Come With Me

 

Title: Come With Me
Author: Holly M. McGhee
Illustrator: Pascal Lamaitre
Published: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

I’m going to subtitle this review “My Unpopular Opinion: Feel Free to Disagree.”  But first, a disclaimer: I really, really WANTED to like this book. Honest. I had never heard of Come With Me before, but I found it on a “best of” list. The reviews on Goodreads were (mostly) positive. People on Amazon seemed to like it. I was stoked! This was going to be a great book.

But it wasn’t.

Not for me, anyway. Everyone has their own preferences in kid lit, as in everything. I was worried I was missing something (the ‘this is so great!’ that everyone else seemed to feel when reading the story), so I gave it to my husband to peruse (he’s pretty well-versed in kid lit himself…and he works in the children’s entertainment industry). He was as confused as I was. The book isn’t complicated, don’t get me wrong. The intent is good. But the delivery is somewhat lackluster. Let’s break it down:

We start with a little girl who happens to be watching what is probably the news on TV. Obviously, something bad has happened, as the text tells us: “All over the world, the news told and told and retold of anger and hatred — people against people.” The girl was, understandably, scared. She asks her dad what she can do to make the world a better place.  So far, so good. I turned the page eagerly to see what her dad would say. (“Donate to the food bank!” “Sell lemonade to raise money for charity!” “Buy a homeless person a meal!”)

Her dad told her to come with him. They went to the subway and tipped their hats at people on the platform and then continued to ride the subway.

Huh?

Confused? I was. I mean, I get the idea that they’re overcoming fear by going on the subway, good, fine. But that’s not what the girl asked. She specifically asked how to make the world a better place. Tipping your hat at your fellow subway-riders would likely lead to one of two things happening:
1. Bewildered smiles
2. Raised eyebrows (because, honestly? Who tips a hat anymore? Like, maybe an 80-year-old grandpa…)

But it does not make the world a better place.

Next, the girl asks her mom the same question (presumably because she didn’t get a straight answer from her dad).

Her mom tells her to “come with me.” Mother and daughter go to a grocery store. This is one of the most disjointed parts of this book (I’m quoting directly so you see the problem I’m having with writing here):
“They went to their grocery to buy some things for dinner–because one person doesn’t represent a family or a race or a people of a land.”

That just felt so…incomplete. I actually flipped the pages a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t skipped a page/someone hadn’t torn a page out (it’s a library book). But no, that was the way it was written. The grocery store is clearly multi-cultural, but in this case, I feel the writer was leaning far too hard on the artist to help fill in any story gaps. It’s just not clear from the text how grocery shopping relates to generalizing the behaviour of one person to a group of people.

Buying stuff at a grocery store does not make the world a better place (which, again, is what the girl asked about). It means you need food and are supporting a local business (good stuff). But that’s about it.

Then we get into a short lesson on table-setting. Literally, a detailed description of how one sets a table. And again, as an adult I get the concept: you’re carrying on with regular life despite whatever terrible things are happening in the world. But this book isn’t for me. It’s for kids, and my kids didn’t get it. They had lost interest at this point (more on my thoughts about that in a moment).

After the family eats, the little girl decides to do something on her own. So she asks to walk the family dog. Her parents decide to let her (even though the news is still blaring in the background during dinner – crazy idea, maybe turn off CNN if your child is experiencing anxiety). So out she goes. Another kid joins her. And they join another kid who’s drawing with chalk. Eventually, a whole lot of people are drawing in chalk.  The end.

The best part of the book is after the kids go outside and meet up with each other. The text is sweet: “Brave, gentle, strong — and kind…to one another and all living things. And tiny as it was, their part mattered to the world. Your part matters too.” The message here is strong and definitely one I can get behind. The only trouble is, my kids were long gone when I got to the end. And here’s why:

