then this brilliant inventor did the unthinkable: he walked into the fog and was never seen again.

Now Pig is the dam keeper. Except for his best friend, Fox, and the town bully, Hippo, few are aware of his tireless efforts. But a new threat is on the horizon—a tidal wave of black fog is descending on Sunrise Valley. Now Pig, Fox, and Hippo must face the greatest danger imaginable: the world on the other side of the dam.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: minor spoilers - To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

When I checked this e-book out from the library, I didn't realize it was based on a short film. It does have a very cinematic look to it. The illustrations were probably the best part of the book.

Pig is left to be the dam keeper after his father disappears, and it's up to him to keep the fog at bay. It took a little while for me to realize that the characters are all children. You'd think that a town wouldn't leave its survival up to a young anthropomorphized pig, but I guess we have to suspend disbelief a little bit.

By the time the book ended, the story had only just begun. We've gotten to know the main characters (Pig, whose father was the original dam keeper; Fox, his best friend; Hippo, Fox's friend, who's a bit of a loudmouth blowhard; and now Van, who's some sort of unhinged lizard--and probably my favourite character so far), and we've followed them past the dam into what should be a wasteland... but it turns out that there's more beyond the dam than Pig's father let on.

The art is really beautiful, and I was engaged enough by the story that I wouldn't mind reading the next installment when it comes out later this year.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, January 1, 2018

Review - The Stonekeeper

The Stonekeeper (Amulet #1)
by Kazu Kibuishi
Date: 2008
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 193
Format: e-book
Source: library

After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move to an old ancestral home to start a new life. On the family's very first night in the mysterious house, a strange noise lures them into the basement, where Em and Navin's mom is kidnapped by a humongous, tentacled creature and dragged down behind the basement door.

The kids give chase down a twisty spiral stairway and find themselves in a strange and magical world below. Most surprising of all, it seems that their great-grandfather, who was an inventor and puzzle maker, was there before them – and he's left some unfinished business.

Now it's up to Em and Navin to figure out how to set things right and save their mother's life!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This graphic novel starts in on the action within the first few pages and never stops!

The beginning is a little heavy for kids (think: what happens to the parents in many an animated Disney movie), but the rest of the story has plenty of crazy creatures and adventures to keep its target audience entertained. I found the "chosen one" thing to be a little cliche, and it led to more questions (why Emily and not Navin, for example), but I'm interested to see where the story will go next.

Like some graphic novels in a series, there's no real ending to the story here. By the last page, the kids are still trying to accomplish their goal; they've just moved on to a new locale. I'm not the biggest fan of this sort of thing; I like the books I read to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the illustrations are nice enough and I'm intrigued enough by the storyline to want to find out what happens next, so I'll probably check out at least the second book in this series at some point.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.38 out of 5 ladybugs