Picture Book Review–The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage by Andrews and Hamilton

Title: The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage

Authors: Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton

Illustrator: Christine Davenier

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0316040525



Wow, I thought this was a great read!  I love the feel good ending, and thought the illustrations were wonderful.  Gerry, the young protagonist, thinks she is a fairy princess.  She loves sparkles and everything pink, and she never leaves home without her tiara.  When she’s cast as the jester in the ballet production of The Crystal Princess, she’s disappointed.  Not only will she not be allowed to wear the crystal princess’s beautiful and very sparkly white dress, she has to wear a silly hat and shoes with pointed toes and annoying bells.  What is a fairy princess to do, but to try to take all of these setbacks in stride.  When a mishap during the show threatens the production, can a jester save the day?

This is a fun picture book, with a very charming protagonist.  I loved Gerry, and I loved her dance instructor, too.  The compelling narrative drives the story, and the prose kept me thoroughly entertained as I followed along with Gerry as she makes the best of a small setback.  She doesn’t want to be a clown, not when she is so skilled at being a princess.  Why can’t her ballet instructor she that she’s meant to play the part of the princess?  Her attitude changes during the course of the play, and the ending left me smiling.  The whimsical illustrations fit perfectly, and the colorful drawings give energy to the story.  This very fun read will being out the fairy princess in everyone.

Grade: A

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review: Chamelia by Ethan Long


Title: Chamelia

Author: Ethan Long

Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0316086127


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Meet Chamelia! Chamelia is a chameleon. Most chameleons like to blend in, but Chamelia prefers to stand out. She just loves being the center of attention. But when standing out means being left out, can Chamelia learn to share the spotlight?


Chamelia is a very fun and colorful picture book.  Chamelia is a chameleon, but contrary to the rest of her species, she doesn’t want to blend in, she wants to stand out.  After learning that standing out makes it hard to fit in, she learns to compromise but still be herself. 

I love the illustrations and the use of bright fabrics to make Chamelia pop off of each page.  The other chameleons are shades of a very pale green, but the title character is a darker, more vivid green.  The illustrations are muted shades of pastels, while Chamelia is a bright splash.  She is also an accessory queen, with tasteful shoes and purses to prove that she truly is a fashionesta. 

In her eagerness to stand out, though, she occasionally stumbles by being too different from her peers.  This gets poor Chamelia down in the dumps, and a brightly attired but very unhappy chameleon is a sad sight indeed.  With some help from her parents, Chamelia learns how to stand out, but still fit in at school.

I loved the message in Chamelia, and hope that it helps younger readers to find the courage to be themselves. 

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review: Saving Audie by Patent and Munoz


Title: Saving Audie

Author: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Photographs: William Munoz

Publisher: Walker Books

ISBN: 978-0802722720


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring was discovered, more than forty dogs were rescued. But their struggle was far from over. Most animal advocates believed the former fighting dogs were too damaged to save, but Audie and his kennel mates would prove them wrong when public outcry and the publicity surrounding Michael Vick’s punishment won them a chance at a happy life. Teaming up once again with William Muñoz, photo-essay veteran Dorothy Hinshaw Patent gives an emotional account of one dog’s heartwarming story, showing how Audie, who was only a puppy when he was rescued, was rehabilitated, adopted, and now enjoys the love he deserves.


This was a hard book for me to read, but not because of the writing.  The subject matter is very close to my heart, and I still remember the day that the news broke about Michael Vicks’ Bad Newz Kennels.  It horrified me, and it made me angry.  Why would such a successful and wealthy athlete, a sports ambassador, if you will, do something so cruel?  How could anyone do something like this to a bunch of helpless dogs?  Dogs are the one animal that will love you conditionally, and accept you for who you are.  If you can’t be nice to something as simple as a dog, how can you possible be nice to a fellow human being?  I don’t buy the argument that Vick’s upbringing makes killing defenseless animals acceptable, especially not when millions of kids look up to him and try to emulate him.  Ugh.

Audie is one lucky pit bull puppy.  Most of the Vick dogs are, really.  Due to Vick’s notoriety, these dogs were given a second chance at life, one that didn’t involve fighting.  Contrary to common practice, these dogs were spared, and after intensive behavioral research, most of them were given the go ahead to be fostered and adopted out instead of being euthanized.  Audie is one of those dogs that won the forever home lottery, and this picture book chronicles his new life as a pet.

Audie’s road to happiness wasn’t easy.  After being sheltered in a small cage months as the Vick investigation dragged out, he was considered evidence by the government.  After Vick’s trial and conviction, all of the Bad Newz dogs were supposed to be put down.  A few animal loving organizations stepped in and asked that they be spared, and because of the media coverage, the dogs were allowed to live.  They were finally seen as what they were – victims of a violent crime.  Audie was placed in a foster home, which turned out to be his forever home.  Now Audie is what Michael Vick should have been; an ambassador for other dogs like him, who deserve another chance at happiness.

