Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. Cover art is copyright HMH Books for Young Readers.

If you wish to read a book about a sweet, kindly nanny, who is always doting and never cross – this book is not for you.

Mary Poppins is a boss. She is a no-nonsense narcissist who believes in “my way or the highway.”

Fortunately, the way of Mary Poppins – strict though she may be – is paved with wonder. With her, the Banks children go on many adventures and meet extraordinary characters along the way.

The number of strangers who talk to Jane and Michael Banks as if they’re old friends is alarming. I hate being accosted. When someone has the nerve to walk up to me, I instantly want to curl up into a ball and reclaim my personal space. These fictional characters may not have broken the fourth wall but they still managed to make me feel very uncomfortable.

Mary Poppins reminds me a little of Holly Golightly. She is every bit herself, she does what she pleases, she draws people to her, and she can’t be tied down. Of course, Holly has charisma to go around. Poppins’ soft side is reserved for her man-friend, Bert. Poor Bert. His name is Bert. There’s a reason I don’t shorten my name to Bert!

Mary Poppins is also a major troll. She takes these children on wonderful adventures, and when they talk about them later, or seek to ask further questions, she acts as if she has no idea what they’re talking about. Causing children to feel like no one will believe what they have to say, and prompting them to question their own sanity, is detrimental to their development. Way to go, Poppins.

The book is somewhat spoiled by racist gems like “Two tiny black babies in one cradle – are they chocolate, do you think, or china?” and “You will not behave like a Red Indian, Michael.” It’s to be expected of a book published in the 1930s, but I still turn up my nose to it.

I listened to ‘Mary Poppins’ on audio, read by Sophie Thompson. She is a fab narrator. I will definitely listen to more Poppins if it is read by her!

3.3 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

The Hat by Jan Brett | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. Not even a new hat. Cover art is copyright Macdonald Young.

This book is about a curious little hedgehog named Hedgie (wow, what an original name) who gets a woollen sock stuck to his head. In his attempts to free himself, all the other animals laugh at him. Instead of helping. Cruel bastards.

So Hedgie tells them that the woollen sock is a hat and gives them various reasons as to why he is wearing it. Because they are all lemmings who can’t think for themselves, and only laugh because of their own self-doubt and ineptitude, they eat up everything Hedgie says. Suckers.

The Hat is a story that addresses public humiliation, snap judgements, innovative thinking, and the herd mentality.  The illustrations of the winter weather makes me want to bundle up in my own woollen sock, and the scenery is vital to the story – with many of Hedgie’s reasons for wearing the so-called hat pertaining to the cold weather.

A nice story about a clever hedgehog who doesn’t need to take any of your belittling.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

The New Arrival by Vanya Nastanlieva | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. Cover art is copyright Simply Read Books.

This is a book about Sam. That’s right, a story where a hedgehog is granted a name that doesn’t start with the letter “H.” It’s a miracle.

Sam has been ousted from home at only a few weeks old. Typical. Now the little guy has to find a new home for himself.

It doesn’t take Sam long to find a place to live…but it does take him forever to find any sign of another living creature. For all Sam knows, he is living in a post-apocalyptic world and is the last of the living.

In reality, all of the animals in the forest are being trolls, creeping on him from out of sight. Every – single – one. They let this poor prickly plebeian wander through the forest all alone, desperately seeking companionship.

It’s true, sometimes the animals are right behind Sam or under his nose, but he can’t be blamed for missing them. Hedgehogs have poor eyesight. One of them could have very well spoken up, the savage beasts!

When he still can’t find anyone – after struggling up hills and through horrible weather – he turns to drastic measures. Sam begins to pull out his spines to pin notes to trees. Don’t ask me how he has access to paper or ink. I have no idea. I do know that hedgehog spines are not like porcupine quills. They are not easily removed and they are not that sharp. They also cannot get apples and strawberries stuck to them. Sam must be cursed.

Sam’s story is a tragic one. Eventually the other animals decide to put him out of his misery and greet him, but by this stage he has already developed a serious case of trichotillomania. Sam’s physical and mental health has suffered because of his loneliness. His new “friends” try to help him, but they can never fully repair the damage that has been done.

‘The New Arrival’ is a commentary on the harsh realities of striking out on your own. It is not for the faint of heart.