  1. They’re both young. Although picture books are generally written for their age group (they’re 3 and 5), this one definitely was not. Unless your 3 or 5 year old had witnessed something terrible, this book would make absolutely no sense to them and would lead to questions like: “Why did they say people hate each other? People don’t hate each other.” I am not going to shatter that illusion just yet. From their perspective, everyone is a friend and life is pretty peaceful and sweet. Yes, I know how insanely lucky they are to believe that. No, my own childhood wasn’t like that. But they honestly believe everyone likes everyone. They’ll find out the truth soon enough.
  2. The story isn’t very interesting. It’s actually really mundane, and that’s the point. You just go on in your daily life after something bad happens. But, actually, that itself is a problem: the girl didn’t ask “how do you just go on after something bad happens?” She specifically asked for a way to make the world a better place. Her parents aren’t forthcoming in that regard. They could’ve given her fifteen different ideas as to what she could actively do to actively help. Tipping your hat and grocery shopping do not improve the world. One could argue that drawing with chalk does (at least it beautifies the world around you), but the girl figured that one out on her own.
  3. The art is good, but not great. When you compare this art with something (anything) drawn by Dan Santat or Oliver Jeffers or Jon Klassen or the late Anna Dewdney or the late Phoebe Gilman or…well, you get the idea, it’s just not at the same level. It does its job, but doesn’t stand out as super-exceptional.

So I WISH I could like this book. And maybe it would be of use if you were using it with a grade 2+ to help with coping after something terrible happens in the world. I could get behind that. Maybe as a gift to an adult after a tragedy. But this isn’t the type of book you can just pick up and read to any kid at any time. It isn’t a story book, and it isn’t really for little ones.

Just my opinion. Feel free to disagree and let me know your point of view!

Mama’s review: Not for me
* The kids didn’t hear the whole thing, so no review from them today.

 

 

 

 

Square

 

Title: Square
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published: Candlewick Press, 2018

 

Square is the most recent shape-based story collaboration between author Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen. (Square is one of an eventual trilogy. I’ll review Triangle here soon…and Circle when it comes out!) The names of the author and illustrator probably sound very familiar if you’ve got kiddos…these guys are rock stars in the picture book world. Admittedly, I am a pretty massive Jon Klassen fan (I Want My Hat Back is among my top 25 picture books ever) and the more I read of Mac Barnett’s work, the more I like his work. Square is no exception. It is absolutely fabulous.

My girls immediately recognized Jon Klassen’s style as ‘the guy who drew the hat book!’ Lily really loves the design of square (and circle). There was something captivating about the simplicity of the art in this book- Lily loved examining each page.

But what of the story? Read on!

The story follows Square, a hard-working shape who moves square-shaped blocks from his secret cave onto a pile (it’s tough work, but somebody’s gotta do it). Everything is great, until his buddy Circle shows up and sees a block. She assumes that Square carved it himself, to look like himself. Circle tells Square that he’s a sculptor – a genius! She asks him to make a sculpture of her. Square has no idea how he will make a block into something as perfect as Circle. He works and chips away and tries his best…to no avail. He ends up falling asleep surrounded by rock pieces. And then it starts to rain.

I don’t want to give away the ending, so I’ll stop there. When I first read Square, I really didn’t see where the story was going. I absolutely LOVE picture books like this. All too often, you start reading a kid’s book, get a few pages in and then immediately see how everything will wrap up. In this case, I couldn’t figure out how Square would overcome his problem. He chopped up the block! It rained! Circle showed up early! He’s in trouble! But, of course, everything works out well. And Circle still thinks he’s a genius.

I love the fact that these books end with a question. In this case, “But was he really?” referring to the fact that, perhaps, Square’s ‘genius’ was more luck…but you can be the judge of that!

We’re definitely going to be picking up a copy of Square, Triangle and (eventually) Circle for our own library.

 

Mama’s review: It’s hip to be square!
Vivi’s review: A
Lily’s review: “He’s not really a genius, is he?”

 

Morris Mole

 

Title: Morris Mole
Author/Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino
Published: Harper, 2017

Sometimes you stumble upon a book that proves to be more delightful than you initially anticipated based on its cover art. In this case, it was Morris Mole who stole my heart.

Now, moles aren’t exactly the *cutest* animals in real life. I admit, I’m a sucker for a naked mole rat’s ‘so-ugly-it’s-cute-ness,’ but after reading Morris Mole’s story, I’ve fallen for the regular, garden-variety type of mole as well.

