Don’t Ask a Dinosaur by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Deborah Bruss. Illustrated by Louie Chin. Book Review.

This humorous picture book imagines what would happen if you asked for help with birthday party preparations and participation from dinosaurs. Although this scenario is obviously totally imaginary, the names and illustrations of the dinosaurs are up-to-date and informative. The children’s favorites, like tyrannosaurus rex, iguanadon, and stegosaurus are there, but some may be new to the reader such as deinocheirus, argentinosaurus, and aliopleurodon.

I like the fact that a brother and sister are having a birthday together. They look as though they could be twins. Hopefully this will entice boys to read the book as much as girls. When the children solicit the dinosaurs’ help, they discover that the rezinosaurus cannot blow up balloons without popping them with his long claws and a tanystropheus will become entangled in the decorations due to his long neck. Each page is filled with humorous situations featuring dinosaurs trying to do the impossible.

I was pleased to find a small glossary at the back with an interesting fact or two about each of the dinosaurs. For example, the argentinosaurus was probably the heaviest of all weighing as much as 1500 people.

What makes this a cut above similar books is the tight and inventive rhyming. The reader cannot help but be impressed at Esenwine’s mastery of rhyme and rhythm using long and complex dinosaur names. “Don’t ask an ankylosaurus to come in through the gate or a tanystropheus to help you decorate.”

The illustrations effectively portray the children’s frustration and  laughter at the unfolding disaster. The text is seamlessly superimposed over the full page spreads.

Kids who like Robert Munsch, dinosaurs, or books about party disasters will love Don’t Ask a Dinosaur.

The authors will be interviewed April 25, 2018.

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Bloom – A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad. Book Review.

This is a 8X10 picture book that tells the story of a fascinating and unique individual, Elsa Schiaparelli. It begins in early childhood where we learned that Elsa was a disappointment to her parents because they wanted a boy and she wasn’t as pretty as her sister. This compelled Elsa her to examine the concept of beauty.

Her experiences might have crushed her spirit if it had not been for her uncle Giovanni. He was an astronomer and also a dreamer like Elsa. He encouraged her imagination and told her she was beautiful. Elsa took refuge in the world of make-believe. She yearned to become an artist.

As a single mother she realized, “To be an artist is to dream big and risk failure.“ In spite of the unlikelihood of success, she brought her dress design sketches to Paris. Fortunately, she fell in with the most creative and innovative people of her time, including Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. Although she could neither sew nor knit,  she was able to have her creations made by others and through hard work became an international sensation. She invented the colour shocking pink and her dress designs were like nothing seen before.

The last two pages of the book give more details of her life. It was wonderful to read that she offered high wages and benefits to her employees when she achieved success. Her personal motto was “Dare to be different.”

This would be a wonderful book to read to a child who is labelled as different or not beautiful or too imaginative or a daydreamer. Like Einstein said, imagination is more important than knowledge. Without the Elsas of the world, our lives would be stagnant and dreary.

The pictures in this book have have a stylish quality that suits the topic without being ostentatious. The pictures of Elsa clearly show us her gentle, creative personality and her vulnerable introspection. This success story should encourage children to follow their dreams and never give up.
Highly recommended for children age 6 and up. Even adults will enjoy this wonderful book.
I want to  encourage more books like this so, inspired by Bloom, I’ve created my own award “Fostering Female Fulfillment.” This book is the first recipient.

Morton McMortimer and the Mars Expedition by Franz. Illustrated by Sebastian Caceres. Book Review.

Morton McMortimer is a creative, fearless child who feels disappointed that his nemesis, Priyanka, won first place in the science fair for her trip to the moon. His day is made even worse by being served kale at supper. He decides to build a spaceship and go to Mars. The journey is long and boring and made all the more stressful by the lack of washrooms. When he arrives there, Morton discovers the planet is made of red kale. His father grounds him when he returns home but Morton is still enthusiastic and realizes he could do more wondrous things with a little inventing and imagination.
This story is written in solid rhyme. The rhythm and beat are impressive and interesting words are rhymed or near rhymed such as chillier and familiar, stealthy and healthy, rising and fantasizing, feller and propeller, stowing and going , and worst and reverse. This picture book is for high level readers or for parents to share with young listeners.
Kale seems to be to this generation what spinach was to mine – a healthy food that children resist eating. I was hoping Morton would discover that kale soup or some other dish with kale was good at the end of the story, but he didn’t.
The pictures are bright, lively, and detailed. The book is set up like a graphic novel. Children will love the illustrations.
On the title page, there is a quote, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” -Thomas Edison. This is a terrific reminder to parents to allow their children to engage in imaginative creation using items other than Legos and pre-scripted materials. It is only with junk you can destroy, if necessary, that creation can be unhindered, wildly inventive, and truly original.
Highly recommended.

​ Duck, Duck, Moose by Joy Heyer. Book review.