2 out of 5 stars

Tabletop Games

Marrying Mr. Darcy: Emma Expansion | Tabletop Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I just like playing at meddling in the lives of others. Marrying Mr. Darcy is copyright Evensen Creative. Images used for reference and commentary.

For fans of Jane Austen and Emma comes a game expansion that turns Marrying Mr. Darcy into Marrying Mr. Knightley.

The Emma Expansion includes six heroines, five suitors, and a brand new event deck. The die and character card deck from the base game remain the same and are needed to play. It also includes three Undead cards, so you can play with the Undead Expansion. Be prepared for the Undead Expansion to refer to characters from Pride & Prejudice. You can choose to substitute them for Emma characters or pretend there is a crossover zombie apocalypse.

The biggest changes are the matchmaking, blunder and revelation cards – because Emma is all about getting up in people’s business! This spices up gameplay, especially if someone is playing as Emma and can choose to steal matchmaking cards.

Marrying Mr. Knightley – as I insist on calling it – is a great game for fans of Jane Austen and Emma. There are enough noticeable differences to Marrying Mr. Darcy that make the Emma Expansion worthwhile.

4 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

Hodge the Hedgehog by Amy Sparkes, Illustrated by Benji Davies | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I hope Hodge received some compensation for his grief. Cover art is copyright Worthwhile Books.

This book is about a hedgehog called Hodge who lives in a hedge. All he wants is to be left alone. Then one day a little entitled mouse come along and asks to move in. No, he does not ask for some shelter from the bitter storm, à la weirdo woman in Beauty and the Beast. He wants to be Hodge’s permanent roommate. Excuse you?!

Hodge tells the little mouse to go away. The hedge is his. It legally belongs to him. This little mouse clearly cannot pay rent and has no intention to get a job to do so. Even then, Hodge does not want a roommate. Be gone, rodent!

What does the mouse do? Well, he and the other creatures in the forest decide to teach Hodge the wonders of sharing…by breaking and entering into his house. What sort of mixed-up moral is this? Who is trying to teach children to violate the personal property of hedgehogs? I am horrified.

The book admittedly has a nice rhyming scheme and rhythmic bounce. The autumn colours are very pretty and the ambiance of the story is homey and cosy.

Hodge the Hedgehog is not a bad read, if you ignore the fact that there is some seriously messed-up stuff going on in the story. Recommended for fans of other miscreants like The Cat in the Hat.

3 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I have never taken recreational drugs. Cover art is copyright of Penguin’s Random House.

‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ is about the effects of LSD. It is quite popular with college students.

The story is written in second person. “You” experience a burst of confidence, and are off on an adventure where “things start to happen.” The illustrations use blocks and stripes of colour to demonstrate how vivid colours can appear on acid, and how you see everything in a new and striking way.

Next tackled is the subject of the high. This is shown in the illustration of an air balloon soaring above a vast world of colour. The language reflects the euphoria, with words like “lead” and “top” and “best.”

Then comes the low, where you “come down…with an unpleasant bump.” Here fear and uncertainty creep in. The illustrations show that your surroundings become unsteady and confusing. “The Waiting Place” is where everything becomes stagnant and you don’t know what to do with yourself. You are trapped in a feeling of hopelessness.

You embark on a second trip. Colours are bright again, music speaks to you, and your inhibitions leave you. You become over-confident, convinced you have the power to do anything and everything. This is where you are most likely to injure yourself or do something regrettable if left unchecked. This is emphasised in a double-page spread of a series of ridiculous and dangerous antics, combining several known – and unknown – sporting activities.

Depression and paranoia set in. “You” are now presented as feeling very small, with shadows and monsters lurking and looming. The colours are once again bleak and the tone is eerie.

The book concludes on a positive note, encouraging the reader to take risks but be careful. ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’ is an informative and non-judgmental (perhaps even encouraging) depiction of recreational drug use.

4 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

Harriet Dancing by Ruth Symes, Illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I purchased this book after it was released by a library. I did not steal it. Cover art is copyright of Chicken House.*

Harriet is on her way to visit her best friend, Ivor, when she happens upon dancing butterflies. She is inspired to dance, only to have her dreams shot down. Will Harriet dance again?

