Hotel Bruce


Title: Hotel Bruce
Author/Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins
Published: Scholastic, 2016


There’s something you should know about me: I’m a sucker for bear stories. I love them to an absurd degree. I’m also a sucker for grumpy animal stories. So when I found Bruce Hotel, a story about a grumpy bear, I was immediately enamored. And THEN I did a bit of research and found out that there are several more Bruce books…

Which are presently wrapped up under our Christmas tree. (Yes, I know it’s still November…but it’s ALMOST December, which means it’s high time for several Christmas trees!)

The girls loved Bruce Hotel. And why not? It’s hilarious! A quick recap? Don’t mind if I do!

The story starts with Bruce reluctantly accompanying his ‘kids’ (four Canada geese) south for the winter. The problem is, when they return they find that three mice have taken over their house and are now running a hotel! Bruce is not the type of bear to stand for a rodent invasion, so he boots the mice…but there are other animals to contend with.

Many other animals.

Suffice it to say, hilarity ensues and Bruce ends up finally losing his cool (he IS a bear, after all). He gets rid of ALL of his unwanted guests…only to have his four geese convince him to take the mice back in.

So he does. Oh, Bruce. You do have a sweet heart after all!

We purchased this at the school book fair on Friday…and we have read it about ten times since then. One thing I immediately realized is that the mice in Bruce Hotel are the same mice from Be Quiet! (Another really funny book.)

Our reviews? Here goes:

Jess: 9/10 bears
Vivi: “This book is hilarious!”
Lily: “I like the mice!”

Thelma the Unicorn


Title: Thelma the Unicorn
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Blabey
Published: Scholastic, 2015


Many times, I buy books based on their reviews.

Occasionally, I hit up Chapters and take a look around the children’s section. Then something inevitably catches my eye and I *must* have it.

And then sometimes…just SOMETIMES…I end up buying a book for a silly reason. A frivolous reason. A reason that might include “it’s about a unicorn” and “the unicorn is pink” plus “the title is SPARKLY.”

I bought Thelma the Unicorn for the third reason. Obviously. Well, that and one other thing.

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Phoebe the Unicorn. I really loved it and so did an editor at a local publishing house. The issue we ran into was the art: she couldn’t figure out how to make it work. I was *kinda* heartbroken because it was as close as I’ve ever been to having a REAL publisher publish something I’ve written. So when I saw Thelma the Unicorn I felt I should support an author (and illustrator) who was able to get their unicorn to market. Makes sense, non?


Well, anyway, Thelma is a superstar.

But what’s the story actually about? Let me break it down in five easy-to-digest points:

  1. Thelma is BFFs with a donkey named Otis, but she’s getting kind of tired of her life – she wants to be more fabulous than a regular pony. She wants to be a unicorn (Otis, for the record, thinks she’s great as she is).
  2. Thelma finds a carrot and straps it on her head like a unicorn horn. She then gets sprayed by pink paint and glitter in a freak pink-paint-and-glitter-carrying-truck accident.
  3. Thelma becomes famous! Fabulous! She is the unicorn she always dreamed she’d be.
  4. Unfortunately, with great fame comes great stress. Her fans are kind of crazy and Thelma realizes that some of them are actually jerks. She isn’t happy being super-popular and really misses Otis. She decides to change from unicorn back to pony.
  5. Thelma returns home and is super-happy to see her BFF. Her life is pretty great after all.

I like many things about this book, including:

1. The art – it’s super-cute and I love, love, love the design of Thelma. The sparkly text on the front cover is fabulous.

2. The rhyming – I’m a sucker for a rhyming book, it’s true. This one is pretty solid. There’s only one page that makes me sort of cringe…it’s this part: “And some were not her fans at all. No some were really mean. And some did just the meanest things she’d really ever seen.” I have issues with the whole “really ever seen” thing. It feels forced and a bit awkward. It reminds me of Giraffes Can’t Dance – I have a similar issue with part of that book.

3. The moral of the story. I read this to Vivi and asked her “So what did you think?” And she said (and this is a direct quote): “I think the take-home message has to be to just be true to yourself. You can’t be happy if you’re being someone else. You have to be comfortable with who you are.” Boom! Any picture book that nails that message home to my five (almost six) year old is a total winner

If you’re looking for a book that appears to be all about being sparkly and pink but is really about something much, much deeper, pick up Thelma. You’re gonna love her.

