Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas

Title: Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Blabey
Published: Scholastic, 2019

 

Guys, have you ever walked past a book only to have a totally awesome cover page grab you and drag you right back? That’s exactly what happened to me with Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas. Those hilarious looking fish on the cover just…they spoke to me. With their cute little under-bites and their big, round eyes…I had to give them a closer look.

Very few times have picture books made me laugh hysterically in a bookstore. Notable among them are Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and this one. Other bookstore patrons looked at me in a way that I can only describe as “askance.” But whatever. They didn’t get the joy of meeting Brian, the vegan piranha. Their loss!

This book has everything. Piranhas! Fruit! People not fully understanding your food preferences! And, the best part (according to Lily): Bums.

And in case you’re still on the fence about whether or not you need your own copy (you do), here’s the plot, in five simple-to-read points:

  1. Brian the piranha LOVES fruit.
  2. His friends don’t. They prefer to eat…meat.
  3. You know, like knees and feet and such.
  4. Brian persuades them to try fruit.
  5. They think it’s meh. Bums instead of plums!

Sometimes the simplest stories are the best. Especially if they’re told with adorable fish and a ridiculous and hilarious premise.  As soon as I read Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas, I knew Lily HAD to have a copy. I bought it for a her for Christmas and it almost killed me not to give it to her sooner. I let Vivi read it ahead of time and she said, “Oh, Lily’s going to LOVE this one.”

And she does. I always read this book to Lily with a British accent. (I know Aaron Blabey is Australian….I just can’t do that accent properly. It always ends up sounding vaguely British/southern American after, like, three words.) After several weeks of reading this story multiple times at bedtime, Lily reads along now (in her cute little pretend-British accent) and still cracks up when we reach the ‘bum’ page. Some things will never, ever grow old. This is one of them.

Mama’s Review: Ten fins up!
Lily’s Review: “All the bums!”

 

Escargot

Title: Escargot
Author: Dashka Slater
Illustrator: Sydney Hanson
Published: Macmillan Publishing Group, 2017

 

Happy new year, you guys! Can you believe it’s 2020? I’m having a hard time with it. Wasn’t it just 2010? Wasn’t it just 2000? Wasn’t it just 1990? Wasn’t…well, okay, I can’t go back a lot further than that, because I was a kid in the eighties…and didn’t exist before then.

But still. Life is going by very fast. Very fast indeed. Which is why it’s time to slow right down with a snail-themed book! Meet Escargot, the cutest little snail on the block. I took this book out of the library based on a few reviews I saw online. I read it to Lily one day while we were waiting for Vivi to join us for lunch. (Lily was out of school a LOT in December because of an ongoing cold…which, thankfully, has cleared up. And will probably return next week, as soon as she goes back to school. Sigh.) Lily absolutely, positively, 100% LOVED the book. And so did Vivi! Why? Let me break it down:

  1. Escargot is adorable. He has a little ascot! He has a striped shirt and beret! What more do you want in a snail?
  2. He has the sweetest little personality. All he wants is to be your favourite animal – and he’s willing to show you how great a choice a snail is. They make shiny little shimmer trails! They are fearless! They’re kinda speedy! OK, so maybe not those last two. But Escargot has a healthy self-image because…
  3. Escargot knows that he’s beautiful. In fact, he’s absolutely fine if you’d like to give him a kiss. Or stroke his shell. Or anything, really. He just wants a friend.
  4. The whole story takes us on a journey to a salad at the end of the book – and although Escargot isn’t delighted by the carrots in said salad, he’s willing to try one if the reader is game.
  5. When you finally reach the end of the book, Escargot eats the salad at record speed and, well, you the reader don’t get any. But that’s okay! And it’s also okay that you might not choose a snail as a favourite animal, because Escargot loves you anyway.

Aw! It’s so rare to find a book this pure-hearted. It’s just lovely from start to finish. Lily is desperate for a copy to add to our library (I think she really wants to pat and/or kiss the pages, and feels like a library book has to be treated a little more carefully than that).  I’m going to pick up a copy for her birthday. She’ll love it! And so will you. Escargot is wonderful (and, honestly, if snails actually had tiny neck-scarves and berets, they would 100% be my favourite animal).

