Tag Archives: 2 stars

Breakfast With Bigfoot

23 Jan

Today’s book review is for Breakfast With Bigfoot, written by Amelia Cotter, illustrated by Charles Swinford, published by Black Oak Media. I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Breakfast With Bigfoot book cover

While young Gretchen is on a camping trip with her family, she decides to go for a short walk in the woods. She notices that the sun is getting low and starts to head back to camp–only to find that she’s lost. She does not, however, lose her wits. Instead, she thinks back to lessons from nature camp and decides to wait until someone finds her. She just never expected that it would be Bigfoot who finds her! This humorous story offers young children sound advice for basic outdoors skills.

This is one of those cases where I’m actually shocked that the publisher printed the book as it exists in this edition. The writing is sound. The illustrations are nice. The book design, however, is terrible. The paper is of such low quality that the text shows through to the other side of the page–which sometimes muddies up the illustrations. The font selection is pretty tacky. And for a target audience of 3-6 year old kids, there is far too much text on each page. At one point, I was tempted to just scan the illustrations and re-design the book for myself. The good news on this front is that a revised edition is in the works. I’ve been told that it will be printed on higher quality paper and will feature some layout changes.

When I started reading the book to my daughter, she was interested in the story. As a parent, I found that the text was fairly easy to read aloud and had a kid-friendly tone. There were a few moments where it felt like narrator asides were talking down to the audience a little. “Oh no! Gretchen is lost!” is one such example. We’ve just heard that she doesn’t think she’s on the right path–the target audience should be able to deduce that she’s lost without it being spelled out. There are other places where the prose could be tightened up a bit. Overall, though, the story flows smoothly and has a good balance of humor and teachable moments.

Swinford’s pencil and watercolor illustrations are fun. I really enjoyed the facial expressions and body language of both Gretchen and Bigfoot. The pictures complemented the text nicely. They made it easier to understand what was happening in the story. My primary complaint with the illustrations was that I wished there had been a few more. For the age group of the target audience, the visual element is important. There were no full-page illustrations–but there were full pages of text. The text and imagery balance was way off for a picture book.

This has been an incredibly difficult book for me to evaluate. Poor design is one of the biggest hurdles for me to get past when reviewing a book. I feel like the book itself earns 2 stars, while the content merits 3 stars. But I’ve got high hopes for the revised edition. I love that Cotter is working to teach young kids basic survival skills–stay calm, stay in one place, don’t eat strange foods. As a parent who already takes her daughter hiking and plans to take her camping soon, too, it’s nice to have a resource like this available. Cotter’s onto a great idea; now she just needs the editorial guidance to help her shine.

You can find more information about this book at Goodreads.

My Grandfather’s Masbaha

14 Jan

Today’s book review is for My Grandfather’s Masbaha, written by Susan Daniel Fayad, illustrated by Avery Liell-Kok, self-published through Author House. I received a free paperback copy of this book through a First Reads giveaway on Goodreads, with the expectation that I would post an honest review.

My Grandfather's Masbaha book cover

My Grandfather’s Masbaha begins with a little boy, Adam, throwing a temper tantrum when his friends all go home and he’s left with nothing to do. As his hyperbole grows, his Jidoo (grandfather) starts to laugh. Then he pulls out a string of prayer beads known as a masbaha to help Adam count his blessings. At first he is reluctant to share his grandfather’s perspective, but by the end he is able to understand.

Like many self-published works, this book would have benefited from an extra round of editing. There were numerous typographical errors, however, it was the writing style itself which I felt could use refining. First of all, the descriptive language has a lot of redundancy–“more and more”, “redder and redder”, etc. These sorts of repetitions don’t add to the story, especially since there is still plenty of other descriptive language. Next, I found a lot of the dialogue to feel stunted and unnatural. In particular, I thought that the lack of contractions in the first couple of pages felt awkward–it made me think of Data in Star Trek. Finally, a lot of the dialogue tags were also poorly written. In an attempt to add variety to her language, the author sometimes made odd word choices such as “chimed Adam.” I think of bells as chiming, but not so much children.

The illustrations were servicable. They were a bit flat and amateurish, but they did accompany the story well. I just wish there had been more dimension to them. The black outline and flat color style just didn’t work for me. Jidoo was depicted with some pretty good facial expressions, but in contrast, Adam’s seemed lacking.

What I did like about the book was that it gives children exposure to Lebanese culture. I enjoyed learning more about the masbaha and how different people use it for different purposes. There is even a page at the end that provides more information about the masbaha. I also liked how the story focused on learning to recognize one’s blessings.

Overall the book had a nice concept, but the execution was lacking. With stronger editorial oversight, higher quality illustrations, and professional design, this could be a great book. As it stands, though, it was a mediocre book whose biggest appeal is unusual content. I’m giving it 2 stars. Kids will probably like the story alright and enjoy being exposed to a new culture, but I don’t think it’s worth the money to purchase it.

