Picture Books

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. Particularly from the author, as she is deceased. I borrowed this book from the library. I would like to return it. It has mysterious smudges. Cover art is copyright of Frederick Warne. Whoever he is. Oh, and the Random Penguin House. Them too.

This is the story of a little girl named Lucie who has lost her pinny…and all of her handkerchiefs. She sets out to find them, inquiring to the animals she meets along the way. Shockingly, they all snub her. At last Lucie comes across a “little person” who may know the whereabouts of her belongings.

I thought hedgehogs had bad eyesight, but little Lucie clearly needs glasses. It takes her the entirety of the story to be clued in to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s species. No wonder she keeps losing her stuff. She probably can’t see where she left it!

Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is some sort of servant, picking up after all the hooligan animals in the farm and hillside. She seems to enjoy her work, but that’s what the privileged always say about those in servitude. She is nothing but polite to Lucie, explaining which garment belongs to which animal as she works. She even makes Lucie some tea. Lucie spends the whole time giving Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle the side-eye, staring at her wrinkly brown hands and prickles, and keeping her distance.

By the end of the story, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle has received a handful of thanks for her labour, which is probably more than her washer women contemporaries would get. Lucie finally comes to the conclusion that Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is a hedgehog. Nay, in her words she is “nothing but a hedgehog.” RUDE!

This book was a quaint read with pretty pictures, but it was spoiled by Lucie’s naive and tedious nature. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, however, has my utmost respect.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. Cover art is copyright of Walker Books.*

This is the story of five children. Yes, the tall one is a child. He just has a serious case of dad-face.

These five children are going to hunt for a bear. Not a make-believe bear in a make-believe game. No, these children go in search of a real, live bear, armed with nothing but a stick. Presumably to poke the bear with.

They chant as they go, saying they’re “going to catch a big one” as if they are going to snare a large fish. They are also “not scared.” Apparently they have been emboldened by the “beautiful day” as though good weather were the ultimate shield against danger.

These kids are not cut out for bear hunting. They say “Oh no!” when they have to wade through some grass. Yet they trudge on, intent on seeking out and confronting a wild animal.

Who raised these obtuse children? Where are their parents? Are they at home making naïve baby number six? Their only companion is a dog, who is not much of a protector.

The book is written in a sing-song style and utilises onomatopoeia. It alternates between double-page spreads in watercolour and black ‘n’ white. This was very distracting and a strain on my poor wee eyes.

‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ is the tale of five dim-witted children. It is “retold by Michael Rosen.” Perhaps this means there is an original version where the children meet a grizzly end. (See what I did there?) I shouldn’t be at all surprised.

2 out of 5 stars
*That’s Candlewick Press if you’re in the US.

Picture Books

Gone is Gone by Wanda Ga’g | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. Cover art is copyright of Minnesota Press.

‘Gone is Gone’ or ‘The Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework’ is retold here by Wanda Ga’g, after being passed down orally through generations of her family. The book is dedicated “To My Peasant Ancestors.” This is how I intend to dedicate my future memoirs.

Fritzl and Liesi live and work on their land. Fritzl works out in the field all day. Liesi works in and around the house and looks after the baby. Fritzl believes that he works harder than Liesi and has no issue in saying so.

“Little do you know, Liesi, what a man’s work is like, little do you know! Your work now, ’tis nothing at all.”

Liesi wallops him, takes the child and leaves him. Alas, I kid. She is instead miraculously bemused by his misogyny. She suggests that they swap workloads for a day.

‘Gone is Gone’ is titled thus because every time Fritzl screws up one of the chores, he shrugs and says “Na, na! What’s gone is gone.” Is it such a wonder that he’s so easy on himself after dismissing his wife’s hard word? A ripping display of male entitlement.

Fritzl’s incompetence amplifies until he has put the lives of his dog, his cow, his child and himself in jeopardy. What an idiot. Even so, Liesi is patient and kind with him, though an “I told you so” is heavily implied – and well-deserved.

‘Gone is Gone’ is is a fine tale of comeuppance for adults and children alike.

3 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

Percy’s Friend the Hedgehog by Nick Butterworth | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. But if anyone is looking for any other hedgehog subjects for future projects, they can contact my personal assistant. Cover art is copyright of Harper Collins.

Percy is a park keeper. All of his friends are animals, because why not?

This is not as much a story as snippets and excerpts about a particular hedgehog and Percy’s friendship with him. Included within are the hedgehog’s likes and dislikes, a poem, the hedgehog’s favourite places, and more.