Lily’s review: I wish Escargot was our pet.

Vivi’s review: Hey, yeah! We could have a snail pet. No one is allergic to snails, right?

Mama’s review: 5/5 tiny ascots.

Penguin Problems vs. It’s Not All Rainbows

Title: It’s Not All Rainbows
Author/Illustrator: Jessika von Innerebner
Published: Scholastic, 2019

 

Title: Penguin Problems
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Published: Random House, 2016

Today on Jess Reviews a book, we’re going to do what many a high school English assignment was about: comparing and contrasting. The two books? It’s Not All Rainbows and Penguin Problems. On the surface, they might appear different…but the stories are actually about the same thing:  a creature (in one case a unicorn, in the other, a penguin) having a really bad day and having to cope with it. Relatable? Sure! We’ve all been there. And the key thing to getting through a bad day is how you handle it.

Personally, I feel that copious amounts of chocolate is the only solution, but that applies to most things in life.

Anyway, the books.

What I found interesting was how each author handled the bad days.

In It’s Not All Rainbows, we meet Kevin the Unicorn. His life is bright and sparkly until…he wakes up on the floor of his room one morning. That’s never a good way to start your day, and it only goes downhill from there. Kevin tries to stay happy. He looks at his motivational posters. He sets out with every intention to have a good day. But…calamity after calamity befalls him. His car runs out of gas! He gets stuck in the rain! He ends up getting CLAM juice to drink! Everything spirals out of control until…Kevin can stand it no longer. He finally admits that he’s having a really, truly, lousy, crummy day. And…surprisingly, he’s not alone. Four more unicorns admit that things aren’t exactly roses and sunshine in their lives either.  And it is then that they realize: unicorns don’t always have perfect days. And that’s okay.

The art in this book is terrific. The colourful unicorns, the sparkles on the front cover, the excellent expressions on the unicorns’ faces. All super. Lily loves this story and we’ve read it countless times. I love the message: not every day is going to be perfect, but it’s going to be alright. Or, in the words of my favourite 1980’s sitcom, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…the facts of life.”

Ahem.

Onto Penguin Problems! 

First things first: I chose this book at the library because it was adorable. The cover is super-interesting, in that it’s done with a penguin pattern and has the title on the BACK instead of the front. Crazy! I loved the design and I really liked the art in the book. So, A+ for art.

But the story. Oh, the story. It starts out with a penguin complaining about everything. His beak is too cold. There’s too much snow. It’s too bright. NOTHING is making little penguin happy. His day is just going HORRIBLY. Which, as a parent, I totally get. My kids are like this sometimes! Occasionally, there’s literally NOTHING I can do to make their little worlds brighter. So usually I tell them to go read a book and/or draw and chill out by themselves for a bit. It gives them something to do and gives me a break from hearing how unfair life is. (SO UNFAIR, in case you were wondering.)

What I don’t do with my kids is give them a lecture about counting their blessings. When someone is having a bad day/when things aren’t going well, they don’t need a lecture about what they SHOULD be feeling. They need someone to say, “OK, things are tough. Some days are like that. But let’s try to find something for you to do to make you feel a bit better. You can talk to me or write about it or just go chill out for a bit.” And that usually helps.

About 3/4 of the way through the story (after many pages of penguin complaints), an old walrus shows up to drop some hard truths on the little bird. It’s a literal full page of walrus-speech. He basically tells the penguin that yeah, he’s having a bad day, but there’s a lot of good stuff to appreciate and that he (the walrus) wouldn’t trade his life for another and he bets the penguin wouldn’t either. Which, I don’t know, based on the amount of complaining he was doing, I’m fairly certain the penguin would swap places with a Florida flamingo in a heartbeat, but I digress.