We meet Morris and his several brothers (all of whom appear to be in the construction trade). Morris is the smallest of the mole siblings, and he’s also the only one dressed in a bowler cap and suit (which means, of course, that he has an English accent when I read his lines). When the brothers mention the fact that they’ve run out of food, Morris tries to share his brilliant idea with them…with no luck. While the brothers head out for some serious digging down, Morris decides to dig…up!

When Morris comes to the surface, he sees more beauty than ever before. He meets friendly critters, smells good smells and, best of all, finds all kinds of scrumptious foods (scrumptious to a mole, that is). He gathers all kinds of treats up and then goes for what appears to be a plump blackberry.

It turns out to be a fox’s nose. The fox is JUST about to gobble Morris up when they hear a growl. It’s a wolf! And he’s looking for Fox. Fox asks Morris for help, so Morris digs him a hole to hide in. When the wolf asks Morris if he’s seen Fox, Morris feigns ignorance. The wolf stomps off and Fox is so grateful for his new mole friend’s help that he (and his friends) gather a whole ton of food for Morris.

Morris is hailed as a hero when he returns home with this feast. The last page is adorable, reminding us that even though he’s little, Morris can do really big things.

This book is a terrific example of everything right with picture books. The art and the text marry perfectly (they were both done by the obviously talented Dan Yaccarino), the book is funny and promotes kindness. It has a great overall message (don’t let your size/age discourage you from doing big stuff). And it stars a mole dressed like a British businessman. What more can you ask for?

Another note on the art: I just love the graphic feel. It’s really gorgeous and Morris’ expressions are adorable. I’m a sucker for a mole in a hat, it seems.

My girls have asked for this book several times since it has arrived from the library. We will probably have to get a copy for our own bookshelf. They are both big Morris fans, although they did wonder why he was the only mole with an English accent. I told them it was artistic license on my part. And also, what else could he possibly sound like?

Mama’s review: 10/10
Vivi’s review: A+
Lily’s review: “I like the part where he thought he was biting a blackberry, but it was a fox!”

 

Laundry Day

 

Title: Laundry Day
Author/Illustrator: Jessixa Bagley
Published: Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Today’s book is another from our massive library haul. It’s about something that adults loathe (laundry), but that kids, oddly, find fun. (At least the part where they jump in piles of clean laundry when you’re trying to sort them on the bed. Or is that just at my house?)

We start by meeting brother badgers Tic and Tac. They are like many kids in the summer: bored. Their patient mom suggests several activities, but the boys have done them all. Then Ma Badger suggests helping her hang up the laundry. After a brief explanation about how it’s done, she sets them to work.

And it turns out Tic and Tac enjoy hanging stuff up! Ma leaves them to it as she sets off for the market. After a short while, the boys realize they’ve hung up everything in the laundry basket. Fortunately, they still have lots of clothespins left, and heaps of twine. So what do they do? Raid the house for odds and ends, tchotchkes, and all sorts of things, of course!

The boys end up hanging every single thing from their house that isn’t nailed down.

Then Ma arrives home.

She takes in the whole scene: the contents of her house, hung from a line that weaves through the yard, from tree to tree. She then notices two things that Tic and Tac forgot to hang up.

On the last page, the boys are hanging from their pants on the line. They wonder if Ma needs help with dinner…

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book about laundry, but I was pleasantly surprised! There are three things I like about this book:

  1. The art. It’s really sweet and quaint and sort of old-fashioned. The mom is wearing an apron and a housedress and the little shack they live in reminds me of Appalachia. The little details really make this book (my kids looked for the white bunny on each page).
  2. The story is silly. My girls immediately saw where the story was going, and they really got into it. They imagined what it would be like if they did something like that (I reminded them that we have a lovely electric dryer that I cherish and adore).
  3. The ending. OK, so the story is a little bit of a set up for a punch line, but it works. The badgers are mischievous and my girls immediately started discussing what would happen if the badgers ‘helped’ mom with dinner. (The verdict: chaos! Large pots of stew! Sundaes made of everything from the fridge!)

