Tag Archives: 1 star

Morgan on Ice

3 Feb

Today’s book review is for Morgan on Ice, written by Ted Staunton, illustrated by Bill Slavin, published by Formac Publishing. This book is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2014. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Morgan on Ice book cover

Morgan on Ice is part of Formac’s “First Novels” line, which are early chapter books targeted at 6-9 year old children. Morgan is a boy. I mention this because until I reached the end of chapter 2, I had thought Morgan was a tomboy. So, Morgan is a boy who has to spend a lot of time with a girl he doesn’t much like, Aldeen, who is a family friend. She has invited him to see a Princesses on Ice show, and Morgan’s mother accepted the invitation. But Morgan isn’t interested in princesses and he doesn’t like ice skating. When he gets invited to the Monster Truck show by another friend, Morgan does all he can to weasel out of his engagement with Aldeen.

I struggled to make my way through this book. While I’m obviously not the target audience, often I enjoy reading books for this age range. Staunton’s prose was just tedious. The book is written in the first person from the perspective of the protagonist, Morgan. I think that Morgan is supposed to be sympathetic, but he came across as whiny. A lot of the narrative focuses on what Morgan doesn’t like, which leaves him a bit flat as a character. He never really develops, either. I’m not even sure what the takeaway message for the book was supposed to be: ice skating is better than monster truck rallies?

Slavin’s black and white illustrations have a lot of movement and a playful style. However, often details get lost in an excess of line/scribble shading. It might be an issue of scale–perhaps if the images were larger, this wouldn’t be a problem. But as they were, they came across as too busy; my eye never knew where to focus.

None of it worked for me, so I’m going with 1 out of 5 stars. This book was mediocre, tedious, and pointless. Maybe I could have even forgiven the lack of any real character development or message if the book had been entertaining. But it wasn’t.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.


Book Review: Mishan’s Garden

12 Oct

Today’s book review is for Mishan’s Garden, written by James Vollbracht, illustrated by Janet Brooke, published by Wisdom Publications. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, October 15, 2013.

Mishan’s Garden is the story of a young girl, Mishan, who lives in a small village high in the mountains of Tibet. She is an innkeeper’s daughter and often helps him around the inn. Her father tells her that one day a beautiful garden will bloom behind the inn–and though she is doubtful, she starts to tend the land anyway. She also starts to tell the people who visit the inn what aspect of the garden they are like, such as the strong and mighty tree or the lilacs blowing in the wind. One day she goes out to check on the garden and falls ill. The villagers, who have grown fond of Mishan discover her lying on the ground outside and rush to help care for her. Then, something magical happens. It is a story about hope and seeing the best in people.

I had a couple of problems in reading this story. The first is that it smacked of cultural appropriation–a white man tells a mystical story about a young Asian girl who is wise beyond her years. Since there is no author’s note in the book stating that the story was adapted from a traditional tale, I’m going to assume that it’s purely of Vollbracht’s invention. While I love books that explore multiculturalism, this one just felt like someone constructing a stereotypical “Asian wisdom narrative.”

Which brings me to my second big issue, which is that this felt like a grown-up book disguised as a children’s book. It felt a lot like the stories in the Buddhist canon–the sort of stories that children might be able to understand, but aren’t actually targeted to that audience. Mishan uses rather sophisticated similes when speaking to her father’s customers. Some of the core themes of the book might be a little abstract for the usual picture-book-reading audience. While I don’t think that books should be “dumbed down” for kids, neither do I think they should be inaccessible.

Janet Brooke’s illustrations are a bit bland, as well. Many of them look like they could have been pulled from any picture book retelling of a story from China or Japan that was published in the last half a decade. Then there was the drawing of the garden that looked more like a concept sketch than a finished illustration.

When I request review copies for books, I look for books that I think I’ll enjoy. I wanted to enjoy this one–but I just couldn’t. There was too much that didn’t work. So in the end, I give it 1 out of 5 stars, because I just did not like it.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe

25 Sep

Today’s book review is for Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe, by Sheryl and Simon Shapiro, published by Annick Press Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe is a companion book to Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots, which I reviewed last week. This book uses the same sort of rhyming text and colorful stock images to convey its ideas.

I’m sure that the colorful stock images will appeal to children. They a brightly colored and crisp. Many feature young children engaged in play. The book design, however, doesn’t seem as professional as its sister volume. There’s not much variety in the page layouts and the amateur blurring effect is used more liberally. And once again, we’ve got playful, but generic, text.

Worst of all, the concept for this book was a bit muddled to me. For most of the book, it seems that we are exploring squares. I was puzzled, because the title suggested that we would be exploring stripes–but then, just before the end, we got to the stripes. At this point, I wasn’t entirely clear about why squares and stripes were thematically similar. I mean, squares are composed of lines, just as stripes are… but so are triangles, hexagons, rectangles, diamonds, octagons and more.

Unfortunately, Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe earns 1 out of 5 stars. Above all, a concept book should illustrate a clearly identifiable concept. All other aspects aside, this book fails to meet even that most basic criteria. I’m sure the authors had an idea of what they were trying to accomplish, but it didn’t come through in their work.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.