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

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?

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

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!

Picture Books

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd | Book Review

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

Hairy Maclary

was up to no good.

He was out to patrol

his neck of the hood.

Pursued by his crew,

first – Hercules Morse.

A gang leader needs

his muscle, of course.

Bottomly Potts

was his dog on the street,

he knew every secret

of the horde and elite.

Muffin McLay

was his trusted advisor,

though his hipster haircut

would make you none the wiser.

Bitzer Maloney

was Maclary’s bookie.

He could always sniff out

a chump or a rookie.

Schnitzel von Krumm

was Maclary’s best snitch.

He could get all the dirt

without gaining a stitch.

Maclary’s boys leered

through windows and doors,

they strutted down streets

and loitered near stores.

Onlookers knew something

was about to go down,

when the gang confronted

the toughest cat in town.

Notorious gangster

Scarface Claw

withdrew his guns

and let out a roar.

The six canine goons,

they yelped and they fled,

they scurried back home

and curled up in bed.

When pondering street gangs

children, be wary –

and remember the dangers

of Donaldson’s Dairy.

3.5 out of 5 stars
*Little blue penguins are native to New Zealand. They are very cute.

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.