Category Archives: Uncategorized

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:

undefined

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

undefined

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+

September was…insanely busy.

Hello, blog readers! I have been a bit absent lately…but I have three good reasons.

  1. The kids went back to school. You’d think that would mean MORE time to write, but not exactly. It’s a bit dicey at the beginning of the year, what with all the forms and books and stuff to keep track of.

Oh, and the constant, non-stop sickness. That too.

  1. Lily was just diagnosed with celiac disease. We were worried about her tummy earlier this summer, and I had a VERY strong suspicion as to what was going on, but a blood test confirmed it. Trying to completely revamp the way we eat/eliminate AP flour (my beloved baking flour) and learning a totally new diet has been…challenging. One of the hardest things is the fact that I have a ton of allergies myself, most of which are fatal (we’re talking nuts, seeds, seafood…honey…stuff like that). So finding substitutions for Lily that are also not deadly for me has been a bit of work.
  2. I’m working on a few new stories/writing some scripts (those ones are for actual money!) and trying to figure out how the heck I’m going to write a graphic novel, seeing as I can’t draw half-decently.

BUT!

All that said, I’m going to get back to reviewing amazing kidlit ASAP. I’m dedicating two days a week to kid lit blogging, so please stay tuned. I have an extensive list of books I’m going to borrow from the library and they look pretty darn awesome.

Soooo…I shall see you very soon, dear reader. 🙂

Pine & Boof

 

Title: Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf
Author/Illustrator: Ross Burach
Published: Scholastic, 2017

 

You guys, how is summer almost over? Like, what happened? To be TOTALLY honest, in some ways this summer has seemed quite long. (See: days when my children feel like whining and complaining and requesting snacks NON stop. How do kids that age eat so much? Also, if I hear the CATS soundtrack one more time, I might lose my dang mind. Lily is obsessed with it. I fall asleep hearing “I have a gumbie cat in mind…her name is Jenny Anydots…playing round and round in my head…but I digress.) In other ways, however, the summer has flown by.

And it has been fillllled with this book. Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf. Lily LOVES this story. What’s it about? I’m so glad you asked!

It’s about Boof, a bear (who happens to be afraid of bears…a fact which Lily finds endlessly amusing). Boof likes to find things and draw faces on them. In this case, a lucky red leaf. Unfortunately, it blows away. Enter Pine (the porcupine). Pine tries to help Boof find the leaf…but…it blows farther and farther away and then is totally, 100% gone.

But, surprisingly, Boof isn’t super-sad about that. Why? Because he’s had such a wonderful adventure with Pine, trying to get his leaf back. And he’s made a REAL friend. Someone who will adventure with him forever.

All together now: awww!

This book is one of my go-to stories for bedtime. Why? There are four reasons!

  1. It’s funny. I like funny, what can I say? Lily really likes the part where Pine is searching for the leaf and looks “under a Boof.” Hilarious!
  2. The art works perfectly with the text. I really dig Ross Burach’s cartoon-y style. The text is hilarious and the pictures are excellent. Lily’s favourite page is when Boof is supposed to be explaining something “calmly” according to the text, but the picture shows him sobbing hysterically. Brilliant.
  3. It’s a great length. I am always leery of overly-wordy books at bedtime (looking at you AGAIN, Berenstain Bears). This one hits the mark perfectly.
  4. It has a great denouement. The end is fun and happy, but the adventure is officially over for the night, so let’s hit the hay and dream of new adventures tomorrow. (Hint, hint, Lily.)I’m going to be honest: I hadn’t heard of Ross Burach until he appeared in our Scholastic book order last year. We got a bundle of his books and I’m so glad we did! They’re all fantastic (Truck Full of Ducks is a personal favourite), and Lily LOVES them. We were at the library today and she specifically looked for him on the shelves. If you haven’t read any of his stuff, you’re missing out! Pick up absolutely anything he’s written, and I guarantee your little one will enjoy it. And so will you!

Mama’s rating: 5 happy leaves/5

Lily’s rating: “This book is hilarious! I really like the part where they look under Boof. Ha!”

 

I’m Sad

Title: I’m Sad
Author: Michael Ian Black
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018

 

When I was a kid, my parents had, like, two parenting books to read. One of them was Dr. Spock. The other was a book of parenting jokes that someone had given to them when I was born. So they didn’t have a whole lot to go on other than well-meaning advice, gut feelings and very sparse expert guidance. These days, it’s a whole different story. There are eighty-billion parenting books, all telling you the many ways you might permanently psychologically damage your offspring.

And man, it’s stressful. That’s why I eat chocolate, people. That’s why.

What does any of this have to do with today’s book? Well, one of the things many of the parenting books (and websites and Twitter feeds and blogs…) talk about is how to deal with your children’s emotions. And sadness? That’s a biggie. Don’t mess that one up or you’re in trouble.

I TRY my very best to be okay with my kiddos not being happy all the time. Actually, if they’re mad or tired or curious or any number of other emotions, I’m absolutely fine with it. But sadness? I think it’s the default reaction of most people to want to just whisk it away. Just…don’t BE sad! It’s a message we get all the time: happy is good. Sad is bad. But is it? No, of course not. It’s normal and natural and sometimes totally, completely, 100% warranted (note to my children: not getting the Shopkins you wanted doesn’t fall into this category…at least not for more than five minutes).

That’s why I really, really liked I’m Sad by the wonderfully talented Michael Ian Black and artiste extraordinaire, Debbie Ridpath Ohi. This book follows characters we met in I’m Bored – the little girl, the flamingo and (my favourite) the potato. In I’m Sad, the flamingo is feeling blue. She* doesn’t really explain why, but she just IS. And you know what? The little girl and the potato are absolutely fine with that. Sure, they try to cheer her up, but when it becomes obvious that whatever’s on the flamingo’s mind isn’t going to go away easily, they’re fine with her mood.  They reassure her that they still like her (well, except the potato…who makes a joke that DOES get the flamingo giggling and makes her feel a bit better). They accept her for whatever she is feeling.

Which is such a tremendously powerful message for kids to hear. It’s fine to feel what you’re feeling. And maybe it’ll go away quickly, and maybe not. But your friends are there for you, regardless.

And the art. Can we talk about it for a second? It’s great. I love Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s style. It feels a bit reminiscent of Mo Willems’ art, in its simplicity and how well it conveys the characters’ emotions. The colour palette is lovely and the pictures are just a lot of fun to look at. I also like the different font styles used for each characters’ dialogue.

My kids had the following thoughts (this is after the fifth reading, mind you. Our library books get a good workout.):

Lily: “The best part was when the potato made the flamingo laugh. That was so friendly.”

Vivi: “The whole book is great. Sadness is something kids should talk about.”

And, of course, not to be left out, Karl: “The ending was really strong. And I really liked the art.”

As for me, I think I’m Sad is a gentle, kind, reassuring read. It’s the type of book all kids need to read. We will definitely be getting a copy to add to our collection!

Lily’s Rating: All the flamingos
Vivi’s Rating: A+
Mama’s Rating: Five potatoes out of five

 

*Note: we don’t really know the gender of the flamingo, but in this house…everything is a girl. Sorry, Karl.