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.


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.


3 Stars

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova & Quiet Riley, Jr.

Snobbity SnowmanSnobbity Snowman

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

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.


4 Stars

Tummy Rumble Quake by Heather L. Beal, Jubayda Sager

Tummy Rumble QuakeTummy Rumble Quake

by Heather L. Beal, Jubayda Sager (Illustrator)

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

So the class (or whatever you call them) at this day care center is prepping for something called the Great ShakeOut (apparently a real thing — I’m glad to hear that it exists), which is an Earthquake Preparedness activity. As part of that, they learn a bit about what causes earthquakes, what to do during one to say safe, and get some questions answered about the safety of others.

So you get a little bit of a narrative — just enough to give the kids something to hang on to — and you run it through some basic lessons that are given in a way to help the reader (or person being read to) remember and learn from them. I don’t know if seismologists would use the comparison to a rumbling tummy, but how many of them write children’s books? It’s a comparison that’ll stick.

My main — really, only — gripe with this is the song. There’s no way to know how to sing this — I’m sure it’s best set to a familiar tune, but I have no idea what would work. I’d want to sing this to any kids I read this to/with — and I have so little musical ability that there’s no way I could even begin to guess what it should sound like. It’s a great idea, and just the kind of thing that’d help cement the lessons in the mind of the target audience. But without a tune, it’s just a little rhyme that isn’t nearly as effective.

Sager’s art does the job — the colors are great and eye-catching. It’s clearly drawn on a computer, but retains a hand-drawn feel. I can’t say I was dazzled by it, but I can also say that I’ve seen worse. I can’t imagine many children in the target audience wouldn’t find the illustrations suitable and effective (but probably not in those words).

This book is such a great idea — really. I like the concept, I think the execution is good, too. This is the kind of thing that’ll implant itself in little brains and stay there for years. Parents, teachers, librarians, grandparents, and so on would really do well to pick this up and put it in front of young eyes.

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


3 Stars

Moshe Comes to Visit by Tehila Sade Moyal, Fatima Pires

Moshe Comes to VisitMoshe Comes to Visit

by Tehila Sade Moyal, Fatima Pires (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 30 pg.
Simple Story, 2017

Read: November 2, 20017

I feel like saying anything less than positive about this cute little book is the equivalent of kicking a puppy. Which doesn’t mean that this is going to be glowing, it just means that I’m already feeling bad about what I’m going to say.

Martin hears something that scares him in the night — a classic starting point for a kid’s book — and his parents try to help him find the monsters. They turn on the lights, look through his room, etc. This is all well and good so far, until we get the couplet: “In this manner, several nights go by, / With no apparent fear in either parent’s eyes.” Huh? The parent’s aren’t scared? Isn’t that the point? Anyway, Dad gets the idea to write “an agreement with fears.”

This agreement is the key to the book — there’s even a blank Agreement form in the back for the reader’s own use. Sadly, I don’t understand the agreement — and I can’t imagine that I’m the only parent who’d like to try something like this, but can’t figure out exactly what’s supposed to be the point.

We transition from this to Martin’s mother beings scared by something in her bathroom. Great idea — even moms and dads get scared. It turns out that Mom’s scared by a cockroach — a talking ‘roach, I should stress — who Martin befriends. I like, I really like this part of the story. And then to help Mom deal with her fear of Moshe, Martin comes up with an agreement for his mom like the one they came up with earlier for him. I even kind of understood this one.

As soon as it’s accomplished, Moshe leaves and the book’s over. What? I don’t get it. This book is supposed to help kids deal with their fears — and it might, work in the original language,but in English . . . . nope.

Pires’ art was fine. Nothing fantastic, but that’s it. I’d have appreciated a smaller cockroach, but if he can talk, maybe he’s like one of Narnia’s Talking Beasts and has to be larger. I’m not sure. Otherwise, that was fine.

It’s cute, and comes close to working, but just doesn’t. A little editing, a little clarifying, and maybe you have a cute book that helps kids with fears. Right now, it just doesn’t.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.


2 1/2 Stars

The Flying Frog and the Kidnappers by David Yair, ilana Graf, Natalie Jackson

The Flying Frog and the KidnappersThe Flying Frog and the Kidnappers

by David Yair, ilana Graf (Illustrator), Natalie Jackson (Illustrator)
Series: The Flying Frog, #4

Kindle Edition, 34 pg.
Simple Story, 2017

Read: October 3, 2017

I don’t like not liking books, but not liking a kid’s book (and putting that online!) makes me feel like I kicked a puppy.

But . . .

This was just a mess — the grammar was inconsistent (I think this says more about the translator), there wasn’t even a paragraph to help new readers to the series (like me) orient themselves into the nature of a talking frog (in a world that not every frog talks), why the frog is wrapped up in balloon strings when we first get to him, etc.

And then the story itself just made no sense — not in a good way, either. I really don’t want to say that the characters are flat, because they’re not really characters — they’re names and genders, and that’s about it. The kidnappers make Jasper and Horace seem like Ocean’s Eleven.