I loved this book and the photographs, as well as all of the facts about the Michael Vick case.  Audie and his fellow canines from Bad Newz Kennels are very lucky dogs.  Many of them have found loving homes, and the ones that haven’t are being cared for with money Vick was ordered to pay to care for his former dogs.

Here is my second chance dog – he isn’t a Pit Bull, but his breed gets a bad rap, too.  He almost died in the shelter before he was rescued and placed into a foster home.  When we adopted him, he was 70 lbs, about 50 lbs underweight.  It took him a while to trust us, but now he is a big cuddle bug.  I love him dearly, and I’m not so sure if we rescued him or he rescued us.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review: Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton


Title: Splat the Cat

Author: Rob Scotton

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780060831547


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

It’s Splat’s first day of school and he’s worried. What if he doesn’t make any new friends? Just in case, Splat decides to bring along his pet mouse, Seymour, and hides him in his lunchbox. The teacher, Mrs. Wimpydimple, introduces Splat to the class and he soon starts learning all his important cat lessons. But when Seymour escapes and the cats do what cats do (they chase mice!), Splat’s worried again. Maybe now he’ll lose all his friends, old and new! Just in time, wise Mrs. Wimpydimple takes charge and teaches everyone an important new lesson. Maybe Cat School is going to be okay after all! 


This book is adorable!  There is no other word for it!  From the cover, with a very excited Splat raising his hand to ask a question, to the inside of the back cover with the small illustration of a mouse hole, this book is full of personality.  It is visually appealing, with so many textures and dashes of color to engage the eye and keep you flipping back through the book. 

Splat is a cat, and he is about to head off to school for the very first time.  To say that he is a little apprehensive is the understatement of the year.  He isn’t the least bit excited to go to school, and he is worried about everything.  He sneaks his pet mouse, Seymour, into his lunch box, and is literally dragged to school by his mom.  What follows is a fun frolic through the classroom when the other cats see poor Seymour.

This is such a fun picture book, and it tackles a common childhood concern with humor and playfulness.  How many kids have been nervous about going to school for the first time?  Pretty much all of them!  This book has universal appeal, because we have all felt uncomfortable in new situations and surroundings.  When I showed the book to Dean, even he laughed at the cover.  I don’t think there is a kid out there who will be immune to the charming character designs and the bursts of energy that blast across the pages.  I don’t think there are many adults who wouldn’t as least smile when they read through this book.  Go on, I dare you to not like Splat the Cat!

Grade: A

Review copy obtained from my local library

Picture Book Review: Say Hello to Zorro! by Carter Goodrich



Title: Say Hello to Zorro!

Author: Carter Goodrich

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 978-1416938934

I first saw the cover for this book in a Simon and Schuster catalog and my cute-o-meter started blaring very loudly in my head.  Examining the two dogs, I wondered what the book was about.  Look at the expressions on their faces!  Zorro (pug) looks just a wee-bit crabby, and Mister Bud has a look of apprehension.  Why?  Why??  I couldn’t wait to find out!

The library finally got a copy, and after a week of checking my hold list obsessively, it was my turn to check it out.  When I got home from the library, the first thing I did was sit down and read it.  Was it as enjoyable as I had hoped?  You bet!!  It is such a cute book, and if you have little ones who love dogs, they will love this too!

Mister Bud is a happy dog.  He has a schedule.  Everybody sticks to the schedule.  Everybody!  No exceptions!  Until the day the stranger came to stay…

Mister Bud has a very busy day, so it is easy to see why he feels the need to keep to a schedule.  There is wake-up time, walk time, nap time, greet and make a fuss time.  As you can see, his days are jam packed with important activities.  Then that little Zorro moves in, and Mister Bud has a few adjustments to make…

I loved the theme of Say Hello to Zorro!  Despite their differences, the dogs begin to realize that they were having more fun when they are together.  Life is more exciting!  Naps is more comfortable.  They are BFF!

The watercolor illustrations are squee worthy.  Really!  I admit that I am so mushy when it comes to animals, but Mister Bud and Zorro are adorable!  Mister Bud has a huge, expressive nose (how is that possible?) and Zorro’s smaller face is so precious!  The muted shades of color compliment the earthy tones of the dogs, and the paintings have just enough detail to provide an interesting sense of visual complexity. 


Review copy obtained from my local library

Picture Book Roundup–Beauty and the Squat Bears

Title: Beauty and the Squat Bears by Emile Bravo

Publisher: Yen Press

It’s tough to be a bear, especially a squat bear.  The squat bears just want to be left alone in the forest, but a beautiful princess wanders into their house and disturbs their lives.  Fleeing from her evil stepmother, the princess is looking for a place to hide out, but being a princess, she refuses to help out with chores.  To get rid of the pesky freeloader, the bears decide that they need to find her a prince.  Sending one of the grumbling bears off to find one as quickly as possible, they hope he can locate a prince so they can get on with their lives.