This is a delightful picture book about missing a friend. Duck is lonely because goose has gone away for winter. The other animals try to cheer him up by engaging him in games such as duck, duck, pig. However duck does not find this enjoyable nor does he like playing with the fish, snakes, porcupine, or moose. After feeling dejected for a while, duck decides a different game might work and so all the animals engage in hide and seek. On the last page, goose returns.
The book is written in rhyme and it holds quite well throughout. I specially enjoyed the onomatopoeia pages where Jack played with each animal. For example, Ooey, Gooey, Icky, Sticky, Quack, Quack, Quack when he was playing with the pig and the fish sounds were Sploosh, Splash, Blub, Glub.
The pictures alternate between full page colour, double page spreads, and single characters on a page but all are sweet, charming watercolors.
My granddaughter found this book very engaging and loved the humorous bits as well as the emotional moments. Highly recommended.

Little Pencil Finds His Forever Friends: A Rhyming Pencil Grip Picture Book by Christine Calabrese. Illustrated by Maria Victoria Flores. Book review.

I always feel a bit of trepidation when I get a rhyming book to review. It is so difficult to write well and too many people attempt it who have  otherwise never written in rhyme since grade school. Happily, Calabrese succeeds with this charming little story.

The pencil is sad because everyone else seems to have a job. The photographed hands of a small child use a ruler, clay, scissors, blocks and more while the pencil sobs feeling left out.

Variations on this refrain are repeated throughout the book:

Poor little pencil

Sobbed, “Boo-hoo hoo.

Poor little pencil

Had nothing to do!”

The author varies the verb sobbed exposing children to some interesting synonyms.

At the end, the child picks up the pencil and begins to write. We learn the correct way to hold a pencil if you are a right-handed person or a lefty.

The illustrations are an engaging combination of photographed hands and illustrated tools all with expressive faces. The colors are bright and engaging. The book is a large 8 x 10 so all children can clearly see the proper way to hold the pencil.

As a former teacher, I know how difficult it is to change a child’s awkward grip on a pencil once it has become habit. As soon as your child can hold a crayon, marker, or pencil, be sure their grip is correct. Not only does it help with letter formation but it is less fatiguing. This book is a great way to introduce the proper method with less conflict.

Buy link

 

The Panchatantra Retold – Kakolukiyuum by Sonal Panse

This is a rare and fascinating collection of interweaving folk tales from ancient India. While they remind me of Aesop‘s fables, they are more complicated, with less obvious meanings, and interconnected in a intricate yet logical manner. This set of stories is written for adults.
The legend goes that a king asked a wise man to change his useless three sons into practical, competent young man. The wise man promised that in six months the boys would be transformed by his wisdom stories.
I have never read a story within story within a story circling back going forward and circling back again in the elaborate way this series does. It is an admirable feat of storytelling.
Much discussion could ensue from each little story especially with regard to psychological warfare and strategy. Basically the story is about owls continuing to attack and kill crows. How the crows decide to protect themselves is devised through discussion by exchanging short fables. There is much insight into the human psyche represented by these animals.
There is a wonderful pen and ink illustration for each story. This is a highly unusual book well worth a look.

My Favorite Fifteen Fiction Picture Books I Reviewed in 2017

I’ve read so many wonderful picture books this year that it was impossible for me to shorten the list of favorites any further than fifteen. Click on the title to go to the review.

THIS WEEK

Monday – Favorite adult book

Tuesday – Five Favorite Young Adult Books

Wednesday – Five Favorite Middle Grade Books

Thursday – Seven Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books

Friday – Fifteen Favorite Fiction Picture Books

My Seven Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books I Reviewed in 2017

Some of these are not strictly nonfiction but I felt they were informative enough to include in this list. They are in no particular order. Click on the titles to read the reviews.

Coming to Canada: Building a Life in a New Land by Susan Hughes.

This is a nonfiction history book is organized into easy-to-read sections. Is quite up to date and inclusive. It begins with the arrival of the aboriginal peoples. It follows through with the Acadians and the Great Expulsion, an example of how prejudice and politics can destroy the lives of ordinary people. Throughout the book, it honestly shows the cruelties and failures done while building our country.

 

A is for Anaconda: A Rainforest Alphabet by Anthony D. Fredericks. Illustrated by Laura Regan.

This is not an alphabet book for preschool or kindergarten children. In fact, calling it an alphabet book could be misleading. It is, in fact, an extensive resource book for information about rainforests.

 

Why I Love Canada. Illustrated by Daniel Howarth.

I really liked this book until I researched it because of a small notation on the cover. Now I love it. Each of the sentences was written by a child in Alberta. (That explains the buffalo.) The illustrator then took the sentences and created the book. This is the kind of think I loved doing when I was a primary teacher. Children have a wonderful way of noticing the beautiful.

 

Eating Green by Molly Aloian.

Although this picture book is written for children, it is a reminder for people of all ages of the impact of our choices.

 

Herds of Birds Oh How Absurd! by S.J. Bushue and Deb McQueen.

