All posts by pinkjellybean11

Mr. Wolf’s Class – Series Review

Today, I’m lucky enough to be joined by my littlest reader, Lily! She’s been reading (and re-reading) the Mr. Wolf’s Class series by Aron Nels Steinke.

J: Lily, what do you think of the series, overall?

L: I love it! Because it’s just so well made, and I really love the characters.

J: What do you think about the art?

L: I love it! The art is really cute.

J: Who’s your favourite character?

L: Aziza or Randi. They’re both really funny.

J: Which character are you most like?

L: Probably Aziza, because she’s very funny, she’s very kind and she’s very smart.

J: Which character are you least like?

L: Henry. He’s super-sporty. Maybe Abdi? He’s sporty too.

J: Which book is your favourite in the series?

L: Either Snow Day or the Field Trip one. I like Snow Day because two of the kids had to stay at school with Mr. Wolf. I like the Field Trip one because I like how Aziza was taking over most of the story.

J: Would you want to stay at school overnight in a snowstorm?

L: Yes! Because it would be SO FUN!

J: With Mr. Wolf, or your teacher Mrs. Hou?

L: Mr. Wolf! He’s so funny and well-prepared. He had food, a soup stash and popcorn.

J: What book do you think Aron Nels Steinke should write next?

L: He should write about solving some of those mysteries! I really want to know about the love note one and the stairs to nowhere.

J: Where do you think the stairs go?

L: To the rats’ home! The rats in the school wear clothes and are very cute.

J: Anything else you want to add?

L: I just really love the book series, and I really love the characters. I want a new book to come out soon!

Lily’s rating: 500/5

Mommy’s rating: What she said

Chez Bob

Title: Chez Bob
Author/Illustrator: Bob Shea
Published By: Little, Brown and Company, 2021

I first read a Bob Shea book when I discovered the joy of Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great (reviewed here).  It’s still one of my favourites to read aloud to any willing children in my life. The goat’s voice is incredibly fun to do (he’s all melancholy and slightly congested) and the unicorn is a blast (carefree and kind of ditzy).

(Those are just suggestions. You do you, of course.)

Anyway, when I saw Chez Bob at the library, I suspected it might be every bit as wonderful as Unicorn. And it is!

First, the art is fabulous. I love Bob Shea’s style. I once tried to draw some of the pages from Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great and, well, let’s just say that there’s a reason I’m a writer and not an illustrator. Bob Shea is both, though, and frankly I’m jealous.

I mean, filled with admiration.

Chez Bob is about Bob, a lazy alligator (or potentially crocodile?) that just wants to eat some colourful little birds. He decides to simply ask the birds to hop into his mouth, but (unsurprisingly) that doesn’t work. Bob realizes what he has to do: get something to lure the birds to his mouth. Namely: seeds.

So, following this logic, Bob opens a birdseed restaurant on his nose, which is kind of brilliant. (Truly, some of the smartest people I know are creative out of the desire to do less work.)   His goal is to get enough money to purchase diamond teeth and a gold hat. A lofty goal, but if that’s what gets you out of bed in the morning, so be it.

Lucky for Bob, the birds flock to the restaurant and eat a lot of seed and spread the word to more and more birds. Bob’s devious plan was working!

Or was it?

What Bob hadn’t really counted on was that the birds would build a town around him.
Or that he’d want to sponsor the basketball team.
Or that he’d join the book club.

Basically, those birds Bob had his stomach set on had become his friends. And you can’t eat your friends, right?

Right?!

When a thunderstorm threatens his feathery pals, Bob offers them shelter…in his mouth. Now, I figured that at this point, the story could either go the same way as A Hungry Lion (A Dwindling Assortment of Animals), or that perhaps Bob might make good on his friendship and NOT eat the birds.

I don’t want to give away the ending (it’s funny and sweet), but Bob turns out to be a pretty okay guy after all. (Okay, fine. So I totally gave away the ending.)

This book was hilarious and fun and a terrific pun on Bob Shea’s name. (Chez Bob/Bob Shea…get it?!)

I recommend it and give it five crocodiles (or alligators?) out of five.

My Book

You guys, guess what?
I’m going to be a published author. I’ve known about this for a couple of years, of course, but I’ve kept it under my hat. But now? Now it’s on Indigo AND on Orca’s website (coming soon!), so here goes nothing:

Meet Wee Boo!

Isn’t she the cutest thing?

It’s my book. That’s my name. (And the name of my awesome illustrator, Brooke Kerrigan. I haven’t met her in person, or talked to her on the phone, but this is our book! Isn’t publishing weird?!)

