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.


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.

Three Random Questions Interview with Author Joy Heyer.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Joy Heyer to my blog. Duck, Duck, Moose seems to be your first book. If that is correct, what inspired you to use animals in your book and feature such an unusual take on a child’s game?

Joy Heyer: I love puns and word play so when the phrase “Duck, Duck, Moose” popped into my head, I immediately pictured a fearful duck riding on the back of a moose. How did the duck get to the moose? Where was goose? What would it be like to play duck, duck, goose with a moose instead? Or a pig? Or a porcupine? And suddenly I had a picture book.

Ferrante: When did you begin writing and why have you chosen children’s picture books as your genre?

Heyer: I studied writing and illustrating children’s books when I was in college but it wasn’t until 2009, when a friend invited me to join her writing group, that I really started seriously writing and illustrating.

Ferrante: You have four children and are now a grandmother as well. Have you used your family as inspiration for your book?

Heyer: Oh yes! My children have been sad, grumpy, and lonely many times because their best friends were out of town. Watching them decide to be happy and make new friends is always a delight.

Ferrante: I see we have similar interest in reading, writing, painting, sewing, and dreaming up home-improvement projects. How do you balance these interests? Do you switch for a break after a long period working on one craft or do you do several at a time? How does this impact your writing?

Heyer: Drawing and painting are my favorite things to do so I have to make sure I set aside time for all the other things that need doing, including reading and writing. Fortunately, reading, writing, and drawing are interconnected so I find myself doing at least a little of each every day. As for home-improvement projects…well, maybe someday I will get to them.

Ferrante: Your bio mentioned that you have a dog that goes crazy whenever you leave the house. Do you think this pet might show up in one of your future books?

Heyer: Definitely. He provides me with lots of great story ideas—so many I hope to create a whole series of books with him as the main character.

Ferrante: That sounds fun. As a new author, what have you learned the hard way that you wish you had known earlier?

Heyer: It takes a lot of hard work and practice to be good at writing and illustrating. Who knows? Maybe I would be discussing my tenth book instead of my first book if I had started practicing earlier!

Ferrante: Absolutely. What are you working on now?

Heyer: I continue to draw and write everyday (practice, practice, practice!) so when the next project comes, I’m ready. In the meantime, I’m enjoying sharing Duck, Duck, Moose with everyone. Maybe I could start a home-improvement project…

Ferrante: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share?

Heyer: I would encourage everyone to find someone who is lonely and be their friend, even if at first they are grumpy. Just like moose and duck.

Ferrante: If you could MC any television show which one would you choose?

Heyer: PBS Masterpiece Mystery! I LOVE mystery shows and books. It all started with my first Nancy Drew book. Maybe one day I will write a mystery book, maybe a dog who solves crimes…

Ferrante: Go for it! If you could compete at an Olympic level, which sport would you pick?

Heyer: Snowboard Half-Pipe. I would love to have that talent. I can’t even handle little rollercoasters so all that twisting and spinning they do is doubly impressive to me.

Ferrante: That’s a gusty choice. What is your favourite children song and why?

Heyer: The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, though in our home it is the Eeby-Beeby Spider because that is how one of my daughters sang it when she was little. It reminds me of the happiness one little song sung by a child can bring.

Ferrante: There’s nothing sweeter, that’s for sure. Thank you for answering my questions and sharing your experience with us. Best of luck with Duck, Duck, Moose and your future writing.

Book review of Duck, Duck, Moose

Lego Four-(Three)-in-a-Row Game Review – Toy Review

I modified an activity from the book 365 Things to do with Lego bricks – activities, games, challenges, pranks. On page 53 the book has the instructions for “play the four-in-a-row game“. We already have that game with the stand up holder and the checker shaped pieces. I tried teaching it to my granddaughter when she was three but it was too difficult. She almost had it at four so I decided that it would suit her learning level better if it was only three in a row. Rather than confuse her by using the same game, I modified the lego one and called it three-in-a-row.
I put white stripes between each section where the cubeswill go to make it even clearer for her. I made 12 green cubes with white tops and 12 blue cubes with black tops. This required a lot of Lego pieces of one color. We have buckets full but it was still  a challenge to complete 12 of each of the cubes. You could make more if you want. Basically the game could go on and on and on, building upward.
This picture at the top of this post shows what the game looks like before beginning.
This picture shows both players about to win. If green is next she can put a green cube to the left or right of the two green ones  and win with a horizontal three in a row. If blue is next, she can put a blue cube on top of the two blue cubes on the left most side to complete three in a row.
Durability three  stars While legos last forever, I find they don’t stay together very well. Even though I reinforced this game more than the instruction recommended,  it is pretty fragile.
Play quality four stars The original design for the four-in-a-row game would keep a child busy building and playing with a friend.
Safety five stars Completely safe to build. 
Age interest five stars Building 7-10, playing 4/5 – 10.
Storage and portability two stars The original design is quite large and doesn’t hold up well when moved.
Price three stars You need a significant number of Legos to complete this game.
Somewhat recommendedHere is a one minute video of my four-year-old granddaughter trying it out. You can decide if it would work for your child.

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.