Tag Archives: kids can press

Starring Me and You

6 Feb

Today’s review is for Starring Me and You, by Genevieve Cote, published by Kids Can Press. It is scheduled for release on March 1, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Starring Me and You book cover

Piggy and Rabbit are getting ready to put on a show–but Rabbit is feeling shy. Thus starts Starring Me and You, a picture book that shows pre-school aged children that there is more than one way to express emotions. As Piggy and Rabbit prepare for their show, they must confront their fears and figure out a way to work together.

Cote has once again put together a beautiful picture book. I first discovered her work in the fall when I reviewed Mr. King’s Castle. The writing in this new volume is a clear as ever. She has a way of tapping into the emotions of children, and expressing them in accessible language. Cote uses a lot of repetition in her text to great effect. Every time one of the animals talks about how they act in response to an emotion, the other chimes in to share an alternate reaction. There’s a wonderful rhythm, too, even though there is (thankfully) no rhyming text. Her language demonstrates an understanding of the written word and of her target audience.

The illustrations are done in Cote’s signature style. She uses mixed media to produce gentle, yet lively, images that are sure to charm children. The simple lines and gentle shading fit in nicely with the emotional theme of the book. The dominant color on each page is a rich salmon. It is inviting and warm, setting up an atmosphere in which it is safe to express oneself. Most of all, I enjoy the abundance of white space on the page. There is no need to fill the page with background, because background isn’t important to the story. Rather, by using a minimalist design, Cote emphasizes that this is a story that could happen anywhere; it’s universal.

If you’re someone like me who appreciates attention to detail, then you’ll also enjoy the book design. In particular you’ll like that Rabbit’s pages use one font, a subdued san-serif typeface–while Piggy has a more stylized typeface that leans a little askance. The typography choices actually reveal a little about the characters’ personalities. It’s such a small thing, but it was used effectively to strong impact.

This is a great book for caregivers who are looking to talk with their children about emotions. The message that there are many ways to express oneself is positive and affirming. It lets children know that just because they don’t experience an emotion in the same way as their friend, that it’s okay. It could also be used as a jumping off point to talk about healthy and unhealthy expressions. I’m giving the book 4 out of 5 stars. It’s got thoughtful writing, charming illustrations, and plenty of opportunity for discussion.

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

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There Was an Old Sailor

30 Jan

Today’s review is for The Was an Old Sailor, written by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Cassandra Allen, published by Kids Can Press. It is scheduled for release on March 1, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

There Was an Old Sailor book cover

We’ve all heard the tale of the old lady who swallowed a fly–but did you hear the one about the old sailor who swallowed a krill? No. Well, you’re in for a treat. The remake of a familiar folk song shifts the story from the farm to the sea. Children will giggle and sing along as the old sailor swallows increasingly large sea creatures.

Folk songs make for good toddler books, because parents don’t have to worry about not knowing how the song goes. But, sometimes, they also feel tired and dull. When you’ve sung something countless times, the craving to change things up can be intense. Saxby solves this problem by switching up the words. The struture, rhythm and rhyme-scheme of the original song remain intact, while the transition to a nautical theme is refreshing and fun. Her verse scans flawlessly, meaning that parents and educators won’t be left stumbling over misplaced beats or forced rhymes.

Allen’s pencil and gouache illustrations are round, plump, and appealing. They are cute enough for toddlers to love, and detailed enough to keep their wandering eyes engaged. The sailor himself is the perfect balance between old salt and grandpa. The swirling waves of the ocean create a great sense of movement, and will make you want to sway in time to the beat of the verse.

It takes a special talent to take something old and familiar and transform it into something new and equally enjoyable. I’m pleased that Saxby has such talent. This 4 star book is a great choice for parents who want to sing with their kids at home, or for librarians who are looking for something that will burn off some energy during story time. It also provides a great opportunity to talk with kids about marine biology, the food chain, and other nautical topics.

You can find more information about this book at Goodreads.

Loula is Leaving for Africa

1 Nov

Today’s book review is for Loula is Leaving for Africa, by Anne Villeneuve, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Loula is Leaving for Africa book cover

When Loula grows exasperated with her obnoxious triplet brothers, she decides to leave and go to Africa. Her parents are both so occupied with their own activities that they barely acknowledge her. Fortunately, the family chauffeur, Gilbert, knows the way. And so, armed with a hefty dose of imagination, Loula and Gilbert set off on a grand adventure through jungles, deserts, and seas–without ever leaving the city.

Loula is Leaving for Africa reminded me a bit of Eloise and Madeline in style and tone. It’s got that timeless classic feel to it, even though it’s a brand new book. Part of that has to do with Villeneuve’s writing–it feels like she’s looking back on a past era of children’s books. Rather that creating a hip, contemporary main character, she opts for a little girl who drinks tea, wears a boater hat, and hangs out with her chauffeur. And yet still creates a likable character that children will relate to.