It should be clarified that this is a specific, unnamed, hedgehog. He is an individual and is not representative of a typical hedgehog. In fact, he seems to have some quite extraordinary – if not unbelievable – attributes.

For starters, the hedgehog seems to get things stuck to his head a lot, including apples. Hedgehogs cannot get apples stuck to their heads. This is a ridiculous myth peddled by literature. Please do not put apples on hedgehogs.

The hedgehog continuously laments that other animals are getting prickly with him about his prickles. (See what I did there? I’m so clever.) He writes a poem about his run-in with a duck and how he “jabbed her.” Please, ducks aren’t that delicate. It’s not like he tackled a naked more rat.

This hedgehog is apparently a “worrier.” He is afraid of many things, and yet not afraid of the fox, whom he has picnics with and tries to teach to colour. The hedgehog’s colouring ability is something akin to a superpower. Hedgehogs do not have good eyesight. Also, what hedgehog would have a picnic with a fox? If a fox invited me to a picnic, I’d assume I was the main course – especially if I was a “worrier.”

There are some nice aspects of the book. I liked the snow hedgehog and how the hedgehog liked to swing on the swing. The pictures are beautiful (best viewed through glasses if you’re a hedgehog) and my favourite was the double-page spread of autumn.

I am rather sceptical of Percy’s hedgehog friend. Perhaps I need to meet him for myself. I do not know if I will be picking up any of the other books about Percy’s friends. Definitely not the one about the fox!

2 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

Hans My Hedgehog by Kate Coombs, Illustrated by John Nickle | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I tried to contact the Brothers Grimm in a seance to see if they had any long lost manuscripts I could pawn on eBay, but there was no response. Cover art is copyright of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.*

Once upon a time there was a couple who looked like they stepped out of a Renaissance painting. Like many people who are comprised of paint, they were infertile. They wished more than anything for a child. Their wish came true and they had a baby boy. This baby boy was a hedgehog with human legs. Because this couple were so literal, they named their son Hans My Hedgehog.

This is a retelling of Hans My Hedgehog, a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Kate Coomb’s writing is seemless and John Nickle’s illustrations complement the fairy tale genre.

“Each note slipped between
the trees like a spell.
The pigs, listening below,
were steeped in magic.”

Hans – like most hedgehogs – is a bit of a loner. A self-proclaimed outcast if you will. He spends his time in the forest, frolicking with pigs, playing the fiddle, and flying on a rooster. Seems legit. The probability of a rooster flying expertly while being ridden by a hedgehog is on par with fairies, and this is a fairy tale.

Hans lives near two kingdoms. Both of these kingdoms are run by monarchs with no sense of direction, who each decide to go off on their own, and subsequently get lost in the forest. Hans helps both kings in turn, but asks that in return for his help they give him the first thing that they meet when they get home. This “thing” in both men’s cases is their daughters. Talk about objectifying women! The question is, which king will deliver when Hans comes to collect? Yes, that does sound creepy. Because it is.

This is a (marginally) less messed up retelling of Hans My Hedgehog. It’s still whack and rife with objectification and misogyny, but the original story is maximum cringe. Hans is more romanticised in this version. I’m not sure this is a good thing, but it makes for a nice story to read to your children, so that they can be traumatised by the original fairy tale later in life.

2.3 out of 5 stars
*Atheneum’s parents are Simon & Schuster. They are very proud.

Picture Books

Animal Music by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Nick Sharratt | Book Review

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library because it had a hedgehog on it. Also, I did not receive any compensation for this review. Cover art is copyright of Macmillan.

In this book, all sorts of animals are playing music. Except the hedgehog, he just hums. What are they trying to say? Hedgehogs can’t play instruments? Why couldn’t the hedgehog play the violin? They’ve got penguins playing the violin. PENGUINS! How is that even possible with their flippies?

I have been carried away. I shall compose myself. But not to music because apparently I can’t play an instrument. Just hum. Hmph.

The animals in this book include dogs, hippos, a koala, and some seafood. Is that derogatory? Sea creatures. They croon and play the spoons. I think that they have rebelled against a seafood restaurant. They have taken up the utensils that would be used to eat them and reclaimed their freedom, making music from strife.

There is a bison playing the cello that has phenomenal balance. Then there is a tiger and a carthorse. What makes a carthorse a carthorse? Is it a cart? Because this carthorse doesn’t have a cart. Is a carthorse still a carthorse if it has no cart? The tiger is beating a drum near the carthorse’s ear. I expect is aggravating, but if he complains he will be eaten.