This is the problem I have with the story: the walrus kind of kills the momentum (other than the page of dense text, the rest of the story has just a few sentences per page). Also, he shuts the penguin down. Just…shuts him down. There’s no comeback to the walrus. There’s no way to say, “Dude, mind your own beeswax.” It’s an adult saying to a kid “Yeah, you’re unhappy, but you shouldn’t be. You should be grateful for what you have.”

And then, after that lecture, what’s with the penguin’s instant change of heart? Also quite unbelievable. No one responds to “Count your blessings” with “OK! Let me get started RIGHT NOW! I don’t know WHAT I was thinking. You’re clearly right!” The penguin was SO miserable before…I don’t think a lecture from a nosy walrus would immediately turn his day around for the better.

I read this book to Vivi and Lily and they were initially stoked because:

  1. They also loved the art.
  2. Penguins

It was all fine (as in, they were listening intently) until we hit the walrus page. At that point, they visibly lost interest. They didn’t find the story very satisfying at the end, and they haven’t asked to read it again.

So I read it myself. I’ll often do that if I find the girls don’t really like a book. Sometimes it helps to read it alone, as an adult. And I found that in this case. I get it, from an adult’s point-of-view. As an adult you get caught up in all the “stuff” of life. All the things you’re worried about, your family and friends, your job, your house…the world in general. It helps to be reminded that you’re where you need to be. That things will work out. That’s a message that, as an adult, I can appreciate and understand, because I have many years of experience and I know that bad days don’t go on forever. But kids? They don’t know that yet. So what they need is someone to guide them through their tough days, not shut them down. They need a helping hand, not a lecturing walrus.

The girls gave It’s Not All Rainbows a solid A+.

Penguin Problems got an A for the art, but the story just wasn’t what they needed to hear.

The Great Santa Stakeout

 

Title: The Great Santa Stakeout
Author: Betsy Bird
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019

 

Alright, alright…I know what you’re going to say. “You’re reviewing ANOTHER Dan Santat book? ANOTHER ONE? Girl, this blog is called ‘Jess Reviews a Book,’ not ‘Jess Just Reviews Dan Santat and Talks Incessantly About How Much Of A GIANT Fan She Is.’ Also, side note, never call it that because the URL would be insane.”

Welp FYI, I didn’t choose this book. This book chose me. Or, more accurately, this book was chosen FOR me FROM the library BY Lily.

It just happened to be illustrated by world’s greatest children’s book illustrator, Mr. Dan Santat. (Applause goes here.)

It’s written by Betsy Bird, author of another book we really like –  Giant Dance Party!

Put them both together, and you’ve got a winning recipe, right? Right?

That has to be right, doesn’t it?

Yes, of course it is.

The book is all about Freddy Melcher, Santa’s number one fan. (I thought that was my best friend’s mom, Barb. Barb’s tagline is “If you don’t believe in Santa, you don’t get any presents.”) He loves Santa in a way only a true fan can: by dressing up like him for birthdays and holidays unrelated to Christmas. And by collecting stuff – LOTS of stuff. Santa figures, Santa posters, Santa EVERYTHING. (This also describes my mother’s approach to Christmas.)

But he’s missing one key collectable: a selfie with Santa.

So, Freddy being a clever young lad, devises a surefire plan to catch Santa in the act and snap his photograph.

Everything seems to be going well. The traps have been set. Christmas Eve has arrived and Freddy has convinced his parents that everything is totally normal, nothing to see here. Freddy fall asleep. Until…a terrible crash from the roof awakens him! He jumps out of bed and sees…something fall off the roof!

Oh, no! Santa’s a goner!

Just kidding, He’s not, obviously. But I don’t want to give away the ending, so let’s just say “You can’t outwit the big elf.”

Let’s talk about what’s good about this book:

  1. Great art. Fabulous art. Wonderful art. Just…perfect. Did I mention that my wonderful husband bought me a picture from After the Fall and it hangs above my desk and I love it so? Because he did. And it does. And I do. And, if you’re wondering, it’s the picture where Humpty is shopping for cereal. It’s one of my favourite pictures in a kid’s book EVER.
  2. The story is fast-paced and the writing is crisp. One thing I find when reading Giant Dance Party is that it’s a bit on the wordy side. My kiddos love a long story, so they enjoy it a lot…but having worked with kids who haven’t got the attention span for something so long, I appreciate the brevity of The Santa Stakeout.
  3. The story is funny. Lily really enjoyed the whole thing, and thought the ending was clever.

