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?

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.

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

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

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