Readers learn that deer, dinosaurs, elephants, hippos, horses, kangaroos, llamas, moose, pigs, reindeer, seals, walruses, yaks, and zebras all travel in herds. But porcupines, flamingos, hamsters, alligators, butterflies, lions, toads, ferrets, geese, nightingales, dolphins, penguins, hummingbirds, and monkeys are identified by a different collective noun.

 

Seasons of Joy: Every Day is For Outdoor Play written and illustrated by Claudia Marie Lenart.

The book explores the four seasons, three pages dedicated to each one. The story is written in poetic prose and although there are occasional rhymes, it does not try to be a rhyming book. On each page, children participate in imaginative, child driven, outdoor activities.

 

Can You Say Peace? By Karen Katz.

Each double-page spread has the name of the child and the country she lives in on the left with a full-page bright illustration. A close-up of the child’s face on the is right with the words on how to say peace in their language with a pronunciation guide.

 

THIS WEEK

Monday – Favorite adult book

Tuesday – Five Favorite Young Adult Books

Wednesday – Five Favorite Middle Grade Books

Thursday – Seven Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books

Friday – Fifteen Favorite Fiction Picture Books

 

My Favorite Five Middle Grade Books I Reviewed in 2017

Click on the titles to read the reviews.

Erasable and Digby of the Dinosaurs

by Linda Yiannakis

Erasable: The protagonist, nine-year-old Ellie, discovers something in her grandmother’s attic that promises to solve all her problems. But like the genie who grants three wishes, one never knows where magic will lead. Ellie has little understanding of the karmic results of her decisions. What begins as little improvements cascades into major life changes, not all positive.

Digby: A little boy inadvertently finds himself in a secluded world where some species of dinosaurs still exist and have evolved to a higher level. But it is so much more than that.

The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey. Illustrated by Victoria Jamieson.

The reader can’t help but love the little hero, Eddie, a tiny bug who braves the huge halls of the school, dodging a spider, a mouse, and lots of squishers (humans who stomp on bugs), in order to find his missing aunt.

 

Tangled Lines by Bonnie J. Doerr.

The reader is given an insight into the daily struggle of fishermen, the risks taken by Cuban immigrants to reach the United States of America, exploitation of the natural world, the senseless slaughter of wild creatures, and the courageous and giving nature of volunteers trying to protect endangered wildlife and the environment.

 

Something Stinks by Gail Hedrick.

Emily is determined to find out why fish are showing up dead on the river banks by her aunt and uncle’s home. Her small town is suffering from job loss, so Emily’s investigations are less than popular. She decides to focus on an exposé for the school newspaper. Whatever industry she points the finger at may mean disaster for the company and, subsequently, the workers.

 

 

Halito Gianna by Becky Villareal.

Gianna could easily become one of your children’s favourite book characters. This is a determined, bighearted, independent, and opinionated girl. She is resourceful and clever.

 

THIS WEEK

Monday – Favorite adult book

Tuesday – Five Favorite Young Adult Books

Wednesday – Five Favorite Middle Grade Books

Thursday – Seven Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books

Friday – Fifteen Favorite Fiction Picture Books

My Favorite Five Young Adult Books I’ve Read in 2017

These are my favorite five young adult books I reviewed this year. They are listed in no particular order. Click on the title to go to the review.

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth.

Both the major characters are engaging, complex, and selfless. I read this book in one night as I could not put it down. I loved both Justine and Perry. Both have big hearts, protective natures, a sense of humor, and courage.

 

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner.

Zentner understands survivor’s guilt at the deepest level. This is a story about the tragic deaths of three teenagers and the impact it has on the fourth friend and their families.

 

Trell by Dick Lehr.

This young adult book is told from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old girl named Van Trell Taylor whose father, Romero, is in prison. She was a baby when he was convicted of the murder of a 13-year-old girl in a gang/drug related crime where someone else was the target. Trell’s mother, Shey, is confident that, even though her husband was a drug dealer and petty criminal, he was not capable of murdering anyone. Trell enlists the aid of a new lawyer and burned out journalist to find the truth about her father.

 

Optimists Die First – Life Ahead: Proceed with Caution by Susin Nielsen.

17-year-old Petula De Wilde is plagued with guilt over her accidental contribution to her baby sister’s death. In addition, she has become obsessed with the idea that anything less than constant vigilance can result in tragedy, leaving her parents with no children at all. As a result, she will not shake hands, walk anywhere near construction sites, get in elevators, or do anything that remotely endangers her safety.

 

Avians by Timothy Gwyn.

Timothy Gwyn has built a fascinating and completely believable world in his first 416 page young adult science-fiction novel. His expertise with flying gives authenticity to the events without overwhelming the reader with technical jargon. Girls whose lives are miserable may be able to escape by joining the avians, an aeronautical group of young women fiercely loyal to each other and in love with flying glider planes used for commercial delivery and rescue missions.

THIS WEEK

Monday – Favorite adult book

Tuesday – Five Favorite Young Adult Books

Wednesday – Five Favorite Middle Grade Books

Thursday – Seven Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books

Friday – Fifteen Favorite Fiction Picture Books