Since we received 8000 cm (approximately) of snow yesterday, now feels like a good time to start in on Christmas celebrations.* If you’re living in a winter wonderland too, this is the perfect story to start the season.

Mama’s review: It’s Dan Santat, so obviously 5 million thumbs up.
Lily’s comment: “I really like the story! But…but…really, you’re Santa, right? And…you don’t climb on the roof, right? Because you’d fall off.” (What can I say, the girl knows her mama.)

*Karl has adamantly insisted that we are NOT to put up the Christmas tree until after Vivi’s birthday (right at the end of the month). So the girls and I have decided that probably just applies to the BIG green tree, but no to the smaller, more decorative trees. Or the hot pink one with neon pink lights. That one is going up this weekend.

Waiting

 

Title: Waiting
Author/Illustrator: Kevin Henkes
Published: HarperCollins, 2015

 

I fell like we spend a lot of our time waiting. I know that when I was a kid, it was always “wait until you’re such-and-such years old and you’ll be able to do that thing you want to do.” When I was a teenager, it was waiting to drive. Then waiting to finish school. Then, when I was an adult, waiting to have a career, to move out. Then waiting to meet someone. Then waiting to get married…have kids…fulfil your destiny and achieve your dreams and…yeah. A lot of waiting, really.

I guess the most important thing is to spend all that time with people you love, doing things you enjoy, living the best life you can while you wait. Because time is going to pass – it’s inevitable. But how we use it? Up to us.

Anyway, waiting!

That’s what the five friends (toys on a windowsill, to be specific) in Kevin Henkes’ Waiting are doing. They’re waiting for different things. The owl, for instance, is waiting for the moon. The pig is waiting for the rain (she has an umbrella, not to worry), the bear with the kite is waiting for the wind. The puppy with the sled is waiting for the snow…and the rabbit isn’t waiting for anything, really. He just enjoys gazing out the window.

As the book progresses, we see each of the friends get the thing they were waiting for – and they’re delighted.

We then follow the friends through their days. It’s a gentle journey through seasons and weather and exciting events. They even had a visitor who stayed a little while…and then sadly had to leave and never return (he seems to have shattered on the floor).

One day, a new friend comes to join them. She’s a cat who doesn’t seem to be waiting for anything at all…except…she’s a matryoshka doll! When all of the little cats inside of her burst out, the friend group is complete. The book ends with all ten friends  at the window, waiting happily together.

I love this book – I love the art in particular (so did the Caldecott Award selection committee – this one got an honour). The pictures are so simple, so sweet, so pastel-hued and relaxing. I wish I could draw 1/100th as well as Kevin Henkes, for real.

The story is more of a series of events than an actual ‘solving-a-problem’ kind of book. But it works – it all works so well together.

I wasn’t sure what Lily would think of the book. She’s a huge sucker for humour, and this one wasn’t really ‘funny,’ per say.

But…she loved it. I think the addition of the cat figure really helped to seal the deal (our Lily is a bit crazy for cats).

If you’re looking for a really calming, gentle bedtime book (and, honestly, who isn’t?), this is the story for you.

Mama’s Review: Kevin Henkes is just an honest-to-goodness genius, is all.

Lily’s Review: 5 matryoshka cats/5

 

Pig the Stinker

 

 

Title: Pig the Stinker
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Blabey
Published: Scholastic, 2019

 

Lily is a funny kid. She’s funny as in a little weird (like her mama), but she’s also got a great sense of humour for a four-year-old. One thing that totally appeals to her is gross-out humour…specifically, poop.

Yup. She’s that kid.

Vivi never was into that kind of thing/isn’t to this day. She finds gross things gross. (I completely agree. I think Lily takes after Karl.)