This has been a total dream come true. I love the art, I love the book, I love the fact that I can tell people a little bit more about it. I was going to do a review, but I think I’ll wait until it’s really, truly available in stores (as opposed to ‘for pre-order’). Then I’ll give you my 100% unbiased opinion. 😀

Until then, I’ll be here grinning like a fool. Because sometimes, kids, dreams do come true.

Dear Dragon

Title: Dear Dragon
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Rodolfo Montalvo
Published By: Viking Books, 2016

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m a big fan of rhyming books. There, I said it. I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love them. (Side note: also a big fan of rap. And what are rhyming books, if not the rap of kid lit?)

When my kids were little, Sandra Boynton was my go-to. Anything she’s written is brilliant, but I especially love Perfect Piggies and Hippos Go Berserk. Why? Her rhymes are amazing. They’re tight. They’re catchy. They never, ever leave your head…even five years after last reading one of her books.

Who else can throw down rhymes? Andrea Beaty. She’s the author of Rosie Revere, Engineer, Iggy Peck, Architect and various other rhyming stories. I love the rhyme schemes she uses and the clever word pairings she creates. She could teach a master class in rhyming picture books.

But today’s review isn’t about Andrea Beaty or Sandra Boynton. No, it’s about Josh Funk’s book, Dear Dragon. I took this book out from the library on a whim, after doing some research about ‘funny picture books’ (very long entry coming in the future on that topic). And, great news, I wasn’t disappointed.

The general idea is that a little boy, George, has a school-assigned pen pal (we’ve all been there) and, unbeknownst to him, it’s a dragon! (A cute little dragon-kid, but a dragon nonetheless). Throughout the year, George and Blaise (the dragon) write to each other, sharing facts about their lives and things they’re interested in. At the end of the school year, they meet at a picnic and…shocker! They realize that they’re not exactly as they’d envisioned each other to be!

But, of course, who cares if one is a dragon and one is a kid? No matter. They’re still friends and that’s honestly all that matters.

The art is perfectly suited to the story. It’s cute and whimsical and friendly. A+ for the art.

This would be a terrific book to use at the beginning of the school year to promote inclusivity among classmates, or sometime during the year to remind kids about being kind to each other. Overall, this is a sweet, funny story that I highly recommend.

Little Brothers & Little Sisters vs. Just Because

Since this year is probably going to be just as weird and different as the last two, I’ve decided to try something new for the ol’ bloggy: once a month, I’m going to get a random “you choose for me” bag from my local library. (Which, incidentally, is closed due to COVID, but is still offering curbside pickup because librarians are rock stars).

From that bag of randomly selected books, I will randomly select two stories to review. This month, I have chosen:

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Title: Little Brothers & Little Sisters
Written & Illustrated by: Monica Arnaldo
Published By: OwlKids Books, 2018

AND…

Title: Just Because
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault
Published By: Candlewick Press, 2019

I’m going to read each book once and then react. Ready? Ready! Let’s do this!

First up, Little Brothers & Little Sisters. So, right off the bat I really liked the art. It’s really friendly and bright and cute. It’s eye-catching and colourful. A+ for the art. The story is really, really simple: little brothers and sisters just want to be part of your world, older siblings. They want to get into your clubhouse, sit with you on the couch, not have to pull you around in a wagon.

(Just a quick interjection here: as an older sibling, was I doing it wrong? Like, was I too soft on my little brother? I never prevented him from joining me in our treehouse, he always had the best spot on the couch and he never, ever pulled me around in a wagon or anything else for that matter. I pulled him! Dammit, I think I seriously blew this ‘I’m the big sister so do what I say’ thing. I wonder if it’s too late now?)

Anyway, the good news is that even though the little sibs in the story don’t get to do WHATEVER they want (unlike my little brother, apparently), they do get older sibling love/help when it’s needed. So there’s a sweet ending to the story. Aw.

Do I think my kiddos would’ve liked it as little ones? Maybe as REALLY little ones. The story would’ve been too thin for them after the age of about three. Also, with their rivalry, I’m not sure how well they could relate to these siblings. Sigh. Working on that.

Next up: Just Because.

The art is good. I like how it goes from fairly monochromatic on the room pages, with only the circle behind the question being coloured in, and that the circle colour predicts the background/dominant colour on the following double-page spread. Nicely done!

The story: guys, I have a confession to make. I’m a giant nerd. That is, I love science and non-fiction stories. I watch SciShow or Crash Course every night on YouTube. I often fall asleep to Hank or John Green’s voice. I love facts and knowing the answers to questions.

That said, I’m also a creative writer who makes stuff up for a living. So, I love imagination as well. The thing that kind of irks me about this book is that I get it but I don’t LOVE it.

