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.


Monsters on my Mind by Lauren Tortora. Book Review.

This picture book is a hardcover 8 by 10 . The illustrations grab the reader’s attention. They’re made with acrylic paint and black ink and fill the pages with bright colors. The cover shows a child frightened and hiding below a blanket. From the title and picture, it seemed the book would mostly be about monsters but they actually play a fairly small part.

I had mixed feelings about this book so I decided to solicit my granddaughter’s opinion. She’s almost 5 years old but listens to a wide variety of books, some for much older children. The book held her interest throughout.

Lily is a child who loves imagining. She practices making pictures with her mind. She snaps an imaginary shot like a camera but she also has a camera hanging around her neck in several of the pictures.  From the author’s note at the back, I figured out this was a cardboard camera. My granddaughter and I were unsure whether she was literally taking pictures.

The line between reality and imagining is difficult to discern in this book. Lily starts to make excuses for the disappearance of her mother’s silver mirror and her dad’s deck of cards by blaming it on the monsters in her room. Has her imagination taken over to the point where she is using it to excuse things she’s not supposed to do? We weren’t sure what was happening. She even blames the monsters for eating her homework. She throws away her camera.

But then she has a magical dream where in, “I didn’t remember seeing any more scary monsters! I just remembered all the fun I had with my camera by my side.” She decides to reconnect with her imagination and from that point on, she controls what she dreams. The monsters are no longer scary and she doesn’t let them get her into trouble.

We decided that the story was telling us to use our imagination but to not let it run away with us. We had an interesting discussion about whether we could really control our dreams.


Melissa and Doug Best Friends Forever Deluxe Magnetic Dress-Up Play Set – Toy Review

Durability five stars. These toys are tough. They’ve been banged together, dropped, and thrown into boxes without chipping, cracking, or flaking.

Play quality four stars. The dolls will provide hours of fun. The girls are from diverse backgrounds. There are enough clothes to provide a variety of scenarios of imaginative play.  The dolls could even fit in a Barbie doll house or a cardboard box construction of the child’s own creation. Although the dolls are not bendable, they are suited to children who are not ready for the fine motor control it takes to dress and play with Barbie style dolls. The dolls seem to be 10 or 11 years old and the clothes are suited to a younger girl. I wanted more variety though.
I found that it was easy for me to make a template for my granddaughters to use to create their own clothes. We made party dresses, pajamas, and and career clothes. The sky is the limit.
nightgown, onesie pjs, party dress, ball gown

Safety four stars. The dolls are suitable for children to play with who are three years old and up and no longer put small objects into their mouths. However, the box is heavy and awkward for a child to carry.

 Age interest five stars. At first children will be happy just to play with the dolls. Older girls may become interested in designing clothes. I recommend using Bristol board or heavy printer paper and gluing at least three magnets on the back of a dress. There may be other dolls that are easier to design for since these ones do not have their arms separate from their body. One way to get the clothing to fit properly is to scan the doll on your computer, print it out on heavy paper, then cut out the doll completely removing the purple background. Make sure the child traces outside the body when making clothing.
astronaut, judge, police officer, ballerina
Storage and portability three stars The original dolls and clothing can be stored in the box. The lid does not stay on so you will have to tie a strap to keep it in place. Once you add clothing of your own design, the little nooks quickly fill up and you will have to add something else to store them. It’s already heavy and awkward to store and carry.
Price four stars. On Amazon the price varied from $20-$38. Personally I think $25  is reasonable for this product. If your child shows an early interest in older dolls or, later, is really into designing clothes for her own dolls, this is a wonderful little toy.
Well recommended.

Pukey Poetry – Tale Ticklers by Mz Millipede by Dorianne Allister Winkler. Book review.

First, I have to say that the illustrations in this book are hilarious. The pages are jam-packed with wonky, colorful, and detailed pictures. As well, kids will love looking for the millipede in each double spread and examining the gross elements.
As you can tell from the title, the poems are a collection of silly topics, many disgusting, that children will love. Winkler writes about a giant lollipop, a man who never cuts his toenails, and eating bugs. Children will love the topics though you might want to skip the one about the monster under the bed for your littlest listener.
All the poems are written in some style of rhyme. They are all entertaining and enjoyable but some vary in technical achievement. While they rhyme well, the changingsyllabication sometimes breaks the beat. On the whole children probably won’t mind in the least.
The most impressive poems are Toe-Jam Sam, Wafflerus or Pandacake, (a very clever take on a zany breakfast), and Secret Feast.
The style of these poems reminds me of the Canadian treasure, Dennis Lee. Reluctant readers who love gross stuff will actually sit down with this book. Parents who can get right into the mood of being thrilled by disgusting things are sure to make their children laugh and enjoy reading time.