Harriet is one of the best hedgehog protagonists I have come across. She is lovely and full of life. She is also incredibly sociable for a hedgehog. Not only is her best friend another hedgehog, but she greets all of the animals she meets. Harriet is obviously well-liked, as each animal happily greets her in turn.

Then she comes across the bigoted butterflies. When Harriet is moved to dance while watching them, the butterflies tell her “the butterfly dance is only for butterflies…not hedgehogs” and “butterflies only dance with butterflies.” Dejected, Harriet runs off, only to find solace in her friends, who encourage her to dance again.

One thing I really like about this book is that Harriet is given a name. It may seem like a small thing, but a lot of books about hedgehogs just give their protagonist the name “Hedgehog” or “Hedgie.” My prickly point is that I wish the other animals in the books were extended the same courtesy. Instead they are referred to as Frog, Mole, etc.

This story has multiple themes. One is about following your dreams in the face of rejection and adversity. Another is about being inclusive and kind to those who are different from yourself. These are shown in the contrast of the snooty and elitist butterflies to the diverse array of animals that encourage and support Harriet.

This is an uplifting story that I recommend to readers of all ages. I do not know why a library released my copy for sale. No child should miss out on ‘Harriet Dancing.’

4 out of 5 stars
*The Chicken House is run by Scholastic. Who knew they kept chickens?


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. But if Newt Scamander wants to be best friends, the offer will be accepted. Illustrations are copyright of Jim Kay and Bloomsbury. Images are used for reference and commentary.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was commissioned in 1918 and first published in 1927. I do not know how Scamander convinced the proprietor of Obscurus Books that it took him nine years to write a compendium that blatantly excluded beasts such as the Thunderbird, which is known to anyone familiar with the American wizarding school Ilvermourney. I splinched my manuscript? I was obliviated? Thunderbirds are no-go? Whatever his reasoning, Augustus Worme seems to have been satisfied. The book has never been out of print and we now have an updated edition 90 years later.

The foreword for this new edition, written by Scamander himself, touches on several subjects. First, his involvement with Muggle charities. When Fantastic Beasts was first made available to Muggles in 2001, the proceeds went to Comic Relief. The foreword for that edition was provided by Albus Dumbledore, which is odd but not impossible, as its publication and distribution may have been several years in the making. However, Scamander’s statement that they “were both delighted that the book raised so much money for some of the world’s most vulnerable people” will surely serve to fuel several Dumbledore conspiracists.

On the subject of such persons, Scamander bites back at Rita Skeeter’s scathing biography of him. If you read Skeeter, we are not friends. If I could, I would chew up that beetle and anoint my quills with her poison. Scamander rebuts her accusations, which align him with the phony peacocks of this world such as Gilderoy Lockhart. He also recounts – to an extent – his run-ins with MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States of America) and dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald.

Note: Please stop sporting the Deathly Hallows symbol on clothing, jewelry, skin etc. It is grossly disrespectful to Gellert Grindelwald’s victims and their families.

The foreword is followed by an introduction, outlining the definition of “beast” and giving a brief history of their relations with both Muggles and the magical community. This is tempting to skim, especially if you have bad eyesight like me, but the information is necessary for the novice. If you find your attention wavering I recommend listening to the audio book, read by the author. More on that marvelous experience later.

Because this book is meant to be sold to the Muggles as a work of fiction, there are no photographs. This displeases me and I hope to one day get my fingers on a proper copy. Preferably signed by the author. And personalised. To supplement the lack of photographic evidence, detailed illustrations have been provided by renowned Muggle artist Jim Kay. His depictions of various beasts are striking, but he seems to have something of a Doxy fetish, as they appear frequently throughout.

There are many magnificent (and a few mundane) creatures to be found within the book. My favourite is the Snidget, a small round golden bird, that originally took the place of the Golden Snitch, but is now an endangered species. Curse those Quidditch squishers! Other notable beasts are the Antipodean Opaleye – the native dragon to New Zealand – and the Knarl, a suspicious creature that greatly resembles my hedgehog kin. A few others that I recommend leafing through the pages for are the Demiguise, the Occamy, and the mischievous Niffler.

