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 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

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

Picture Books

Farmer George and the Hedgehogs by Nick Ward | Book Review

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

This book is about George, a farmer who nearly kills four hedgehogs when he decides to light a spontaneous bonfire.

Luckily, his wife, Dotty, stops him from committing murder. They then decide to atone for their sins by taking care of the hedgehogs.

They do a terrible job.

First, they should have got them checked out for damage from smoke inhalation. They instead try to house them with several animals, who could irritate or injure them. Finally, they feed them milk and bread.

Do not feed hedgehogs milk or bread! They cannot digest these things! It is terrible for their little tummies, especially if they are recovering from a trauma and smoke inhalation.

George and Dotty might be forgiven for their ignorance, if it weren’t for the fact that all the animals – including the hedgehogs – can speak perfect English. This book must take place in an alternate universe like Oz. It is the only way for it to make sense.

This is a simple story, which does its best to highlight the dangers of bonfires and champion animal protection. Unfortunately, it leaves George looking like an incompetent farmar and Dotty looking, well, a little dotty.

2 out of 5 stars


The Hodgeheg by Dick King-Smith | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. At this rate I’m going to have to get a job. Cover art is copyright of Puffin Books.*

“Why did the hedgehog cross the road?” sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke. Instead, it is the premise for a cautionary tale about a curious hoglet.

Max is a young hedgehog with a dream – to venture to the park on the other side of the road and hunt out the delicacies it has to offer. Curious and ambitious, he sets off to find the humans’ secret to crossing the road safely. What follows is disastrous. The victim of a hit-and-run, Max becomes disoriented – head spinning, words jumbled – yet he persists in his goal.

Max is an endearing protagonist. You can’t help but root for his can-do attitude. He never loses sight of his goal, even when everything he thinks and says is jumbled. When asked how he is he says “KO” instead of “OK.” Admittedly, this is a pretty accurate summary of his current state. Thankfully he never tries to say “Dick King-Smith.” That could have rather rude results.

Max’s determination may come from a place or bravery or ignorance. His parents talk about the demise of many hedgehogs, but don’t directly engage their children in conversation about it. He has three sisters, but unfortunately they are underdeveloped and indistinguishable from one another. My favourite character in the book is Uncle B. He is the Dumbledore of hedgehogs. His eyes twinkle and everything.

‘The Hodgeheg’ is riddled with medical inaccuracies. Max falls asleep after suffering a concussion – very dangerous – and the book peddles the Hollywood myth that a head injury can be cured by another head injury. Max also has incredible eyesight, managing to see several details, even at night. Hedgehogs cannot see well, let alone after suffering a serious injury.

‘The Hodgeheg’ is a short book that can be enjoyed in one sitting. It has a wonderful message about perseverance, but horrible medical advice for a story that revolves around road safety. Best read with a grain of cynicism and a dash of suspended disbelief.

3.3 out of 5 stars
*The puffins live in the Random Penguin House and tell stories to children.


Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake | Book Review

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

You think you know a fairy tale,

and recounting them is rather stale.

Yet when you read a Revolting Rhyme,

You’ll find you were hoodwinked all this time.

This is my second tussle with Roald Dahl’s rhyming couplet poetry. His ‘Dirty Beasts’ was an anthology of hits and misses, but ‘Revolting Rhymes’ is – as that delinquent Goldilocks would say – “just right.”

There are six fairy tales retold in this book: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and The Three Little Pigs.

My prickly point with ‘Dirty Beasts’ was some of the poems’ length and rhythmic pace. The poems in ‘Revolting Rhymes’ are long – and read like short stories – but the pacing is spot on, which makes for smooth reading. Still, I stumbled when Dahl broke from his rhyming couplets to quote (or paraphrase) famous lines from the fairy tales. This choice displeased me. As a wise llama once said, “You threw off my groove!”

Five of the six poems have a unique spin on the old fairy tales. Modern readers may find Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf predictable. I believe this is because it has been ripped off by ‘Into the Woods’ and other hooligans. Dishonour! Goldilocks and the Three Bears is more of a cynical commentary on the original tale than a full twist.

‘Revolting Rhymes’ is a book that you can’t help but smile while reading, particularly if you are susceptible to schadenfreude. Good times – do read it.

4 out of 5 stars

Picture Books

Just Go to Bed by Mercer Mayer | Book Review

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

This book is about Little Critter. I do not know what kind of critter he is or why he has such an ambivalent name, but it is what it is.

In this book, Little Critter is using his imagination to its full potential. He imagines himself as all different kinds of professions and creatures – a cowboy, a sea monster, a superhero – but his father stomps all over his happiness, telling him to do ridiculous things like have a bath, put on pajamas, and go to bed.

At first, Little Critter’s father intercepts each of his adventures in character. He is a robot capturing the space cadet, or a bandit chasing the engineer. Then his temper begins to grow. If you want to read a book about bedtime from a parent’s perspective, Adam Mansbach wrote a good one.

I cannot help but empathise with Little Critter’s plight. Sleep is overrated. Imagination is everything. Adults are too uptight about these things. I know because someone has written “brush your teeth” in pencil before “and go to bed” in this book. Little critters do not brush their teeth!

‘Just Go To Bed’ by Mercer Mayer is about imagination in its prime being stilted for something as mundane as sleep. It is a stark and honest depiction of the imaginative potential of a child, juxtaposed with the “necessities” of life.

3 out of 5 stars
*Which is owned by the Random Penguin House. They own everything!