Here’s why: the story is about a little girl who is stalling at bedtime. She keeps asking her dad legit questions, like: Why is the ocean blue? What happened to the dinosaurs? What’s a black hole? And, instead of giving the kid legit answers, the dad totally makes things up.

Which, you know, I get it. Dad is tired. He wants to go downstairs and watch some kind of sporting event on television. Maybe have some wine? Probably. He doesn’t really want to get super in-depth on the topic of bird migration or the lifecycle of deciduous trees. I feel you, Dad. I FEEL YOU. But…little nerd-Jess is struggling with the lack of answers. As a kid, I would’ve been annoyed with my own father for just making stuff up. I would’ve been all “Ha, ha! The dinosaurs floated out to space. Hilarious. Now, what really happened? For REAL.”

And all THAT said, I know I’m not the target audience. This *theoretically* could be a good jumping-off point for a discussion with your kid about real vs. fantasy/good information vs. bad information/people being experts vs. people just randomly having theories with no actual basis in reality.

Would my kids have liked this book? Well, I think they’re both too much like me. They would’ve listened patiently and then been like “Okay, once more…this time, just the facts.”

Little Brothers & Little Sisters: 4/5 stars

Just Because: 3/5 stars

Bear is a Bear

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Title: Bear is a Bear
Author: Jonathan Stutzman
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published By: HarperCollins, 2021

Since it’s November, I’ve almost finished my Christmas shopping (I’m a bit late this year, to be honest). I always try and get Karl a gift that he doesn’t expect/that will probably make him cry (happy tears, not tears of bitter disappointment).

This year’s choice was obvious: a Dan Santat book! The perfect gift for anyone!

Okay, fine. So I kind of bought it for myself too. But mostly for Karl!

The book is…well, put it to you this way: I almost ugly-cried at Chapters.

The book follows the story of a little girl’s bond with her teddy bear. As someone who has loved many bears (but one more than all others), I can 100% relate to the deep and important relationship a bear provides. The text is poetic, simple, beautiful. The art is, obviously, the best ever. I read the book for the first time at the store, and it nearly killed me not to openly sob. Then I tried reading it at home, thinking I wouldn’t be so affected the second time.

Yeah, I was. And I have been every time after that. Its emotional impact isn’t lessening, you guys. This is Love You Forever all over again. This is the epilogue to Knuffle Bunny Free on repeat.

This book will always simultaneously bring me tremendous joy and tremendous longing for my children when they were younger.

Gah, this review has taken a turn for the sad. I’m sorry, readers. What I really want you to know about this book is: it’s fantastic. It’s adorable. It’s fabulous. It’s so, so sweet and lovely. And it’s a little bit sad, but also hopeful. It’s basically the perfect book to give to a parent, because it’s really the journey a parent takes. It’s growing up, it’s letting go.

And it’s got a bear.

10/10

A Kid is a Kid is a Kid

Title: A Kid is a Kid is a Kid
Author: Sara O’Leary
Illustrator: Qin Leng
Published By: Groundwood Books, 2021

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ll know that we’ve reviewed another book by Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng — A Family is a Family is a Family (linked here). We were HUGE fans of that first book and, great news, we’re fans of this one as well!

Lily and I read this one for a bedtime story last night. Lily had the following observations/comments to share:

  1. I really love the art in these books. The illustrator is awesome! (I agree. The art is so watercolour-y and beautiful.)
  2. I don’t know why that kid cared if the other kid was a boy or a girl. Just ask a person their name and go with that. (Right on, kiddo.)
  3. I relate strongly to the book kid and the short kid. I’m both of those. (Accurate.)
  4. Vivi knows identical twins!
  5. I like that kid’s shirt. It is exceptional.
  6. Pumpkin Pie is a great dog name. We can’t have a dog, but I think I’d name a tortoise Gumdrop. (We are not getting a tortoise. Not yet, anyway. Now that she’s gone and come up with the perfect tortoise name, it’s kind of hard to say no.)
  7. The grandmother’s house is kind of sad and happy. She’s talking about it like she doesn’t go there anymore.

As for me? I liked the subtle things, like referring to one of the characters by ‘their’ as opposed to him or her. I liked the fact that the kids all looked different and had different interests. I liked the overall gentle feeling of this book, that matches so well with A Family is a Family is a Family.

I think all kids are feeling the pressure/anxiety right now when it comes to returning to school. My kids are doing online learning (at least until they’re vaccinated), and they’re worried about that (last year was homeschool, so this year will be different). A book like this one is a great way to remind them that kids are all just looking for a kind friend and someone to play with. If you’re a teacher, pick up this book. If you’re a parent, check it out. Your kiddo will enjoy it, I promise.