There has been some contention between myself and my human companion as to the validity of Scamander’s assertion that “the Niffler is a British beast.” I maintain that Scamander is the genius Magizoologist and his expertise should not be questioned. She insists, due to its hybrid appearance of a monotreme-marsupial, that it is “Straight-up Aussie, bro.”

There are a handful of new beasts, such as the Hidebehind, the Snallygaster, and the Wampus Cat – which I am convinced to be a relative of the Great Rumpus Cat. The other namesakes of the Ilvermourney houses are included, with the exception of the Pukwudgie. I suspect this is due to it having the classification of a “being” rather than a “beast.” Curiously, the Swooping Evil is not featured. Neither is the Rougarou.

In accompaniment to reading the book, I also listened to it on audio, read by the author. Hearing him read his own words was a remarkable experience, heightened by the added soundbites of each of the fantastic beasts in their habitats. I felt as if I was right there with Scamander, taking in the wonder of these magnificent creatures first-hand.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has been my favourite book for many years and I am even more enamoured with this updated edition. My last copy was second-hand and had been scribbled in.

Note: Unless your name is Newt Scamander, do not scribble in this book!

I only wish this edition had been in publication while I was living in America. To think I resided in Manhattan without knowledge of MACUSA or these classified beasts!

Note: Yes, my hedgepiggy presence in New York City was illegal. I like to think this makes me a fantastic beast.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this updated edition of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.’ If possible, purchase a copy for yourself, or acquire one from a friend or your local library. I also encourage you to visit the websites for the charities Lumos and Comic Relief.

In addition, if anyone can let me know how to get in touch with Mr Newt Scamander, I would be beyond ecstatic. It is my greatest dream to meet him and I promise that if I ever do so I will not eat any of his Bowtruckles. Maybe one.

4.8 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, Illustrated by Michael Martchenko | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I borrowed it from the library and some wild child had scribbled all over one of the pages! Cover art is copyright of Scholastic.

Elizabeth is a princess, betrothed to a prince named Ronald. Ronald looks like he could be Elizabeth’s twin. This is some Game of Thrones content if you ask me.

Then one day, a dragon kills her entire kingdom, and carries off Ronald for a later snack. Elizabeth follows in hot pursuit, with nothing to wear but a paper bag. Did they have paper bags back then? Apparently.

Using her wits, Elizabeth does her best to outsmart the dragon. She panders to his ego and encourages him to desolate even more of the land. All for the sake of snooty little Ronald. Meanwhile, her kingdom is turning to ash. Yes, Elizabeth’s methods are questionable, but she still manages to accomplish her goal. Which was also questionable. Thankfully, she learns to sort out her priorities.

This book is all about valuing cunning over style. It does not follow the pretty princess tropes of many picture books. However, I was put out that the book was censored. I read the 25th anniversary edition, where they changed the word “bum” to “toad.” This is most offensive to toads!

‘The Paper Bag Princess’ is best enjoyed on audio, read by Robert Munsch himself. Munsch’s talent for oral storytelling is without peer. He adds repetition, onomatopoeia, and other sound effects, injecting more humour and attitude into the narrative. A must-listen!

3.8 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. Cover art is copyright of Simon and Schuster.

Spencer loves books. Like many readers, he rocks out to a particular genre – water-dwelling creatures. This kid is probably going to grow up to be a marine biologist. Or a librarian.

His favourite books is ‘Night-Night Narwhal.’ When it inexplicably goes missing, Spencer flips out. I would! When more books start to go missing, he must use his ingenuity to solve the mystery.

‘Where Are My Books?’ is the story of an avid reader. It shows that in times of turmoil, it’s important to not lose your head. Instead, put it to use! Also, to be lenient with people who steal yo’ stuff. I’m not so sure about that part. If someone stole my books, I’d be miffed! Perhaps Spencer is just a kinder creature than I am. I regret nothing.

I feel that the book also touches on the importance of extending your reading. If Spencer had knowledge outside of fish, amphibians and water mammals, he might have been clued in earlier. I might be reading into that, but that’s one of the things I took from the book.

I loved the shameless plug of Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s other books, ‘Naked’ and ‘I’m Bored!’ I look forward to reading them.

If you enjoy ‘Where Are My Books?’ I also recommend ‘The Snatchabook’ by Helen and Thomas Docherty.

3 out of 5 stars