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The Perilous Princess Plot

Title: The Perilous Princess Plot
Author: Sarah Courtauld
Published By: Square Fish, 2016

As the girls get older, I know we’ll be reading fewer and fewer picture books together (I’ll still read them by myself, because I love them), but there are some truly wonderful chapter books out there. The girls and I have a huge soft spot for humorous books (we’ve been devouring the Nanny Piggins series), and we absolutely loved The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld.

The story is about two sisters, Lavender and Eliza. Immediately, Vivi and Lily were totally interested. They LOVE stories that remind them of their relationship/themselves. The girls live with their Grandma Maud, who’s quite obsessed with death and disease. (She’s specifically focused on the Black Death, and warns the girls about its symptoms and progression. This is funnier than I’m describing it, trust me.) Eliza, the younger sister, is hardworking and practical. Lavender, the older sister, is focused on becoming a princess. After Lavender sneaks away in search of her prince, Eliza must find her (with the help of Gertrude the goat) and rescue her. And hilarity, of course, ensues.

Here, in no particular order, were some bits that made us all laugh out loud:

  1. The princes page. Lavender has pictures of princes on her wall. All of the names are pretty hilarious, but the funniest was Sir Kanye the Anachronistic. After explaining who Kanye West is and what an anachronism is, the girls found it tremendously funny as well.
  2. Bonnet. He’s a small giant, so that’s funny already. Add in the fact that he’s bumbling but well-meaning, and you’ve got a wonderful not-quite-villain.
  3. Mordmont the villain. He’s excellent, as far as villains go. The girls loved the fact that he lost half his castle in a poker game (depicted in a picture of him getting poked). They loved the fact that the castle rooms were all punny. (Think: a scullery full of skulls! A pantry made of a tree of pants!) Mordmont isn’t a scary villain (despite having a dragon-filled moat), so Lily was a fan.
  4. Lavender’s terrible songs. I had a blast doing voices for this story, and singing the songs in an awful off-key voice was delightfully fun.
  5. The footnotes. Some of them are a riot.
  6. The drawings. While they’re definitely not what you’d expect in a chapter book (think: simple, childlike in quality), they work with the overall quirkiness of the story.

Overall, The Perilous Princess Plot reminded us a bit of Roald Dahl, a bit of Monty Python and a bit of SpongeBob SquarePants. It’s really, really NOT a princess-y story, even though one of the main characters wants to be a princess. It’s an adventure, it’s hilarious and it’s something you should pick up ASAP. After all, don’t we all need a good laugh these days?

PS- We’ve just started the sequel and so far, so good.

Mama, Vivi & Lily’s Review: 5 pointy princess hats out of 5


Summer Reading List

You know, I’ve often thought about how my kids will perceive this year when they look back on it as adults. Will they remember the 8 billion games of rummy and crazy eights we’ve played? Will they recall the nuances involved in baking gluten-free bread and pastry? Will they recall how their dad and I assembled Ikea’s hardest piece of furniture (dubbed “The Divorce-Maker”) and didn’t fight, not once? But most of all, will they remember all the books we read? Because, OMG. We’ve read a library’s-worth, y’all.

What, exactly, are we reading this summer? Sit down, get yourself a cup of tea and read on!

What I read on my Covid-Vacation

All the Judy Blume Fudge books: We’re just starting SuperFudge right now. I think it’s my favourite so far. It’s HILARIOUS!

Judy Blume’s Frecklejuice and The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.

(I LOVE Judy Blume, but I think I’m going to wait until Vivi is a bit older before we introduce her to some of Ms. Blume’s other work. I really can’t wait for Vivi to read my favourite Judy Blume book ever, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself.)

We’ve been reading the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker. It’s excellent. Clementine reminds me a LOT of Vivi when she was a bit younger.

Vivi and I read the Anne of Green Gables graphic novel by Mariah Marsden. For someone who happens to be a die-hard Anne-fan, it’s pretty simple and doesn’t come close to the original. For someone who knows nothing about Anne, it’s a great intro.

I read Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by Rey Terciero. It is very loosely based on the characters from Little Women (but totally updated and current). As a major Little Women fan, I was concerned. But I shouldn’t have been. The book was fabulous, whether or not you’re familiar with the source material.