Lily’s Rating: 5/5

Mama’s Rating: A+

Allergic

I know I’ve complained before about my kiddos growing out of picture books. And trust me, I’m not going to be okay with that, like, ever. But one thing I HAVE enjoyed about their reading tastes expanding is that we get to discuss books in more detail. I also get to find out what my kids really love about certain books.

One of the graphic novels I was most excited to find out about is Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter. Allergies are near and not-so-dear to this family. Vivi has terrible animal allergies (we’ve yet to find an animal that DOESN’T make her sneeze), Lily has seasonal allergies (and celiac disease, which isn’t exactly an allergy, but definitely impacts our day-to-day lives), Karl is allergic to pollen and mold and I’m allergic to everything under the sun, except chocolate.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating that last part. But honestly, not by much. My allergies are wide-ranging and insane. I can’t eat so many things. Animals are awesome, but they all make me sneeze (except for fish, which I will never own because fish all hate me and die upon arriving at my house). Allergies are a thing we’re all familiar with, is what I’m saying.

I bought this book for Vivi and she devoured it in an afternoon. Today, I’m going to interview her and find out exactly what she thought of it.

What was the book about, in a nutshell? (Allergy humour. Nutshell. Heh.)

V: This girl, Maggie, who really wanted a pet, but couldn’t have one because of all her allergies.

What was your favourite part of the book?

V: I really liked the part where, at the end, they go to the aquarium, and that’s where Maggie finds her true passion.

Which is?

V: Studying fish! She wants to be a marine biologist.

What was the most believable part of the book, from an allergic-person’s point-of-view?

V: Like myself, who has pretty much the same allergies as Maggie, the part where her parents made the executive decision that she should get allergy shots. It’s very believable. If she has that many allergies, I get the point.

But you don’t get allergy shots.

V: I know, but she has allergies to everything under the sun.

Who was your favourite character in the book?

V: I like Maggie best, of course. I felt for her. She went through what I’ve gone through, which is having bad allergies when your siblings want a pet.

If you weren’t allergic and could have any pet in the world, what would you choose?

V: I’d probably have a cat. If it was a tabby, I’d call it Tangerine. If it was a Russian Blue, I’d name her Sapphire, after the precious stone.

Who do you think should read this book?

V: A person who has allergies, like Maggie. And a person who wants to know that they can find their passion, even with allergies. Allergic was so unique. Even though it wasn’t meant to be sad at all, I got a little teary-eyed at the end.

Why?

V: It was just so powerful. I can understand how it wouldn’t be that powerful to a person who didn’t have as many allergies. But since I do have such bad allergies to so many animals, I understand it and I really do love the book.

What rating would you give it out of five?

V: 5 stars!

Summer Reading List

Well, it’s summer time again. I can’t believe how fast this year is going…wasn’t it just LAST summer? We’ve been homeschooling for a year, and it has been…really good, actually. It’s funny because so many people have said that this past year has been hard, schooling-wise.

But…we’ve been really lucky.

My kids like to learn. That’s a bonus. They don’t have any learning difficulties. Blessing number two. My dear, wonderful ‘other-mother’ (a strong, brilliant woman who has filled the mother role for me many times over the past 27 years and is now filling in as my daughters’ beloved auntie/other-grandmother) has been teaching them French. My awesome mom has been teaching them art. Karl has stepped in for a computer lesson or two and I’ve been handling everything else (with the love and support of lots of fabulous people in my life — including their auntie, one of my chosen sisters, who happens to be an elementary school admin with knowledge of great curriculum suggestions).

This summer, after the official ‘schooling’ is over, we’re going to focus on reading a LOT. My girls love books (hooray!) and they’re stoked. Without further ado, this is our Summer Reading List, 2021:

For Vivi:

Matilda – Roald Dahl
Another Word for Home – Jasmine Warga
Wonder – R. J. Palacio
Allergic – Megan Lloyd
Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
Dear Sweet Pea – Julie Murphy
Fly on the Wall – Remy Lai
Small Mercies – Bridget Krone
Before the Ever After – Jaqueline Woodson
Something to Say – Lisa Moore Ramee
Martin McLean, Middle School Queen – Alyssa Zaczek
Front Desk – Kelly Yang
The Whispers – Greg Howard
The Night Diary – Veera Hiranandani
The Jumbies – Tracey Baptiste
I Can Make This Promise – Christine Day
The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
Weird Little Robots – Carolyn Crimi
The Wild Robot – Peter Brown
Savvy – Ingrid Law
11 Birthdays – Wendy Mass
Holes – Louis Sachar
My Last Best Friend – Julie Bowe
Out of My Mind – Sharon M. Draper
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – Ann Brashares
Anyone But Ivy Pocket – Caleb Krisp
Fortunately, The Milk – Neil Gaiman
Summer of the Gypsy Moths – Sara Pennypacker

