Tag Archives: concept books

Time Together: Me and Dad

4 Feb

Today’s book review is for Time Together: Me and Dad, written by Maria Catherine, illustrated by Pascal Campion, published by Picture Window Books (an imprint of Capstone Young Readers). It is scheduled for release on March 1, 2014. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Time Together: Me and Dad book cover

Time Together: Me and Dad is a lovely picture book for children ages 2-6. It highlights the bond between father and child through a series of snapshots of special moments. It’s an excellent reminder that simple daily activities are the things that often build the strongest memories.

Catherine’s writing is very simple. Rather than producing a narrative, she has chosen to present a series of moments to the reader. They range from “Quiet talking time” to “Wild ride time.” What I liked about her selection of activities is that they are varied and not mired in stereotypical gender roles. So, for example, Dad gets to participate in tea parties. It’s nice to see fathers portrayed as being involved in every facet of a child’s life.

What makes the book really beautiful, though, are Campion’s illustrations. He has such a nice style–where he uses painting techniques in his digital compositions. Each image is a depiction of a father and child who are close, physically and emotionally, and engaged in an enjoyable activity. Every father and child pair is a little different. Some children are girls and some are boys. The families are from various racial backgrounds. It’s a quiet acknowledgement of diversity, subtle and not promoting any stereotypes.

While the writing is a little thin, I do still think this book could have a place in homes and libraries. Even though there’s no real story, the book could be used to spark conversation about a child’s own experiences. Some discussion questions might be: which of the activities in the book did you like best? What are some of your favorite times with Dad? It would be a nice book to read for Father’s Day, as well, to celebrate the role of fathers in children’s lives. I’m giving the book 4 out of 5 stars because the book had lovely execution, and though it’s not a genre I usually enjoy, it pulled me in.

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

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Little Monkey Calms Down

3 Jan

Today’s book review is for Little Monkey Calms Down, written by Michael Dahl, illustrated by Oriol Vidal, published by Picture Window Books (an imprint of Capstone Young Readers). It is scheduled to be released on February 1, 2014. I received an advance electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Little Monkey Calms Down book cover

Little Monkey Calms Down is a board book for children ages 2-4. Little Monkey has a meltdown when his day isn’t going as planned. However with some soothing words and useful coping strategies, Little Monkey is able to calm down and enjoy the rest of his day. This book teaches toddlers how to express and manage their emotions, which is an important skill.

Dahl’s writing is simple, clear, and age appropriate. He uses plain language that helps children to focus on the key ideas of the text, rather than getting bogged down in unfamiliar word choices. I appreciated that he emphasized that you can feel more than one emotion at the same time, such as sad and mad (although, I was puzzled by the inclusion of angry, being that mad and angry are usually used synonymously). Most importantly, though, he reassures kids that it is okay to cry–while also offering them techniques to calm themselves.

Vidal’s illustrations are bold and colorful. Every page has a flat background of saturated color that draws the eye. And his rendering of the monkeys is wonderful. Little Monkey displays a wide range of emotion, illustrated so that even the youngest children can read the visual cues and understand how he is feeling. Vidal works in a style that I also think will appeal to toddlers–one that is cute and lively.

This is an excellent choice for parents who want to encourage emotional awareness in their children. Learning how to regulate their emotions is an important developmental milestone for children–and it’s not something that they can do on their own. They need adults to guide them and provide them resources. At the same time, sometimes we parents also need resources to help guide us. Little Monkey Calms Down is a great solution–it provides children an opportunity to learn and parents a place to start dialogue. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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: 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.

Book Review: Ten Birds Meet a Monster

24 Sep

Today’s book review is for Ten Birds Meet a Monster, by Cybele Young, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Author and illustrator Cybele Young delivers a visually engaging and playful counting book in Ten Birds Meet a Monster. The ten titular birds are playing with a pile of clothing and shoes, when they see a fearsome monster’s shadow looming in the closet. The first bird puts on a garment in an attempt to disguise himself as a scarier monster, but to no avail. Over the course of the book, one by one, the other birds join in, creating new and ever more elaborate monsters. But it’s the easily distracted tenth bird who finally conquers the monster and saves the day.

