Vernon the Vegetarian Lion by John Hughson, Ali Smith

Vernon the Vegetarian LionVernon the Vegetarian Lion

by John Hughson, Ali Smith (Illustrator)

PDF, 32 pg.
Spiderwize, 2017
Read: March 13, 2018

I am thiiis close to spending too much time on this one. I shall try to refrain.

On the surface, this is a cute little story about a lion cub (Vernon) who suddenly decides to become a vegetarian and since he knows he won’t find vegetarian fare at home, takes off (after telling his parents what he’s up to) in search of animals that can help him pursue this idea. He tries this thing and that — none of which get him the nutrients he needs or even works for him. Finally, when he’s too week to go on, his dad shows up and brings him home, where Mom has come up with a vegetarian meal for him. There’s some fun stuff with the various animals he tries to mimic and whatnot and a heart-warming moment at the end.

But something about this doesn’t set right with me. See, lions aren’t vegetarians — it doesn’t work. This isn’t a case of Peter Hatcher’s mother putting his plate on the floor so that Fudge can pretend to be a dog for a few days. Or at least it doesn’t seem to be. Peter’s mom knows that this is a phase for Fudge to go through, and once it’s over, he’ll be back at a table like a human. Vernon’s mother doesn’t seem to be playing along until her figures out that he can’t eat that way (which is what I thought the book was going for initially), she seems to seriously be supporting him in his malnutrition. And that seems to send a strange message to kids.

Honestly, I know that most people reading the picture book aren’t going to think of it as much as I have, but … the rationale behind this book just bugged me. It didn’t seem like good parenting. And I’m uncomfortable with the message of a children’s book being “good parents are supportive even when you’re indulging in self-destructive behavior.”

Most of the artwork is pretty good — occasionally, it gets really good. There’s a picture of a hippopotamus that I cannot stop looking at. I’m not sure what it is about it, but it’s very arresting. Either way, it should keep little ones’ attentions.

If you’re looking for a cute story, this will fit the bill. And for 95% or so of the audience out there, that’s enough. This doesn’t quite work for me though, and I suspect I won’t be alone.

Disclaimer:I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, which he might regret now.

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3 Stars

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Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32 by B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen

Don't Ever Look Behind Door 32Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32

by B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 32 pg.
TaleBlade Press, 2018

Read: March 10, 2018

I was excited — yes, really — to get the email from TaleBlade asking if I’d like a copy of this book. Fegan/Wen’s previous book, Henry and the Hidden Treasure, was one of my favorite books of last year. Could they live up to that one? Thankfully, they could at least come close.

In these pages, Mr. Nicholas Noo takes two children on a tour of “the magical Hotel of Hoo” showing them all the wonderful things in store and repeatedly warning them, “Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32.” He shows what’s behind every other door in between the warnings, most of which is wonderful, some of which is just . . . odd (which I prefer, really). Unlike Disney’s Beast, however, Noo does more than tell the children not to go somewhere, he ultimately tells them why they shouldn’t go there.

I can’t tell you what a pleasant change that is — even if this book is intended for kids — to get a book where a character just tells the others characters everything they need to know to react in a responsible manner. But this isn’t the place for that rant (as tempting as it is).

This book isn’t as good as last year’s Henry and the Hidden Treasure but it’s close — the last page or so of Henry was a sweet note, this ended with a reveal/punchline. Is it bad? No — not at all, it’s just not as good in my eyes. That said, a punchline ending isn’t going to satisfy even a 3-4 year old on the 32nd read through (at least not on its own), but Fegan and Wen don’t rely on that — the book is full of jokes, clever lines, visual wonder, and lots of things to pay attention to along the way.

Sure, you want the book to be appealing to kids, but the real key to success for a kid’s book is appealing to parents/grandparents/caregivers. They’re the ones who have to read, reread, rereread, and rereread again these things. Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boyton enjoy long-lived success because adults enjoy reading them. I think I judge books like this on this standard, but I rarely do it self-consciously. This is one of those books that adults can have fun with even on the fourth “just one more time” of the night. Which has nothing to do with the big reveal at the end, but the trip you take along the way.

Wen’s art is just delightful. Really — the colors are vibrant, the characters look great, there’s something extra to grab your eye on every page. (which is also great for adult readers)

I’d say something neat about the typeface — it’s part of the look of the book, it’s fair game. But I say anything beyond “even the typeface is great looking” I’ll show I have no idea what I’m talking about, so that’s all I’m going to say there.

I can honestly say that I never envisioned having this much to say about a 32 page book, but once I got started, I couldn’t really stop. I really dug this book, you will, too — especially if you have kids to read it to.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinions about this book.

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4 Stars

Nils Cuts His Nails – The Scissors Game by Nurit Zvolon, Rotem Lots-Zaiden

Nils Cuts His Nails – The Scissors GameNils Cuts His Nails – The Scissors Game

by Nurit Zvolon. Rotem Lots-Zaiden (Illustrator)
Kindle Edition, 32 pg.
Simple Story, 2018
Read: March 10, 2018


The success of this book — like almost all of them for the pre-reading set — comes down to the effort put into it by whoever is reading the book to the child. If someone gets into the rhyme, oohs and ahhs over the art just right, and has a lot of fun with it, I can’t imagine how a kid won’t either.

Zvolon wrote this to help her granddaughters deal with the trauma of having their nails trimmed — which can be a struggle for some kids, I know. So Zvolon came up with a way to turn the experience into a game into something fantastical. She tells a very simple rhyming story about Nils overcoming his fear of getting his nails trimmed with the help of a game. It’s a neat idea told in an attractive fashion.