For Lily:
Bink & Gollie – Kate DiCamillo
Just Grace – Charise Mericle Harper
Heartword Hotel – Kallie George
Olga – Elise Gravel
Dory Fantasmagory – Abby Hanlon
Ruby Lu, Brave and True – Lenore Look
My Life in Pictures – Deborah Zemke
Princess Posey – Stephanie Greene
Babysitters Little Sister – Ann M. Martin
Absolutely Alfie – Sally Warner
Heidi Heckelbeck – Wanda Coven
Judy Moody – Megan McDonald
Frankly, Frannie – A.J. Stern
Gooney Bird Greene – Lois Lowry
Daisy Dawson – Steve Voake
Stella Batts – Courtney Sheinmel
Violet Mackerel – Anna Branford

Will we get through ALLLL those books in eight weeks? Well, I hope so. Heck, I’ll be happy if we get through half of them. I can’t wait to review most/all of them! Now, if you’ll excuse me…I’ve got some books to reserve at the library.

Happy summer!

A Series of Unfortunate Questions

Today, I have the great pleasure of interviewing Vivi and Karl about their thoughts on A Series of Unfortunate Events.  They’ve been working their way through the series throughout this pandemic, and they’re ALMOST done all 13 books. Here’s what they said.

Q: So, how far along in the series are you?

V: We’re almost done book thirteen.

Q: If you had to give me the elevator pitch for the series, what would it be?

K: The Baudelaire orphans need to discover the mystery of their parents’ lives and demise.

Q: What has your favourite book been so far?

V:  That’s tricky, but…The Reptile Room (book 2) was really good. It:
A) had the “Ah ha!” joke. (Basically, it’s trying to explain what Sunny says. She says ‘ah ha’ and all she means by ‘ah ha’ is ‘ah ha.’)
B) It made you understand who the characters were.  It brought out where the series was going to take itself.

K:  I would say that my favourite book was The Carnivorous Carnival (book 9). For the first time, it took the story in a truly new direction. It began to blur the line between what is noble and what is treacherous.

Q: Who is your favourite character in the series?

V: Sunny…or Violet. But Sunny, probably.
K: Violet. I think you can connect with Violet the most. Obviously, Sunny is the funniest, but you can understand Violet and the difficulty she’s going through.

Q: Who is your least favourite character in the series?

V: Mr. Poe makes me frustrated, because if you were a good guardian, you’d listen to the Baudelaires and understand what they were going through, and not just sit there and let Count Olaf do whatever he wants.

K: Mr. Poe…I mean, obviously he does what he’s mean to do: he lets them down every time. He represents adults not believing children. He’s just so awful. He’s so oblivious. Every time he shows up, you’re like <anguished wail>. At the end of Grim Grotto, where they ignore him and they walk away from him, it’s such a good scene.


Q: Was there any plot twist you didn’t see coming? Like, a shocking moment?

V: For me, it was that Sunny told Count Olaf to burn down the hotel.
K: The Baudelaire orphans burning down the carnival. That’s a bit of a shock.

J: There seems to be a lot of burning things down.

V: That’s the entire thing.
K: The fire plays a massive role in the story. All the safe places are burnt down.

Q: What’s the ending going to be? What do you think?

V:  This is tough, because Lemony Snicket hasn’t revealed any secrets so far. I think the Baudelaire orphans will sail away from the island, with Kit Snicket and the Quagmires on their side. And that’s when they’ll reveal all the secrets they have.

K: It’s incredibly hard to know. Because the thirteenth book goes in such a different direction…I think they’re finally going to reveal the truth about their parents, and what they did to Count Olaf’s parents.  But the question of how, exactly, Lemony Snicket is going to end this and what they’ll do after could be anything. We do know the Baudelaire orphans survive, but we don’t know about Count Olaf.

Q: Who do you think this book is for?

V: I say, it’s for older kids who like having a humorous element to their stories, but they would be okay with sadness. At the beginning, there was a LOT of death. They haven’t really had a moment of happiness.


K: I would say, it is for kids who like complex stories, kids who really love playful language. A key concept in the book is the fact that people who read books are honorable and noble and people who don’t read books are treacherous.

J: I fully agree with that sentiment.

Join us next time when we get Karl and Vivi’s reaction to the ending of the whole series!