The illustrations also have a bit of that throwback feel to them. They feature sketchy ink line drawings, colored by beautiful water color washes. For the most part, they’re from the same perspective, as well–that of someone looking down, into the scene. The people in the illustrations are fairly small, while the scenery fills most of the canvas. Since most of the text consists of dialogue, this approach works well. It rounds out the story and helps to make clear that Loula and Gilbert are using their imaginations.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Loula and Gilbert. It had a sweetness to it, while also being inspiring. Gilbert is able to recognize the emotional needs of Loula and he responds to them admirably. It’s a good reminder that sometimes kids just need the adults around them to take some time out of their day to imagine with them. A game of make believe can be the perfect way to escape a stressful day and exercise your creativity.

I give Loula is Leaving for Africa 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a wonderful story full of whimsy and imagination. I suspect that children will wish for a Gilbert of their own to take them on grand adventures.

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

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween

9 Oct

Today’s book review is for Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween, by Melanie Watt, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween book cover

Get ready for Halloween with Scaredy Squirrel! Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween is a helpful holiday safety guide brought to you by one lovably neurotic rodent. Scaredy Squirrel is scared of almost everything–from robots, pirates, and vampires to empty bottles of hand sanitizer and cavities–but he’ll still show you how to have a fun Halloween while you laugh at his ridiculous levels of fear.

Watt has a great sense of humor that shines through in her writing and illustration. As I read, I kept giggling and snorting at the advice contained within. Some of it is actually fairly sound advice for kids, but Scaredy Squirrel’s justifications for it are so absurd. I’m certain that children will find it just as entertaining–and easily envisioned my 10-year-old nephew cracking up while I was reading.

Fun infographic-style illustrations are used to convey the advice and information shared by Scaredy Squirrel. I love infographics and found them to be such a clever approach for this book. There are charts, diagrams, checklists, quizzes and more to keep children engaged and amused. All of the illustrations are done in a cute cartoon style, which adds to the absurdity of Scaredy Squirrel’s fears, because there is absolutely nothing in his world that looks scary. Even the vampires and monsters are adorable!

One of the things that I think is cool about this book is that it might make other children feel more comfortable about their own fears. A lot of kids can feel embarrassed about being afraid of things, especially when their peers are not (or at least don’t seem to be). Seeing someone with as many fears as Scaredy Squirrel could help them to feel more normal.

If you’re looking to get in the Halloween spirit while having a laugh at the same time, this is a great choice! There are lots of opportunities to discuss rational and irrational fears. There are creative suggestions for fun activities. There are even some legitimate safety suggestions buried among the humor. So, I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars–partly because of the above and partly because I just plain liked it.

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: Hocus Pocus Takes the Train

30 Sep

Today’s book review is for Hocus Pocus Takes the Train, story by Sylvie Desrosiers, illustrations by Remy Simard, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hocus Pocus Takes the Train is a wordless comic adventure for children. It’s a book that both readers and pre-readers can enjoy. Despite the lack of text, there is still a strong, rich story to be enjoyed.

Desrosiers has written a story about a magician’s rabbit who find’s a toddler’s stuffed rabbit toy. He wants to reunite toy and child–but he will have to face a tight train schedule, an intimidating dog, and more to achieve his goal. The story is fast-paced and action packed, while at the same time sweet and heart-warming. Children will enjoy Hocus Pocus’s clever problem soliving, resourcefulness, and persistence in completing his quest.

Simard’s art tells the story wonderfully. In a wordless comic, the pictures must tell the full story in order for it to work. This story definitely works. His angular characters and spring-time palette are appealing to the eye and echo the style of popular cartoons. They inform the audience that this is a playful tale with a happy ending.

One of the things that I like about wordless comics is how well they can be used in a classroom setting. They provide an excellent opportunity for writing exercises where students have to provide the text that should accompany the images. It also encourages children to learn how to read and decode visual media. We live in a world where visual literacy is often just as important as verbal. We are surrounded by infographics, advertisements, and IKEA instruction manuals that we are expected to make sense of. Comics, particularly wordless volumes, can help to develop the skills needed to do so.

This book earns 5 out of 5 stars for great story, great illustration, and great design. I think that it’s a great example of why comics are becoming an increasingly well respected medium in children’s literature.

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

Book Review: Mr. King’s Castle

29 Sep

Today’s book review is for Mr. King’s Castle, by Genevieve Cote, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Mr. King is an adorable cat who lives on top of a beautiful hill. One day, he decides that he wants to build himself a big castle. So, he begins to cut apart the hill for blocks to build his castle. But soon, his friends and neighbors discover what he’s done and become very upset with him. When Mr. King realizes his mistake, everyone pitches in to help put things to right.