This book is what I’d refer to as ‘nice.’ Your kids aren’t going to bust a gut laughing, they’re not going to learn anything (except maybe that people hang up clothes to dry if they don’t have a dryer), but they are really going to enjoy the story. It’s sweet. If you get a chance, give this one a look.

Mama’s review: 8/10
Vivi’s review: B+ for badgers
Lily’s review: “When’s the dinner one coming out?” (She means “When is the author going to write a book about what happens when the badgers help with dinner? Because she mentioned it, so clearly this is a set up for a sequel.”)

Bad Kitty

 

Title: Bad Kitty
Author/Illustrator: Nick Bruel
Published: Roaring Brook Press, 2005

Just a quick note before this review: I want to make sure I review books beyond our shelves (though we have a very, very, very long way to go before we’ve exhausted our own book supply). I also want to give us the chance to react honestly to books we’ve never seen before.

So that’s why my local library is down 30 books. (Sorry, residents of Woodbridge.)

Yes, I have a month’s worth of new (to us) books to review! To that, I say:
1. Yay! New boooooks!
2. Support your local library!
3. “Honey, I think we need our own copy of most of these books…”

Tonight, we’re taking a look at a book I saw in passing (a kid was clutching it possessively in her stroller) and knew Lily would love…yes, we’re looking at Bad Kitty!

I had no idea what kind of book Bad Kitty would be, but I have this to say (yes, another list…someone is being a lazy writer tonight):

1. I’ve read the book five times and we’ve only had it in our house for seven hours.
2. Lily already wants a copy for her birthday.
3. Lily also noticed that this is part of a series of Bad Kitty books (they’re listed on the jacket flap). She has requested the other books for “Christmas, Easter, my other birthdays…”
4. Vivi found the book hilarious as well. Even being a non-cat fanatic, she enjoyed it.

So what’s it all about? Well, a bad kitty. A REALLY bad kitty. But she wasn’t always bad…it just kind of happened one day when they ran out of cat food. (Who among us hasn’t been a bit hangry? I can’t really blame Kitty for that.) Her family tried to feed her all kinds of *terrible* things (for cats). Everything from asparagus to zucchini – yuck!

So Kitty did some really naughty things. She ate homework…she bit grandma! She irritated a baby! She ran the gamut of bad cat acts from A-Z, quite literally.

But then…mom (or whomever did the grocery shopping, I’m just projecting) arrived home with a variety of cat-friendly foods. (These are hilarious. My favourite is Uncle Murray. He’s so confused! Oh, and the excess of T-Rex. Can you really ever have too much T-Rex?) And Kitty is delighted! She decides to be a good kitty. But not just good…REALLY good. Once again, we romp through the alphabet, this time while Kitty makes amends for all the things she had done wrong, (I laughed out loud when Kitty filed the taxes).

It seems that all’s well that ends well…until the family decides to reward Kitty with a puppy of her very own. Who will, of course, share her food.

The last page is hilarious, and on the back cover, the puppy is covered in purple paint (courtesy of Kitty).

It is SO awesome to find a funny book that stands up to multiple readings. I’ve read stories in the past that work the first time because of the surprise factor. (At risk of having an unpopular opinion, I felt that BJ Novak’s A Book With No Pictures definitely fit the “it’s funniest the first time, then less funny each subsequent time” bill.) I’ve read this book five times now, and it’s just as good as the first time.

The art is excellent. The cat’s design is super, and the cartoon-ish nature of the book fits the frantic pace perfectly. I love the use of the alphabet to guide us through kitty’s goodness/badness/food choices.

I know a copy of this book (and the other Bad Kitty books) will be taking up residence on our bookshelf soon. And this mama is delighted about that!

Mama’s review: A+
Vivi’s review: 10
Lily’s review: “Read it again! I love Bad Kitty!”

Worm Loves Worm

 

Title: Worm Loves Worm
Author: J.J. Austrian
Illustrator: Mike Curato
Published: Balzer & Bray, 2016

 

When a worm loves a worm, what is the happy couple to do? Get married of course! That’s the simple premise of this adorable picture book: get married to the person (or worm) you love best.