Mama’s review: 4/5 sparkly horns
Vivi’s review: “Total A+”



Title: Crankenstein
Author: Samantha Berger
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published: Scholastic, 2013


If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ll know that I am a *huge* Dan Santat fan. Like, massive. My favourite picture book of all (After the Fall) is 100% Dan-Santat-created, and I truly love everything else he’s done. You better believe I’m a Fantat (Fantat copyright Jess, 2018).

Anyway, Vivi brought home her Scholastic book order in October and I found a book that Mr. Santat illustrated. One I hadn’t heard of (and therefore didn’t own). Crankenstein. I promptly ordered it and waited.

I thought maybe I’d review it for Halloween. But life happened. (Read: Vivi has had pneumonia and we’ve been house-bound and away from school for TWO WEEKS.) The first afternoon back, Vivi’s (amazing) teacher had a large box of books for us. Among them: Crankenstein. I’m not gonna lie, I read it in the car in the driveway.

It’s the tale of a cranky little boy who turns into a Crankenstein (that’s a wonderful portmanteau of ‘cranky’ and ‘Frankenstein,’ of course) whenever there’s an uncomfortable/difficult situation. You know, like all kids do. When waiting in line, when having to deal with a dearth of maple syrup, when having a toy break or a popsicle melt or having to take horrible medicine (relatable!).

The story is simple but cute. But, as per usual, Dan Santat’s art is what makes this book really special. My favourite page of all is the one where the two Crankensteins meet and are glaring at each other. It is SO accurate. It’s EXACTLY what kids look like.

This book is definitely for the younger-end of the picture book age group. Vivi is “meh” on it (her words), but Lily likes it and has asked for it a few times. It would be a good one to have for a preschool/JK class for Halloween…a good way to tie in the special occasion and talk about how we can all be a bit monstrous sometimes.

And, as a hilarious side note: if you own this book, please read the legal page. Dan Santat has written a description of how the art was produced for the story. My favourite line is: “Crankenstein is the embodiment of Dan Santat’s pure rage…and he did it all for you.” Thanks, Dan!

Mama’s review: 4 cranky kids/5
Vivi: Meh.
Lily: “I like it!”

Bunny Cakes

Title: Bunny Cakes
Author/Illustrator: Rosemary Wells
Published: Puffin Books, 1997


I used to tutor a little boy who loved, loved, loved Max and Ruby. Whenever we’d go to the library for our weekly book haul, we’d comb the shelves for any new Rosemary Wells books. And, failing that, we’d just renew the ones we were bringing back. We did this for about 3 years.

I read a LOT of Max and Ruby, is what I’m saying.

I also ended up sewing my little charge Max and Ruby dolls. But that’s another story.

I figured, when I had kids, that they might also like Max and Ruby. And they do. Kinda.

My 5 year old, Vivi, informed me that Bunny Cakes is now “too babyish” for her (she loved it when she was 2-3 and we read it almost daily, but now that she’s nearly 6, it’s just not her speed anymore). 3 year old Lily is still a fan, however, so I’m only posting her review at the end.

Basically, Bunny Cakes is about brother-and-sister rabbits Max and Ruby preparing a birthday dessert for their grandma. (AKA: the only grownup who ever appeared in any of their books/TV shows until recently when the writers realized that it’s SUPER WEIRD not to have adults in a TV show. Looking at you too, Ryder and Paw Patrol.)

So Grandma has taken another trip around the sun. Max wants to get some Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters to decorate her cake with. Ruby just needs to replenish all the ingredients Max constantly spills/wrecks. Max takes Ruby’s written requests for eggs/milk/flour to the grocery store and tries to add his own “Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters” addendum each time. Only on his last visit to get Ruby some cake decorations does he DRAW (as opposed to illegibly scribble) Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters on the list and voila – he gets his candy!

Max and Ruby then present Grandma with two cakes and Gran can’t figure out which one to eat first (pro tip: eat the one without the caterpillar guts for frosting).