Lily’s love of grossness is why she’s a big fan of Pig the Pug.

We got Pig the Stinker from a Scholastic book order. I wasn’t familiar with Pig the character, but when I saw that it was written by Aaron Blabey, I knew we had to grab a copy of the book. We’re big Aaron Blabey fans in this house. (Thelma the Unicorn is our personal favourite, but Pig is a very close second.)

In this particular book, Pig the Pug’s personal hygiene is discussed in depth. He’s sorta, kinda, really disgusting. He doesn’t like taking baths/getting clean (much to the dismay of his long-suffering house-mate, Trevor the wiener dog). So Pig comes up with an ingenious plan: he avoids bath time by stopping up the bathtub with a small toy. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t exactly have the effect he was looking for and…well…the bathroom explodes.

Three things Lily loves especially about this book:

  1. Pig is a total jerk. He crows and laughs at everyone when he stops up the pipe. He’s incorrigible!
  2. The bathroom explodes. That is hilarious in every situation except real-life. Real life bathroom explosions are never, ever funny.
  3. Trevor’s facial expressions. OK, so maybe that’s me. I really love Trevor and can completely sympathize with him. I love the droopy-snout expression he has on the very last page. We’ve all felt like that, Trevor. You’re not alone, my Dachshund friend.

Lily has asked for this book every single night for the past two weeks. So…she really enjoys it. We’ve ordered several more and are waiting with bated breath for the next few to arrive via the beloved Scholastic book order.

If you’ve got a kid who enjoys a bit of off-colour humour, you’re in luck! Pig will fit the bill perfectly.

Mama’s review: 5 Trevors/5

Lily’s review: “Pig is so gross…but so funny!”

More Bears!

 

Title: More Bears!
Author: Kenn Nesbitt
Illustrator: Troy Cummings
Published: Sourcebooks – jabberwocky, 2010

 

Lily and I were at the library today. We were supposed to pick up three books I’d put on hold. Simple, quick in-and-out kinda visit.

Long story short, we left with seventeen books.

Fourteen more than we had intended. But whatever! The extras were all from the children’s section and they’re all pretty darn terrific (okay, some more than others…but we’ll get to them all in good time). Today’s review is of a book I chose based purely on two things:

  1. The cover art.
  2. The fact that it’s about bears.

Yes, I literally judged this book’s worthiness by its cover. But I was right! It’s a good one!

If you’ve done any kind of reading of children’s stories, you know that bears are *pretty* popular characters. They’re funny and goofy and lumbering and just kind of fun to draw.

In this specific story, the author is just trying to write a book that includes exactly zero bears. None. Nada. Zilch. No bears required, thankyouverymuch.

And that seems to be a solid plan, except…some kids keep yelling “MORE BEARS!” over and over and, well, eventually the author caves and adds just one bear (give the audience what they want, right?).

But…the kids STILL want “MORE BEARS!” so the author adds one more. And then another…and another…and…well, a lot of bears, really.

The thing is, the bears get grumpy because the book is over-crowded. And that makes the author rather displeased. And what do authors do when they’re upset? Rewrite, peeps. Rewrite all night.

So, away go the bears! Ah, everything is perfect.

Until, of course, the kids decide that maybe the story just needs more chickens.

I read this book aloud to the entire family, so I have reviews from all four of us! Here’s what we thought:

Vivi: I really like the art. It’s colourful and fun to look at. Also, the story is hilarious. All books are better with the addition of bears!

Lily: I like the part where the kids yell “MORE CHICKENS!” at the end. Maybe that will be the next book the author writes!

Daddy: It’s kind of a one-joke book, but it’s done really well.

Mama: I like the fact that the author is a character in the book. The rewrite part was accurate. Also, bears. So many bears. Have I mentioned that I have a soft spot for bear books? This book is also a lot of fun to read aloud. Bonus points for that!

Read this book – it’s un-bear-ably funny! (Sorry, I had to.)

 

Overall grade: 5/5 bears…plus a couple of chickens for good luck.