Genevieve Cote writes a charming story to which children will surely relate. Her prose is simple and clear, perfect for a toddler audience. I love the message that sometimes our big ideas don’t always work out as well as we had imagined–but it’s alright to realize our mistakes and fix things. Children will make many mistakes in their lifetimes; it’s to be expected. The important thing is to learn how to fix those mistakes and put things to right. Cote also manages to touch on themes of greediness and common goods without ever seeming heavy handed in her moralizing. I appreciate that the friends and neighbors never yell at Mr. King or call him names, instead, he is able to recognize on his own that he is the cause of their frustration.

Cote’s mixed media illustrations are great fun. The animal inhabitants of the hill are hand drawn and quite cute. Composed of simple lines and gentle shading, they still have a great feeling of life about them. It’s the landscape of the hill that I most enjoyed, though. Cote uses actual paper to create the hill–and then physically cuts it up to create the blocks for Mr. King’s house. It’s a clever technique, one that I think will help children to really understand that Mr. King is, quite literally, tearing apart the landscape to build his castle. It also adds an element of humor when the woodland animals are left standing on tiny scaps of paper, wondering what happened to their home.

This would make a great selection for story time. The book is designed so that “big” is always in a larger, bold font, while “small” is shrunken down. It’s easy to read the text on the page, so that even a teacher or librarian trying to read upside down while showing the pictures to an audience should have an easy time following the story. There are plenty of opportunities to create character voices or sound effects to have extra fun with the book.

Mr. King’s Castle earns 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a fun book that would make a great addition to any young child’s library. It’s beautifully executed and has a great message.

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: The Line

20 Sep

Today’s book review is for The Line, by Paula Bossio, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Line is a wordless book that relies entirely on the illustrations to tell a story. It’s a bit reminiscent of children’s classic Harold and the Purple Crayon, in that the main character, a little girl, is interacting with a child’s drawing. In this case, however, she’s not the creator of the drawing.

As you follow along on the girl’s adventures, you see her shake the line and play as it transforms into a slide, loops, swinging monkeys and more. At the climax she faces a fearsome foe–but is rescued at the last minute by a new friend. The book ends with the audience discovering who is drawing this line.

While many people might look at Bossio’s pencil drawings as messy and childish, I like them. Moreover, I recognize that the illustrative style was an intentional choice. It is meant to have the quality of a child’s drawing. And despite this, she still captures expressions and emotions wonderfully.

I know that wordless stories aren’t always a popular format. However, I think this is one worth giving a chance. They’re great to use with children who can’t read yet or are just learning to read. It provides creative opportunities for kids to tell the story on their own, rather than reciting the text on the page and it encourages the development of decoding a visual environment.

This book earns 4 out of 5 stars. It’s clever and nicely designed. Bossio has a strong concept and execution. And if you’re in doubt–ask your child to read it to you.

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

Book Review: Francis, the Little Fox

19 Sep

Today’s book review is for Francis, the Little Fox, written by Veronique Boisjoly, illustrated by Katty Maurey, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I want to start off by praising the absolutely gorgeous book design. It’s a truly beautiful book. There is a certain quality to it that is reminiscent of vintage children’s books. Many of the pages feature an abundance of negative space–rather than trying to fill every page up, the designer has opted to create a sense of openness and leisurely pace.

Maurey’s illustrations are what really bring the book to life, though. Her retro style and muted palette are wonderful. There are plenty of images that would be perfect if framed on the wall of a child’s room. One would never guess that her pictures are digitally rendered, having small marks sometimes that make them look like they’ve been stamped or sponged onto the page. In particular I love the exteriors of the city. It has a classic feel, charming and quaint.

The writing is where I found flaws. The story itself is fun. I enjoyed reading about laundry day rituals and Francis’s rival Lily Rain Boots who is always playing pranks on him. It brought up a bit of nostalgia for me. It’s a fun plot and there are some great little details thrown in. The problem is that there are too many details thrown in. There’s some superfluous exposition at the beginning of the book that really wasn’t needed and gave the story a false start. Things could have been trimmed down a bit. 96 pages is a bit long for a picture book.

I also had a problem with the final “joke” of the book. It seemed a little insensitive–and while children are likely to laugh at it, I don’t think it’s something we should be encouraging them to laugh at.

So, I’m going with 3 out of 5 stars. There was some really great stuff about this book. But I’m generally not inclined to recommend books that promote the mocking of overweight people. It was a disappointing ending that left a bad taste in my mouth.

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