So I like this book. It’s funny, it’s cute, the art is always good when it comes from Rosemary Wells. And it’s about cake. If you know me, you know that’s a selling feature.

Mama’s Review: 4/5 buttercream roses
Lily’s Review: “I like it so much, you should read it again!”


The Thank You Book

Title: The Thank You Book
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
Published: Hyperion Books for Children, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have a list of people I would totally LOVE to have lunch with. They include (but are not limited to) Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel, Tina Fey, Dan Santat and, of course, the fabulous Mo Willems. You might say I’m a *bit* of a Mo Willems fan. And by *bit*, I mean *I literally have every single Elephant & Piggie book he’s ever written (all 25), along with about 90% of the rest of his work.*

We read a LOT of Mo in my house, is what I’m saying.

I first discovered Elephant & Piggie at Chapters when Vivi was under a year old. I was looking for a series of books because, well, grandparents and aunts and uncles are generous and it’s easy to say “just pick up the latest blah-blah-blah book.” Which is what we did. (Which is why we have the complete collection.)

The last book Mr. Willems wrote for Elephant & Piggie is The Thank You Book. (Note that this is not including the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading books, which are books not written/illustrated by Mr. Willems that feature the beloved pig and elephant as sort of book reviewers/recommenders.)

It’s also probably number 2 or 3 in my “list of favourite E&P books.” (I have a lot of lists. I’m one of THOSE people.)

Why is The Thank You Book so good?

1. Because it’s funny. In fact, that’s usually part of the reason Mo Willems’ books are so good. At some level, there’s humour in almost all of them. (City Dog, Country Frog kind of bucks this trend, but you should totally buy that book because it’s amazing and will make you feel all the feelings.)

2. ALL of the characters from the past books are featured. It’s like one of those TV shows that has a ton of guest stars on one episode. You’re all like, “OMG, is that Shirley from season 2? WHOA! What’s Doug from season 1 doing here? Man, I love that actor.” (Full disclosure: I don’t watch much TV.)

3. I love the Ice Cream Penguin. And Whale. And Brian Bat. And, well, all of them really. I have specific voices I do for each one when I read them, which makes the entire process far more entertaining. (Pro-tip: Dr. Cat sounds like an actor from a Spanish soap opera. Brian Bat sounds like a high-pitched version of Snake. Piggie kind of sounds like a mellow Miss Piggy and Gerald just has a deep, slightly melancholy voice. But, you know, you do you.)

4. There’s also a genuine sweetness to the book. The last page is *perfect* when Piggie restates that she is, indeed, one lucky pig. I love the idea of thanking your friends for just being the people they are. I also love the fact that Piggie initially forgets Gerald (don’t we always forget to thank those we’re closest to?) and then realizes she also forgot to thank the reader!

5. Mo Willems’ art is gold, period. Elephant & Piggie are deceptively simple characters, but the emotion/motion/little details that Mr. Willems adds just prove what a talented illustrator he is.

If you’ve got a little one, pick up Elephant & Piggie. I promise they will get a LOT of mileage. I promise your kids will memorize them. I promise they will be the type of books that you can read over and over and not lose your dang mind.

And, in case I forgot to mention, thank you for being my reader!

Mama’s review: A+ for the whole darn series.


Archie Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat


Title: Arthur Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat
Author/Illustrator: Katie Harnett
Published: Flying Eye Books, 2016

As you might’ve noticed, we have a lot of books about cats. I blame one family member for that: Lily. My little three (almost four) year old LOVES cats. Anything with cats. Cat jammies. Cat jewelry. Cat dresses. Cat tights. Cat books. And, most of all, real, live cats.

So she REALLY likes this book.

And so do the rest of us. Arthur Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat is a simple but sweet story of a neighbourhood cat who visits each house on Blossom street…except one. Number eleven is inhabited by Mrs. Murray and, unlike the people on the rest of her busy street, her days are spent mostly in quiet solitude. Mrs. Murray knits and drinks tea and watches TV, but that’s about it.

Until her shipment of yarn is delivered to her front porch, with Cat sitting atop it.

After a few days of not seeing the cat, the neighbours become worried and begin to look for him. Since everyone on the street calls him something different, the neighbours don’t initially realize they’re all searching for the same feline. When it’s pointed out (by a little girl) that Archie, Snufflekins, Oliver, Cupcake, Tiberius and Cat are all exactly the same kitty, the neighbours figure out where he must be: at the one house no one goes to. Number eleven.