I finally read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and I have to say: holy cow. This should 100% absolutely be required reading for all high school students. I absolutely LOVED it. Parts of the stories/various characters reminded me a bit of where I grew up (Malvern). I was blown away by the writing. I could NOT put this book down. Ten stars!

Lily and I have been making our way through the Princess in Black books (by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by the fabulous LeUyen Pham). We love them all, but my favourite is the birthday party one. The ending is so sweet and the illustrations are perfection.

Lily and I have also enjoyed the Owl Diaries series (by Rebecca Elliot), and Owlie Volume 1 by Andy Runton

Vivi and Karl have made it (almost) through the Toys Go Out series by Emily Jenkins. Karl’s review: “The first book took awhile to get into, but it’s really grown on us. The sequel is excellent.”

Vivi and I are reading the Nanny Piggins series by R.A. Spratt (we adore Nanny Piggins) and we’re on book 5. Vivi’s theory is that the children’s mom is still alive. Mine is that she’s not. We will continue reading until we find out for sure!

Vivi has read and re-read EVERY SINGLE Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel she has. She loves both Raina Telgemeier and Gale Galligan. We’ve also been watching the BSC on Netflix (one episode every Friday night, complete with Twizzlers and tasty Claudia Kishi-approved snacks). I am in love with the current version of the BSC. Absolutely adore it. Being able to share my BSC-mania with my daughter is a total dream come true. In one other piece of BSC-related news, I finally have ALL of my Baby-Sitters Club books on one bookshelf, right outside of Vivi’s room. Their beautiful pastel-coloured spines bring me joy and happiness whenever I see them. Ann M. Martin, you are a key reason I adore kid lit.

I’m currently reading The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley and The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte. Both are great so far! Oh! And I’m in the middle of Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan. The characters are memorable and the book is quite funny so far.

We just got another package in the mail from Indigo (we love you, Indigo) and we’re excited to read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.

So…that’s what we’ve been reading! I hope your summer/Covid-vacation has been as book-filled as ours. Now I just have to plan out what we’ll do for our at-home novel study for the new school year. Because I think this Covid-vacation might be an extended one.

 

You Matter

You Matter: Robinson, Christian, Robinson, Christian ...

 

Title: You Matter
Author/Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

 

So it’s been a crazy year so far, eh friends? I live in Ontario (Canada) and things have been weird here since March. Recently (June), we’ve started to open things up and do stuff again. But cautiously! People mostly wear masks and sanitize their hands constantly. Aside from my extreme germ-o-phobia (not a new thing, just exacerbated by the pandemic), I find that missing my people is the hardest part of Covid-19. Being away from friends and family, having to keep our social bubbles very limited, having the kids here all day and not being able to really go anywhere or do anything is tough (I’m just not 100% comfortable with the girls venturing into the world yet).

We’ve missed milestones. We’ve missed birthdays and a wonderful baby shower (for a dear friend who just adopted her son after eight LONG years of waiting). We’ve missed coffee dates and play dates and just being near our friends. Skype is okay, but we’ve really missed our people.

I was looking for some books to order that would raise our spirits. That would bring us happiness. And then I stumbled upon You Matter by Christian Robinson.

In case you’re not familiar with his work, Christian Robinson is amazing. He’s an author and illustrator (I reviewed another of his books here: https://jessreviewsabook.com/2019/05/23/schools-first-day-of-school/) and I adore his style (both written and illustrated, but I’m particularly in love with his illustrations). The first book I read of Mr. Robinson’s was the fabulous The Last Stop on Market Street (with Matt de la Peña, review to come). I was blown away. How did I not know about this creator? After that, I made it my business to keep up with his work and buy his books.

Enter You Matter.

The premise is simple: no matter how small, no matter how big, no matter if you’re first or last, you matter. Even if you don’t think you do, you do. This is the type of message kids NEED to hear. Heck, it’s a message adults desperately need to hear as well. The text is minimal, but so effective, like poetry. The illustrations are, of course, gorgeous. Each picture is delightful to look at. (Lily was inspired by the art to do some of her own creating after reading the book.) Lily and I both enjoyed each page, but my personal favourites were the t-rex with a mosquito bite and the astronaut in space. Lily loved the page about being gassy (see: Lily has a goofy sense of humour) and the city page. She smiled throughout the entire story and asked for it again right away. She said “turn the pages slower!” so she could look at them more carefully.