Young’s language is playful and inventive. She demonstrates her skill at selecting words throughout the text, particularly in the adjectives she uses to describe each bird. At the same time, she shows us that she can just as well create her own word when none already exists to do the job–her clever monster names employing amusing portmanteaus. This is a book that is fun to read aloud. There is a natural rhythm in the text that flows off the tongue. The story is engaging enough to appeal to a wide audience from pre-school to early elementary.

It’s Young’s pen and ink illustrations that bring the text to life, though. Each page features gorgeously rendered pictures, full of exquisite detail: from the plumage on the birds to the varying textile patterns. I loved the way that she was able to convey the birds’ alarm through expression and body language, while still using a fairly realistic art style.

The whole thing comes together in a beautiful book design. Even before I became a parent, there were times that I wanted to purchase picture books simply because they exhibited exceptional design. I’ve always been partial to a beautiful book. From front to back, Ten Birds Meet a Monster has been carefully designed. This attention to detail is what can separate a book that you’d like to read from a book that you’d like to own. And this is definitely a book I would be happy to own.

This title has earned 5 out of 5 stars. Counting books can get tedious–so if I have to read one, it should at least be beautiful and original. Young delivered. Engaging text, exceptional illustrations and excellent design… it’s got all the elements of a great picture book.

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

Book Review: Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots

18 Sep

Today’s book review is for Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots, by Sheryl and Simon Shapiro, published by Annick Press Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots is a concept book that explores the idea of roundness. Through rhyming text and colorful stock images it introduces children to simple geometrical ideas and shows that although circles, cylinders, and spheres are different–they share the property of roundness.

The rhyming text written by the Shapiros is fairly straightforward. It has a playful quality to it and does a fair job of explaining the concepts to children. Overall, though, it has a rather generic feel to it. There’s nothing that stands out to me as noteworthy, in the positive or negative. The writing feels merely middling.

Rather than commissioning an artist to illustrate the book, the authors elected to instead use stock photographs to compliment their text. The images which were selected are brightly colored, clear and crisp.

The font selection for the book is excellent and fits well with the images. It, too, is clear and crisp. The layout of the pages is fun, using alternating designs to keep the eye from growing bored. However, sometimes when an image doesn’t fill a page, the edges of the photo are blurred, which makes things look a little amateur. The blurring effect doesn’t seem to fit with the other elements of the book which are all so crisp and bold.

This book earns 3 out of 5 stars from me. I like it okay. It does a fair job of tackling the concept of roundness. But overall, it felt a little bland to me. In a couple of weeks I’m not sure that I’ll remember it at all. If my daughter saw it at the library and wanted to bring it home, I wouldn’t object–but it’s not something I’d try to steer her toward.

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

Book Review: The Alphabet Parade

14 Sep

Today’s review is for The Alphabet Parade, written by Charles Ghigna, illustrated by A. G. Jatkowska, published by Picture Window Books (an imprint of Capstone Young Readers). I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This might be my new favorite alphabet book. At the very least, it’s now my favorite alphabet board book. It’s a great example of a well-conceived and well-designed book for toddlers. First it uses vivid language full of rhyme and alliteration to help children develop their verbal skills. It’s a joy to read aloud–and I love that it introduces some uncommon words for curious toddlers. Any caregiver or educator can probably attest to the abundance of simplistic language in books targeted to the 1-3 years old crowd. It’s refreshing to read something that shows toddlers the joys of playing with language.

And the vibrant illustrations of Jatkowska bring Ghinga’s text alive. Each member of the parade, whether human or animal, is brought to life in these joyful and colorful pictures. Whether it’s an image of a fiddling fox or a vocal vulture with a microphone, the illustrations are sure to delight children and adults alike. The attention to detail is delightful.

To finish things off, the book exhibits wonderful design principle. Font choices are thoughtful and complement the illustrations. The primary text is black, while highlighted letters and words are presented in various colors and all caps font to showcase their importance to young children. The text is easy to read and well-placed on the page.

This book wins 5 out of 5 stars. Concept books can be challenging–but this one delivered quality. I would definitely recommend it and will encourage my local library to add it to their collection.

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