When the neighbours show up on Mrs. Murray’s doorstep, she explains that yes, Cat is living there. And he doesn’t really want to leave. He likes the peace and quiet. So, the neighbours realize that Cat must stay where he’s happiest…but they definitely want to visit him. And, in visiting Cat, Mrs. Murray suddenly has friends and a social life. What a great ending!

The art is really well done and its sweet style suits the story well.

If you’re looking for a lovely book about neighbours, remembering each other, friendship and, yes, cats, you cannot go wrong with this one.

Mama’s review: 9/10 cans of tuna

Vivi’s review: “I really just enjoyed the entire book. It’s lovely.”

Lily’s review: “I liked it so much because it’s about a cat.”

Sir Simon: Super Scarer


Title: Sir Simon: Super Scarer
Author/Illustrator: Cale Atkinson
Published: Tundra Books, 2018


Halloween is just over a month away and it finally feels like fall this weekend, so I figured it was high time I reviewed a spooky picture book. In this case, Cale Atkinson’s book, Sir Simon: Super Scarer.

I found the delightful Simon at a brand new Toronto-based bookstore in The Junction (Moonbeam Books). If you happen to be out that way, definitely stop in. The owner was super-friendly and very, very knowledgeable about kid lit. I totally geeked out about picture books and she completely understood my obsession with kid lit. It was so nice to find a like-minded person! šŸ˜€

Anyway, the book! I recognized Cale Atkinson’s name, but I couldn’t place where from…until I read his little bio at the back of the book and realizedĀ  I’d read Where Oliver Fits earlier this summer (I liked it, but not nearly as much as I like Simon.)

Yes, I really like Sir Simon Spookington.Ā  The premise of the book is funny. In a nutshell, it’s all about a ghost who has been transferred to his first haunted house. He is kind of bummed because he has a lot of hobbies (writing a thrilling novel, learning French, cross stitch, painting) and his ‘ghost chores’ are going to get in the way of his leisure time (ghost chores include creaking stairs, hiding stuff, standing creepily at windows). He is hopeful because the occupant of the house appears to be a cookie-baking granny. Old people are tops on the haunting pyramid because they sleep a lot. (Kids are bottom – they have no pros, only cons.) So Simon is looking forward to an easy assignment. Unfortunately, he gets a grandma WITH a kid. A curious kid who really wants to pretend to be a ghost. Simon decides to let Chester (the kid) help him out with ALL the ghost chores. Simon gets to do his hobbies, Chester gets to be a ghost, everyone’s happy. Right? Wrong! Chester can’t do ghost chores to save his life. Simon feels kind of bad for making Chester do his work, he helps Chester do human chores the next day. After hanging out, they realize they have some stuff in common, and become best friends. Aw.

The best parts of the book:

1. When Chester has to make scary animal sounds and decides on “Mooooo!” The girls both laughed out loud.
2. The art. I really liked the cross-section of the house, and being able to see Chester and Simon bop from room to room.
3. The subtle suggestion that Chester was in foster care and ended up with his granny. The one line about Chester getting transferred a lot too was understated, yet very powerful (helped along by the art, depicting pictures of the many different people who have been in Chester’s life).
4. Simon’s awesome ‘thrilling novel’ excerpts. The kids didn’t find them as funny as I did, but whatever. They’re not struggling writers, right?
5. The character design of Simon, Chester and the granny. They’re all just adorable. I love the last page, depicting the granny sitting on her chair, looking slightly perturbed.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. I always worry a bit about reading the girls stories with monsters/ghosts in them (that kind of make the monster/ghost seem real), but this one is a winner. Simon is the sweetest little ghost and couldn’t scare a fly (although he once had to scare a bear). If you’re looking for a terrific read for the Halloween season, pick this one up. And get it at Moonbeam Books, Toronto readers! Support your local bookstore!

Mama’s Review: 10 ghosts/10
Vivi’s Review: “I like the part where they met each other for the first time. It’s a great story.”
Lily’s Review: “I love it when he moos through the vent! That was so funny!”