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

Smelling Sunshine

9 Nov

Today’s book review is for Smelling Sunshine, by Constance Anderson, published by Star Bright Books. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Smelling Sunshine book cover

Smelling Sunshine celebrates the ritual of laundry day. All over the world, families wash their clothes and hang them outside to dry on the line. The experience can turn a chore into something fun. It’s a chance to celebrate being outside and bonding with one’s family.

I liked the concept behind the book. Hanging up laundry to dry on the line can be an enjoyable experience. It gives you a chance to be outside, connecting with the world. Anderson touched on these feelings in her book. Unfortunately the prose fell flat for me. To start with, the first 13 pages are just one clumsy, run-on sentence. By the time I reached the end of the sentence, I couldn’t remember how it had begun. After that, there are a series of awkward sentences–including one that wasn’t even grammatically correct. The only section that actually worked for me in terms of the writing was the very end.

On the other hand, I did like the illustrations. They are richly textured, full of beautiful patterns and vibrant colors. Anderson appears to use a combination of collage and painting to produce her images. It’s a nice technique. By blending the two mediums, she is able to create greater depth than collage alone could–while maintaining the fun play of pattern and texture. I also appreciate that she depicts a wide variety of cultures and traditions in the book, so that children can see that hanging laundry is something we have in common with people around the globe.

If you’re looking for a book about laundry that depicts positive parent and child relationships, then this would be an appropriate choice. However, due to my dislike of the prose, I can only give it 2 out of 5 stars. Like I said, the concept was lovely, but the writing didn’t deliver.

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

Book Review: Black and Bittern Was Night

8 Oct

Today’s book review is for Black and Bittern Was Night, written by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by John Martz, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Black and Bittern Was Night is a Halloween story told entirely in nonsense verse. Skul-a-mug-mugs have come to town and frightened all of the adults into canceling trick-or-treating. The children, however, refuse to be intimidated. They band together to take back the night in this humorous book.

“The Jabberwocky” is one of my favorite poems, my 23-month-old daughter can already recite some of it, so I’m no stranger to nonsense verse. In fact, that was one of the elements that made me request to read this book. Sadly, Heidbreder is no Lewis Carroll. The nonsense language was often excessively dense, making it incredibly challenging to decipher what, exactly was going on in the story. One of the joys of nonsense verse is being able to envision a story, even when you have never encountered the words used to tell it. The invented words should still conjure up strong imagery through sound. These ones didn’t. Part of that might also have been because it was difficult to read them–the combinations of letters felt awkward and non-intuitive.

I wasn’t terribly enamored of Martz’s digital illustrations, either. I did like the Halloween color palette–which conveyed a clear tone and sense of place. He also used a sort of cute, simplified cartooning style that made clear that this was a fun story and not a scary one. The rendering of the children in the town was alright–nothing special, but nothing awful, either. However, I found that the backgrounds of the town felt really flat. It was an artistic choice, of course–just one that didn’t work for me.

As far as Halloween books go, it’s nicely designed. I appreciate that the publisher took care to try to put together a quality product. Too often it seems that holiday books get thoughtlessly churned out, splashed with glitter, and put onto the market with no real thought as to content or design.

I’m going with 2 out of 5 stars here. The book was okay. And I give the author credit for taking a gamble on nonsense verse. Even when it’s executed flawlessly, it can be hard for a lot of folks to swallow. As for me, I hold nonsense verse to the same standards that I hold traditional verse–flow, rhythm, meter, sound, etc should all work together to produce an outstanding final product. That didn’t happen here.

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

Book Review: Muddled-Up Farm

28 Sep

Today’s book review is for Muddled-Up Farm, written by Mike Dumbleton, illustrated by Jobi Murphy published by Star Bright Books. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Muddled-Up Farm begins with a promising start. With vibrantly colored illustrations, rhyming text, and silly premise, it drew me into the zany world of Muddled-Up Farm. The big problem was that when I got to the last page I was left wondering “where’s the rest of the book?”

Dumbleton’s writing has a strong rhythm. The rhymes are predictable, thus making many of the jokes predictable, but that doesn’t seem like much of an issue for the target audience. While I was reading the text, I could almost hear it set to music, like some old folk song. It’s got a lively beginning and a humorous climax, but the resolution was completely omitted. I kept trying to turn the final page, convinced that surely there had to be more text. But there was not.

As mentioned earlier, Murphy’s illustrations are vibrantly colored. The farm animals are all rendered in a cartoon style that fits the mood of the book quite well. I particularly enjoyed some of their facial expressions. On the other hand, I felt that many of the pictures of the farm inspector were poorly executed. Although Murphy uses the same black outlines and flat patches of color in all of the illustrations, at times the farm inspector seems to have been rendered in a different style than the animals. One image in particular that didn’t work for me was when the farm inspector turns red-faced and angry.