Rafa and the Mist by Kade Baird. Illustrated by Jess Rose. Book Review.

This lovely watercolour picture book is more of an advice and discussion starter than a story. Rafa is being bullied. It may be because of his accent, skin color, or his clothing. He runs into the woods and takes refuge in the mist. The mist speaks to him and protects him. It tells Rafa to develop a plan to stop the bullies and to get support and protection from adults. Eventually Rafa is able to attend school safely and makes some friends.
The author states that the bullies will regret what they have done. This is a point that is often overlooked in picture books and it opens the door to discussion with bullies. I’m not sure it’s always true but it may give pause to children who are feeling guilty about their participation in bullying. Most bullies who realize they’ve done wrong to others, deny it or play it down.
The book does not actually give problem-solving tip for dealing with bullies but more encourages children to tell adults and seek support. I would have really liked something at the back of the book for children sand adults on bullying resolution
strategies or a link to helpful sites available on the net.
The author states that the bullies are scared of Rafa. While this may be true, it is not always true. There are genuinely children who enjoy hurting  others for the power rush it gives them or the release of adrenaline or the increase in social status. That is why a single strategy does not work with every child in every situation.
The first step in getting help is asking for it so this book would be useful in a classroom. Children are smart and sneaky when they are bullying and teachers may not be aware of what is really going on. This book might encourage a victim or a bystander to come forward and reveal acts of cruelty that have been hidden from the adults.
The tone is hopeful and encouraging. However, because bullying is such a hot topic right now there are numerous books available on the subject. I wouldn’t recommend this as the only purchase but it could be useful as one of a set of books. It is a rather long text, suitable for children six years old and up.

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.

Rinny and Oko by Hunter R. Hennigar. Illustrated by Brooklyn Holbrough. Book review.

This children’s picture book has a comic book feel in that dialogue bubbles are used throughout. The illustrations by Holbrough are quirky pen and watercolour featuring highly individualized characters.
Rinny is a little girl who is ignored by the adults in her judgemental and delusional community. They blame all their problems on the monster who lives on the hill instead of recognizing their own complicity. (The monster is actually a kind giant.) The town is filled with factories polluting the air so much that eventually the townspeople are unable to move due to the toxicity. Because Rinny is small, she is below the smog line and because the giant is so tall, he is above it. Together they try to solve the problem and the giant sacrifices his health by inhaling all the poisonous fumes. When Rinny explains what has happened to the reawakened townspeople, they change their attitude and their lifestyle.
This book touches on a lot of important topics such as self-sacrifice, delusion, responsibility, and care of the environment. There are humorous moments to lighten the heavy message such as her family’s preoccupation with feet.
The vocabulary  and length of text is suited to children aged seven and up. This unusual book is well worth a look.

​ 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.

Who Can Fix It? Written and illustrated by Leslie Ann MacKeen. Book Review.

The premise of the story is very clever. Jeremiah T. Fitz drives his crank up car every Sunday for dinner with his mother. When his car breaks down a series of animals offer suggestions on how to fix it. The ideas are humorous and clever.

The kangaroo suggests he check the jumper cable. The elephant suggests he check for a peanut in the trunk. The camel suggests he check for water. Some are a bit of a stretch such as the gorilla suggesting he hang around until Fitz thinks of an idea or the bear suggesting he scare the problem out of the car.

I really enjoyed the misinterpretations such as skipping rope with the jumper cable and removing his pants belt to fan the car. I think the book would have been better if there were fewer animals and the suggestions were expanded a little more.

The misunderstandings in this picture book remind me of the old Amelia Bedelia books. However, the vocabulary and situational humour suits older children since not many picture book readers would know much about radiators, fan belts, oil tanks and spark plugs. This would be a delight to a child who is informed and interested in cars. Although, I am not sure they would be satisfied with the idea that the spiders web stopped the motor from working.

The illustrations are bright and often humorous. I wonder, though, if it might interest children more to use a contemporary vehicle and driver. At times, the text was a bit of a tongue twister and I think simplifying the names would make it easier for a child to read.