This is supposed to be for readers 9-14 years of age. I can’t imagine any self-respecting 6 year old liking this, much less a 14 year-old. Sure, I know we all read, and learn how to read, at our own pace. I don’t want to say that it’s bad for a 9 year-old to enjoy a book written at this level, but generally, at this age, readers should be reading about the Kings and Queens at Cair Paravel, the unlikely thief who went There and Back Again, or The Boy Who Lived, not this kind of thing.

If I came into this series at Book 1, would I like it better? Possibly. It could happen, it’s possible that with more context this’d work. But I have a hard time believing it. I didn’t dislike this book, I guess I pitied it, more than anything, really.

You and your kids can find better.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, sorry it didn’t work out better for him.


2 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…B.C.R. Fegan

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a wonderful children’s book, Henry and the Hidden Treasure, and now the author of that book, B.C.R. Fegan is back on the blog for a few questions about the book and his writing in general.

I’m fascinated by the process of putting together a book like this — have you and Wen worked together before? Do you script it out, including the images, like a comic book writer?
Henry and the Hidden Treasure was the first book that Wen and I worked on together. She is an extremely talented illustrator which is what caught my eye in the beginning.

The actual process of working with an illustrator is fairly straightforward. Generally, the first step is to have a designer who can lay out the book with the required margins and provide the text at a size appropriate for the age group. This layout (or scamp) makes it easy for the illustrator to see how much room they have to play with, and where any negative space should be.

The next step is the brief itself. For Henry and the Hidden Treasure, a fair amount of direction was provided. This is only because when I write, I do it with the illustrations in mind. For children in this age group, the visual aspect of the story comes first and the narrative provides reinforcement to their imagination. This is why I needed scenes drawn in specific ways or from certain perspectives.

The way this is done is simply by scripting out each page with characters, events, actions taking place and anything else that reinforces what is going on in that scene. Other aspects include any colors (if they are important), lighting, perspectives, emotions or a certain ambience that I’m looking for. In addition to this, I provide overall direction that is important or that might be helpful to the illustrator. What is great though with talented artists, is they can take this direction and elevate it to a place even more impressive than the scenes visualized in the mind.

The third step is really the fine tuning. As the illustrations are completed and sent through, they are checked. Sometimes they are great the way they are – at other times, there might be some minor amendments.

The final step is receiving the files in a project format ready for the design stage.

As I mentioned it is fairly straightforward but by no means the only way of working with an illustrator. Wen and I work together really well and the process has always been quite smooth. I’m very lucky to know her.

Of all the ideas flitting around your head, what was it about this one that made you say, “this is the one.”
When I consider ideas for children’s books, I generally try to center my thoughts on exciting subjects or narratives. I want my books to be filled with imagination rather than lessons. So for Henry and the Hidden Treasure, the whole idea came about from considering hidden treasure – particularly as a child might perceive it. It was from this point that the story itself was crafted.

Once complete, I didn’t really pick up the manuscript and think that it was ‘the one’. I guess my approach might be a little different to other authors, but by centering my thoughts on something that children already find exciting, I’m fairly confident that the idea will naturally develop into a nice story.

I appreciated the subtlety of the moral/lesson to Henry and the Hidden Treasure — how’d you decide to convey it that way?
As I mentioned previously, the subject of hidden treasure was where the story began. I think this leant itself quite well to considering what real hidden treasure might be in the context of the family unit – particularly with siblings.

I wanted this to be a subtle theme rather than the driving force behind the book, mainly because I think imagination should take priority. Too many books start with the lesson, and often the narrative feels contrived.

In the writing of Henry and the Hidden Treasure, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
This is a difficult question. Henry and the Hidden Treasure actually came together fairly organically. I guess in a sense, writing it was quite easy. However, I remember something my father once said to me that I think applies to authors as well.

I remember as a child watching my father, a locksmith, unlock customer’s front doors very quickly – sometimes in just a few seconds. On the rare occasion, a minor objection would be made about the cost in relation to the time it took to open the lock. He explained to me later that what so many people fail to realize is that his ability to open the lock so quickly was because he had dedicated his life to perfecting his craft. What sat behind those few seconds, was decades of training, study, understanding the right tools and constant practice.

I enjoy writing, and have been reading and writing for as long as I can remember. Henry and the Hidden Treasure was definitely a pleasure to write and I certainly wouldn’t say any aspect of it was difficult. However I don’t want to leave the impression that this was just a lucky break. The difficulty for most authors I think lies in everything that came before!

What’s next for you? Are you sticking with the children’s books?
I actually have a long list of children’s books going through the stages of publishing. The next one should be out toward the end of the year. In addition to children’s books, I am in the process of writing Young Adult Fiction. I think the future will include children’s picture books, young adult fiction – and probably everything in between.
Thanks for your time, Mr. Fegan. Readers (especially those with younger kids) — go check out Henry and the Hidden Treasure.