Even if a cricket tells you that you need to have someone preside over your wedding (because that’s how it’s always been done).
Even if a beetle tells you that he should be your ‘best beetle’ (because that’s how it’s always been done).
Even if the bees tell you that they should really be your bride’s bees (because that’s how it’s always been done).
And even if you don’t have fingers for rings, or feet to dance or if neither of you specifically wants to wear a complete tuxedo or bridal ensemble. It doesn’t matter what’s the ‘usual’ or ‘the way things are supposed to be.’ What matters is what you’re comfortable with and what makes you (and your partner) happy.*

The art in this book is adorable. Worms are deceptively difficult to draw in a cute and expressive way, but Mike Curato nails it. The story is so positive and lovely.

If you’re looking for a book that’s about:
a) loving who you love
b) adorable worms and their insect friends, and
c) following your heart, no matter what others may say

then this is the book for you! Happy Pride, everyone!

Mama’s review: 4.5/5
Vivi’s review: 5 worms/5
Lily’s review: The bees are really cute!

 

And that’s why I wore purple instead of white at my wedding, and had a giant cookie buffet with take-home bags and why our ‘save-the-date’ cards featured my husband and I on a Magic the Gathering card. Because it’s all about what makes the couple happy!

A Peacock Among Pigeons

 

Title: A Peacock Among Pigeons
Author: Tyler Curry
Illustrator: Clarione Gutierrez
Published: Mascot Books, 2017

Can you believe it’s almost the end of June? In Toronto that means one thing: Pride weekend! If you’ve never been to a Pride parade, I highly recommend it. I’ve been several times and it’s incredibly colourful and fun. My best friend even met his husband at Pride! It’s a good time, and it’s an important celebration of how far the LGBTQ community has come, while also recognizing how much work there is left to do. So, in honour of this wonderful weekend (technically, it’s a month-long celebration, I know), I’m going to be reviewing books written by LGBTQ authors and about LGBTQ relationships. I am a big believer in the power of picture books, and from the bottom of my heart, I feel it’s incredibly important that kids understand that love is love and everyone deserves the same happiness.

A couple of years ago, I purposely went looking for LGBTQ books to share with my girls and I kind of fell in love with A Peacock Among Pigeons. It’s all about Peter, who happens to be a peacock that was born into a family of pigeons. The pigeons really don’t get him – why is he so fancy? Why can’t he walk normally? At first, Peter tries his best to hide who he is, to fit in with his flock. The problem is, no matter what he does, he is still a peacock. He can’t contain his colourful feathers or change the way he talks.

So Peter leaves.

Initially, he’s pretty lonely. But then he meets Craig (a sassy cardinal), Sara (a friendly canary), Owen (a smart, sophisticated owl) and then those birds introduced him to MORE birds and guess what? None of them make fun of Peter! In fact, they think he’s pretty special. But it’s not until Peter notices a really gorgeous bird in a puddle that he realizes his true beauty – it’s a reflection of course, and for the first time Peter sees himself for who he truly is. And he is happy.

The last pages of the book encourage kids to embrace who they are, no matter who that might be. Whether smart or sassy or bold or cool,, just keep going and don’t let anyone get you down.

I’m not going to lie, I teared up while reading this story for the first time. I know how hard it was for my best friend to come out to his friends and family (spoiler alert: everything turned out great and everyone loves him and his husband a whole lot), and how hard it is for kids who don’t have that love and support at home. Any book that can make me cry is always a winner.

If I was going to give any creative criticism, I’d say that the book tends to be a teeny bit on the wordy side and might’ve benefited from a bit of trimming here and there. But the writing is extremely positive and uplifting, so don’t let a page of text scare you off.

My girls really enjoy this story. They like Peter and they are always so happy when he flies away from those buzzkill pigeons and ventures out to find friends who love him as he is. The art is bold and flashy and the birds have excellent facial expressions. (I’m not the only one who has issues with drawing bird expressions, right? I just never know what to do with the beak. But I digress.) The whole book will leave you feeling grateful for those who love you, and grateful that you have the chance to love them right back.

This is an excellent book for Pride weekend, or anytime you want to remind kids to love themselves and love their friends, unconditionally, for who they are.

Mama’s review: A
Vivi’s review: A bright and colourful 9/10
Lily’s review: Yay peacocks!