There are also some turtles. Real turtles, not tortoises calling themselves turtles. I’m looking at you teenage ninjas! Then there is a gerbil playing a camel. Does a camel constitute as a musical instrument? Is it polite to jump around on a camel and use it as your own bouncy castle/bongo drums?

They are all playing music of different genres – pop, classical, blues and more. They are either clashing terribly or playing different set pieces. Each animal wears a sparkly red bow or bowtie. Among the animals are a diverse group of children, dancing and singing. It is night-time and they have no adult supervision.

I must conclude that this book is taking place at an international music festival to raise money for a children’s charity. Or, the animals are brainwashing all of the children, and have done away with the adults. Maybe the humming hedgehog is a hypnotist! He must be the mastermind behind it all. Yes.

‘Animal Music’ is a book packed with simple rhymes, where alliteration abounds. It is good for early readers, though I cannot say whether there is anything nefarious subliminally hidden in the text. Read at your own risk.

2.3 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story by Lisa Wheeler, Illustrated by Janie Bynum | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I was not even serenaded by a porcupine. Cover art is copyright of Little, Brown.

This is the story of Cushion, a lone Porcupine who lives in a petting zoo. You can imagine what a depressing life that is! Lonely and dejected, Cushion jailbreaks his pen and goes in search of a wife, banjo in hand. Yes, he plays the banjo. I can’t decide if this is magnificent or mortifying. Maybe both.

What keeps Cushion from finding a mate isn’t his prickly exterior, or his banjo playing, or his singing. Well, those might be contributing factors, but they aren’t his ultimate downfall. No, that lies in how he expresses himself.

Cushion is the Mr Collins of porcupines.

I’m not exaggerating. He is single-minded in his goal of “porcupining for a wife” (cringe) and has a talent for delivering insults as if they were compliments. When his advances are poorly received, he writes off the other party as the one at fault and continues on his way to woo his next victim.

Of course, as this is “a prickly love story” Mr Coll- Cushion manages to inexplicably find his perfect match in a beautiful hedgehog. Much like Elizabeth Bennet, I am flabbergasted…and intrigued. Critical as I may be of Cushion’s character, I am interested to know how this prickly love story will pan out – and there just so happens to be a follow-up book, ‘Hokey-Pokey: Another Prickly Love Story.’ I may read it.

My favourite illustrations in the book are actually the ones in the cover pages. The ones of Cushion trying to catch hearts in a net and a jar are very sweet, and the one of him smooching a hairbrush is simultaneously funny and embarrassing.

I would recommend ‘Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story’ to anyone who likes puns (so many puns) and stories where even the most obtuse and exasperating of creatures can find love.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I didn’t even get a cup of sugar. Cover art is copyright of Scholastic.

This is the story of Alexander T. Wolf as dictated to Jon Scieszka. It is illustrated by Lane Smith in browns, greys and dusty colours. It tells the tale of how Alexander – aka Al – was baking a cake for his sick granny when he ran out of sugar.

This is Al’s side of the “Three Little Pigs” story, which seeks to paint him as the victim of the whole ordeal. Excuse me while I scoff. I read this story and Al is far from innocent. Why? Al commits serial manslaughter.

I understand why Al would be reluctant to call the police – or a huntsman – in the aftermath of each of these incidents. Racially motivated police brutality is not the best incentive to call the authorities when you’re a wolf who has just committed manslaughter. Yet Al’s reaction to each of these accidents is ill-advised to say the least. It isn’t even the panic-induced “Whoops I just killed someone, what to do?” trope you see in the movies. It’s far more detached, which is a little unnerving.

I do not understand why Al would go door to door asking for a cup of sugar. He’s got one neighbour who’s so poor he had to build a house out of straw, one who’s busy and racist, and another who’s angry and racist. He must not know his neighbours at all, and who asks strangers for a cup of sugar?

While I don’t find Al guiltless in his actions, he is villainised by the media. They use the most threatening-looking photograph of him they can find and buzzwords like “big” and “bad” to describe him. It is spun to depict him – and wolves in general – as dangerous. This is shown on the cover page of “The Daily Pig” (All the News that’s Fit for Pigs) with the headline “Big Bad Wolf,” which includes an image of a wolf’s teeth with the caption “Seen as Menace.”

‘The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs’ is an interesting one to read with an objective eye. It does not depict A. Wolf as blameless but it does highlight how the media intertwines prejudice and sensationalism.

3 out of 5 stars