The art is something else — if it doesn’t make you think fantasy, nothing will. Rotem Lots-Zaiden doesn’t illustrate this like any contemporary children’s book — it feels like something that came out of the 1970’s — maybe early Sesame Street animation. This is not a bad thing, I think it serves the story pretty well, and the strange features and interesting colors should keep the attention of young readers.

I honestly never thought I’d read a book about trimming nails, or helping someone through the struggle of it. But now that I have, I can’t imagine a better one on the subject. This is good stuff, and I hope it helps some kids.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinions as expressed above.

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3 Stars

The Fed-up Cow by Peta Lemon, Maria Dasic Todoric

The Fed-up CowThe Fed-up Cow

by Peta Lemon, Maria Dasic Todoric (Illustrator)

eARC, 34 pg.
Quirky Picture Press, 2018

Read: February 14, 2018


Hilda’s a cow — a cow who is bored, fed up actually, with being a cow. From her vantage point, the life of a sheep, a pig, or a hen is so much better and more interesting than life as a cow. She samples each before coming to a conclusion — and learning a lesson about accepting who you are. The story is told in a rhyming verse that should appeal to younger readers/listeners.

Todoric’s art is engaging and entertaining — it tells at least half of the story on its own. Which is perfect for this age group, a child can follow the plot and “read” the story on their own without needing to actually read anything.

A cute story, charmingly told with attractive art. Pretty much what the doctor ordered.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

2017 Best Children’s/Picture Books

I’m not sure why people started sending me Children’s/Picture books. I’m fine with it, don’t get me wrong, I honestly enjoy them — I just don’t understand why people started sending them to me. But I’ll gladly read any sent my way. There was enough diversity in the one’s I received this year that I wanted to highlight those I enjoyed the most. If people are putting out material like this, I think it gives hopes that little kids will be turned on to books the way I was as a toddler.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Snobbity SnowmanSnobbity Snowman

by Maria Bardyukova, Quiet Riley, Jr.
My original post

Fun art work. Some fantastic use of language (especially when read aloud). A nice little story with a good moral. Ticks off every box.
4 Stars

Henry and the Hidden TreasureHenry and the Hidden Treasure

by B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen (Illustrator)
My original post

Was honestly tempted to put this on my 2018 Best Fiction list — I really loved this one, and wish I knew a kid to buy it for. Great imagination that will likely inspire someone else’s.
4 Stars

The Day My Fart Followed Me To HockeyThe Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey

by Sam Lawrence & Ben Jackson, Danko Herrera (Illustrator)
My original post

Anthropomorphic flatulence — what little kid isn’t going to pay attention to this? Adorable art, cute story.
3 Stars

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova & Quiet Riley, Jr.

Snobbity SnowmanSnobbity Snowman

by Maria Bardyukova, Quiet Riley, Jr.
Kindle Edition, 34 pg.
2017

Read: December 20, 2017


That cover tells you almost everything you need to know. Great cover.

Snobbity is not your typical Snowman — he’s got himself an attitude (although that might be more about what he’s made from, not anything wrong with him) and shortly after we meet him, things get rough for him. But there’s a lesson to be learned and as he does, things pick up for Snobbity. It’s pretty straightforward, with a nice twist toward the end.

One thing that ran through my head while reading this: this book would be so much fun to read to a kid. It starts the way pretty much every snowman story has to (the construction), then the language gets fun, then the story turns to sentimental/the lesson. Up and down and back up again, with a good movement forward. It’s something for for the grown up reader to sink their teeth into and entertain the audience.

The art is dynamic, it moves — right through the story, and helping the reader along — it’s goofy while heartfelt. Almost as much fun as the text. It’s just what the pre-reader/early reader will respond to.

This is a lot of fun with a good amount of hope — highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for my honest opinions — I think the authors, this was fun.

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4 Stars

Elephant Wind by Heather L. Beal, Jubayda Sager

Elephant WindElephant Wind

by Heather L. Beal, Jubayda Sager (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 28 pg.
Train 4 Safety Press, 2017
Read: December 12, 2017


So the day care is having a field trip to a science fair and the local tornado siren goes off, the teacher rushes the kids to the shelter and then starts answering questions for the frightened kids. She calms them, tells them what’s going on and how they (and their parents) can stay safe in the middle of a tornado. It’s a great way to respond to a time like this and a great way to lure in the readers so they will absorb the same lessons.

Now, I’m not convinced that you’re going to get kids living in an area that has the tornado shelters and sirens, etc. that are that old and not have some clue about what’s going on (sure, maybe a couple of people who’ve just moved into the area, but not that many) — but this book isn’t trying to go for accuracy, it’s trying to teach something. Like, say, about tornado shelters and sirens to kids so they know what they are before being taken to a shelter by their day care teacher. Basically, sure, it’s a plot problem, but this book doesn’t care about things like that.

Storywise, it’s just different enough from Tummy Rumble Quake (well, this was actually published first, I guess, but I read them in this order. Still, technically, Tummy Rumble Quake is just different enough from this), which is a pretty tricky thing to pull off, but will keep some kids from tuning out — it’s not just a case of “here we go again.” The ways to stay safe are clear, and will help minimize the fearfulness of the situation.

Again, on behalf of parents with little musical ability, some tips on how to sing this mnemonic song (a tune suggestion, perhaps), would be very helpful and welcome. The inclusion of the song is a great idea.

Sager’s art did the job — good use of colors and details, without overwhelming the reader and distracting them from the text. The tornado-elephant mashup pictures were an inspired choice — one suggested by the text, no doubt, but the execution was spot-on.

A wonderful idea and I’m pretty sure a great help for those in areas where this is a lesson to be taught. I’d encourage parents and others to grab this one, too.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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3 Stars