The book has a middling design. The first seven pages of the story were actually quite nicely designed. And then the seemingly random changes in design began. It made sense to change some of the page layouts once the farm inspector arrived on the scene, because the narrative style shifted at that point, too. Before that point, though, the changes gave a visual signal that something about the text was changing–even though that wasn’t the case.

As a result, Muddled-Up Farm gets 2 out of 5 stars. For what it was, it was fun–but it definitely came across as incomplete. All other criticisms aside, it’s hard to like a book when it’s missing its ending.

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

Book Review: Beep Beep Goes the Bus Driver

17 Sep

Today’s review is for Beep Beep Goes the Bus Driver, written and illustrated by Vincent Scala, published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. It is scheduled to be released on September 28, 2013. I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was drawn to this book because of the wacky, cartoonish cover image. The style of it made me think of The Powerpuff Girls, of which I’m very fond. With big eyed animals, a smiling bus driver, and happy blue bubble letters the cover drew me in.

The story contained within is just as wacky and cartoonish as the cover. The bus passengers include a variety of anthropomorphic animals, such as a ballerina bear and a cat with hat and tie. They go on fantastically silly adventures, which even include a trip to the moon. I can see it appealing to energetic children, because the premise is a lot of fun.

Unfortunately Scala’s text leaves much to be desired. The book is written entirely in rhyme, a style that can be a lot of fun, especially when read aloud. But some of the rhymes feel forced. Worse, the meter is a disaster. When I attempted to read it aloud, I found the rhythm and accents within each couplet were rarely the same, making everything sound clunky and awkward.

On the other hand, his illustrations are pretty fun. He uses an Easter egg palette to color his cartoon outlines, giving the book a vivid and playful feel. In particular I liked the turtle named Gus and the fish named Frank. It’s a style that suits the story well. It’s also a style that I think children would like.

The book design is pretty sound. With so much going on in the illustrations, text is placed on facing pages. Each text page is colored with a hue from the illustrators palette. The choice of Ad Lib BT for the typesetting was perfect; it’s bold and a little off kilter, like the story itself. The text is colored and each time the words “beep, beep” appear, they are in a larger point and outlined to highlight them.

In the end I give this book 2 out of 5 stars. Even though there was a lot that I liked about it, I just can’t get past the poorly written text.

You can find more information about this book at Goodreads or from the publisher.

Book Review: Song for Papa Crow

13 Sep

Today’s review is for Song for Papa Crow, written and illustrated by Marit Menzin, published by Schiffer Publishing, LTD. I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

ImageSong for Papa Crow Cover

Let me start by sharing some things that I enjoyed about this book. First of all, I liked that the book introduces children to a variety of common North American birds–both visually and through their calls. As an amateur bird watcher, this drew me in right away. It seemed like a great way to help children learn to appreciate birds as well. The section at the back with further information on birds provides a great opportunity for further enrichment and could be used by caregivers and educators for extension activities. 

 

The first point when my attention was pulled from the story itself was the introduction of Mockingbird coming to town “for one show only.” It was around this point that the style of the prose began to shift from almost lyrical prose to bland colloquialism. A few pages later, I found myself thinking repeatedly that while the book has potential it really needed a stronger editorial hand. 

 

It wasn’t just the text that needed a stronger editorial hand, though. It was the book design overall. Someone should have noticed that poor choice of font. While it’s fun and artsy, it’s difficult to read. And if it’s difficult for an adult to read–then I imagine it would definitely pose challenges for younger readers. I also thought that the placement of text could have been improved–sometimes it seemed awkward in location. But worse were the somewhat sloppy lightened blobs that appear behind the text. While I suspect it was intended to make the text easier to read against the illustrations, it instead looks like an unskilled hand went crazy using the “erase” tool in a graphics editing program. 

 

Which is a shame–because Menzin’s collage illustrations are fun. It’s a popular style these days, and while her work doesn’t stand out to me as notable, I still thought that she did a good job. I liked some of the deeper layering and the ways that she achieved softer edges by using specialty paper. I was particularly impressed by her ability to create varying expressions on the faces of her birds. One thing that would have made the illustrations stronger would have been to establish a dominant palette. 

 

The overall message of the book is that it’s okay to be who you are is an excellent one. Despite Papa Crow repeatedly telling Little Crow that he was loved just as he is, Little Crow had to test boundaries and face peril before he could believe and internalize that message for himself. 

In final analysis, I give the book 2 out of 5 stars. It was okay. It had a strong concept and some excellent ideas. Unfortunately, I felt that the execution left a lot to be desired. 

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