You guys, what else can I say?

This book is what we need right now. I honestly believe that if kids were told, from the time they were small, that they mattered and could use their powers and skills to make the world a better place, we’d have a much nicer world overall.

If you know someone who needs to hear this message, you know what to do. Send them a care package and let them know that they matter. And, in case no one has told you recently, you do, too.

Mama’s rating: Five stars

Lily’s rating: “That book is so beautiful.”

The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal

The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal

Title: The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal
Author/Illustrator: Nick Seluk
Published: Scholastic, 2019

 

As you might’ve guessed, based on past blog entries, we have quite the library of books here at home. Some families spend money on sporting equipment, some spend money on cottages or fancy clothes or expensive vacations…but imagine how much money they’d have for books if they directed their mad money that way! That’s us. We have books.

I read a lot (never fewer than 5 books on the go at once is my motto!) and my personal preferences are quite eclectic, but I do have a major soft spot for non-fiction books. Some of my all-time favourites are:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot, 2011)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo, 2012)

Anything by Mary Roach or Bill Bryson

Being Mortal (Atul Gawande, 2014)

Between Expectations: Lessons from a Pediatric Residency (Meghan Weir, 2011)

Do No Harm (Henry Marsh, 2016)

I really like books that have a ton of info in them and teach me about something I know nothing about (and/or a profession I’d never go into…like medicine)! When I saw The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal, I thought Lily might like it. (Okay, I REALLY hoped she would. Vivi is very much like Karl in that she reads strictly fantasy/sci-fi/graphic novels right now, so I need SOMEONE at home who loves non-fiction.)

Luckily, Lily ADORES this book. Why? Because of the following reasons, mostly:

  1. The art is adorable. The various body systems are drawn in such a friendly, cartoon-ish way. How can you NOT love your kidneys? They’re smiling at you! They love you! They just want to keep your body free of waste and make sure you stay healthy. Appreciate them!
  2. The text is jam-packed with facts, but the story is told in an accessible, easy-to-understand way.

Lily asks for this one about once a week. And she’s actually retaining some of the knowledge! She especially likes the part where the brain has trouble remembering a phone number, but gets it after several repetitions. She’s actually recalled the word ‘synapse’ and she’s totally not grossed out by any of the super-gross stuff your body does. (Not that this book delves too deeply into that kind of thing…but she’s asked questions about all the organs, based on the pictures in this book. And, well, she’s 100% not like me when it comes to getting queasy about certain things. Like blood. Or vomit. She’s going to be a great doctor, is what I’m saying.)

I really like the fact that more and more picture books are combining factual, non-fictional stories with fun, friendly characters. Not only is it great for kids to learn how life works, it’s also awesome for adults to pick up a fun fact or two.

Mama’s review: Five brains out of five!

Lily’s review: “The brain is adorable! I love his glasses. And, yes, I know brains don’t really wear glasses.”

 

 

 

The Princess and the Pony

 

Title: The Princess and the Pony
Author/Illustrator: Kate Beaton
Published: Scholastic, 2015

 

There are few things that make Lily laugh harder than adorable animals doing silly things, so when she first heard this story, she immediately fell in love with the roly-poly pony with a flatulence problem. Lily absolutely loves this book. And so do I! It’s hilarious (for many reasons, not just the excess pony gas).

First, just in case you need a refresher, Kate Beaton is the brilliant author/illustrator who gave us King Baby. We still adore that little egg-shaped guy. And we adore Princess Pinecone, the star of The Princess and the Pony, just as much.

The premise of the story is this: Princess Pinecone’s birthday is coming up and she’s really, really hoping for a horse. A big, brave horse. Princess Pinecone is a warrior. She needs a horse befitting her status. (Usually, for her birthday, she gets fuzzy knitted sweaters.)  Unfortunately, Pinecone’s parents dropped the ball. Instead of a strong, awesome warrior horse, they got Pinecone a round pony with eyes that appear to be looking in different directions.

Pinecone decides that maybe the pony can be trained anyway. That doesn’t…go well. On the day of the ‘big battle’ (mostly warriors doing non-violent, spitball-related things to each other), Pinecone arrives with her pony. She’s about to dive into the battling, when one of the warriors comes running at her with what appears to be a pool noodle. Otto the Awful is truly terrifying…until he spots the pony and falls in love. In fact, all the fierce brutes seem to think the pony is absolutely adorable. Pinecone remarks that the battles don’t usually end that way, and Otto tells her that sometimes even tough guys need to express their softer side.

It occurs to Princess Pinecone that she has just the thing to help the warriors: heaps and heaps of knitted sweaters.

She brings the sweaters and hands them out. The warriors all look adorable, and vote Princess Pinecone and the pony the most valuable warriors of the day.

The story is wonderful because:

  1. It’s unique. I love a story that’s unpredictable and totally different from anything else out there.
  2. The art is hilarious. The pony is just perfect. I kind of wish he was real. I’d totally keep a round pony in my backyard.
  3. I like the messages: girls can be warriors, sometimes tough guys have a soft side (people are complicated!), and appreciate your birthday gifts. They might not be what you wanted, but sometimes things work out better than you could’ve imagined.

If you’re in the market for a funny book that your kid will want to read repeatedly, this is the one for you. You’ll love Princess Pinecone and her adorably ovoid pony.

Jess is back! With Guest Reviewer – Lily!

Ah, fellow booknerds…I’m so sorry I’ve been absent. Things have been, globally speaking, insane in the membrane (insane in the brain).

Today, we finished our schoolwork a bit early and the weather is super-gloomy…so I’m here to review a book with my number-one picture-book-reading-buddy…Lily!

I asked her to choose a book from her bookshelf. She was gone for ten minutes. I began to worry and potentially think about going to check on her, but I enjoyed the silence too much. She then proceeded to bring me several books we’d already reviewed. But, after much ado, here’s what she decided on…

 

 

Title: After the Fall
Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published:  Roaring Brook Press, 2017

My favourite picture book of all time. Oh, Lily. You knew we needed this today.

Okay, so guys…guys…this book. It’s amazing. It’s outstanding. It’s so good. It’s the perfect picture book. But, you know, no over-hyping here.

Just that it’s written by the most talented children’s author/illustrator out there, it’s the most wonderful spin on a nursery rhyme character we all know, it’s got an incredibly powerful message and the writing is tight and the art is amazing.

Also, every person I’ve given a copy to (which is quite a lot of people, really), absolutely adores it as much as I do. (Okay, maybe not AS much, as that would be impossible, but they love it a lot). This was the book I gave to Vivi’s grade one teacher, the teacher that made school something she loved. This was the only book that really summed up how I felt about how she changed Vivi’s life and helped her to fly. It’s the book I read when things look bleak. When I need encouragement. When I want to feel hope. It’s the book that still gives me the feels every time I read the ending. This. Book. Right. Here.

Anyway…

We read the book once again and here’s the follow-up interview with my tiny cohort.

J: What did you think, Lily?
L: It was great! I loved it when he turned into a bird.
J: That’s kind of a spoiler. We probably shouldn’t focus too much on that just yet.
L: Okay, well, I really liked the cereal page. I LOVE the cereals on the top row. The best one is the “Just Marshmallows” cereal. I’d eat that! The most boring one is the one on the bottom row that looks like Baba (her grandfather…my dad…and it does look like him, on the box).
J: What do you think the Baba cereal tastes like?
L: Socks.
J: What do you think the saddest part of the story was?
L: When Humpty fell off the wall.
J: What do you think it means when it says that some parts of him couldn’t be put together with bandages and glue?
L: He was hurt on the outside and scared on the inside.
J: What was your second-favourite page?
L: The page with his plane. It’s beautiful. He made it look like a bird because he wanted to watch the birds.
J: How do you think he felt when his plane got stuck on the wall?
L: Scared. He was afraid he’d fall again.
J: Did you know he was going to hatch at the end?
L: No, not the first time we read it. That was a really good surprise.
J: So, is this one of your favourite books?
L: Yup.
J: Thanks, Lily.
L: Lily out.

So, the tl;dr version:

Buy a copy of this book because it’s my favourite and it’s perfect in every way and you won’t be sorry. Also, give a copy to every single person you love/like/tolerate/know. Because it will brighten their day and make the world a better place. Deal? Deal.

 

 

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.