Humorously mashing up several fairy tales, squat bear trudges through the forest in search of his prince.  Instead, he meets a blue bird claiming to be a prince, and the bear is reluctantly sent off on a quest to have the bird restored to his princely form. The book kept me amused, as the poor put upon bear meets one worthless prince after another.  The art is cartoony and whimsical, matching the tone of the bear’s quest perfectly.  The colors are bright and bold, facial expressions are overly exaggerated, and the dialog is clever and snappy.  A fun read for kids and adults alike.

In stores May 2011

Picture Book Roundup–Ping and Tikki Tikki Tembo

A few weeks back, the Monday Musing question was about kid’s books.  I remember two books from my childhood that I liked, so I checked them out of the library to see if I would like them now.  The experiment was both interesting and fun, but it yielded mixed results.  I can’t say with conviction that I enjoyed either of these as an adult.

Starting my trip down memory lane with The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack & Kurt Wiese,  I am still charmed by the illustrations, which have the muted texture and shades of crayon, with the distinctive boldness of brushed ink lines.  The art is simple, with only enough detail to establish the setting.  Ping is very expressive, despite the lack of details.  I love the art.

Now, the story is a different matter.  I fondly recalled Ping not wanting to be the last duck on the boat, because the last duck on the boat gets a smack on the back from the Master of the boat.  One day, while Ping is fishing, he doesn’t hear the call to board the boat, and it becomes very clear to him that he will be the last duck on the boat.  Instead of manning ( or would that be ducking) up, he decides to hide instead.  So begins his big adventure, which almost results in Ping getting served for dinner by the family that catches him.  Wait?!  I don’t remember that!?  Ping was almost dinner?!  Oh, my gosh!  He is the sad captive of this family for almost a day, trapped in a basket as they plan their evening meal.  With Ping as the main course! 

I didn’t like this book now that I’m an adult, and I don’t understand why I had such a strong reaction to it.  Ping obviously escapes to be reunited with his large duck family, but for several of pages, I was very anxious for him, and I didn’t like feeling like that.  I was upset!  I didn’t remember any of that, so I wonder if I actually understood that particular plot point.  I don’t think I did, because I have a difficult time, and have for as long as I can remember, reading anything about animals getting hurt.  So, this book didn’t live up to my memories of it.

Tikki Tikki Tembo retold by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent, retells the Chinese fable of why children have such short names.This one fared better with the passage of time, but I’m now indifferent to the art.  While I love the structure of the illustrations, I dislike the colors used.  The shades remind me of a couch from the 70s; weird blends of yellow and green, with dollops of blue thrown in for good measure. There are no hints of red at all.  It’s like Blair Lent’s paint set had only blue, yellow, and black, and I found it odd looking.

I still enjoy this story, though.  Chang and Tikki Tikki Tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo are brothers in a small mountain village.  They are typical boys, and they play next to the well, even though their mother warns them that they will fall in.  And they do.  First Chang, but with his short, unimportant name, which matches his second born status in the family, it’s not a big deal to run screaming down the mountain path to tell mom about what happened. When Tikki Tikki Tembo falls into the well, oh my!  Poor Chang can’t get that long, unwieldy name out of his mouth, which leaves his unwisely named brother in the cold well much longer than he should have been stuck down there.  I don’t remember this being funny when I was a kid, but I found it humorous now, especially the reaction of the boys’ mother. 

This was a fun experiment, and I would like to apply it to some of the novels I read when I was younger.  I wonder, would I still like The White Mountains or The Book of Three or even The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?  I am a little scared that they won’t live up to my fond memories, but I think it would be a worthy exercise to find out!

Article first published as Taking a Trip Down Memory Lane: Books from My Childhood on Blogcritics.

Picture Book Review: Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell


Title: Me…Jane

Author: Patrick McDonnell

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0316045469


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In his characteristic heartwarming style, Patrick McDonnell tells the story of the young Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. As the young Jane observes the natural world around her with wonder, she dreams of "a life living with and helping all animals," until one day she finds that her dream has come true.

One of the world’s most inspiring women, Dr. Jane Goodall is a renowned humanitarian, conservationist, animal activist, environmentalist, and United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global nonprofit organization that empowers people to make a difference for all living things.

With anecdotes taken directly from Jane Goodall’s autobiography, McDonnell makes this very true story accessible for the very young–and young at heart.


Me…Jane caught my attention for two reasons.  First, it is illustrated by Patrick McDonnell, and I love his Mutts series.  Second, it is about Jane Goodall, and she’s a woman whom I admire very much.  She proved that women could conduct meticulous research in difficult conditions, and she made many startling discoveries while observing chimpanzees in Tanzania.  When I was in high school, I wanted to be like Jane Goodall, until I figured out that the bugs in the jungle were the size of soccer balls. 

Told with charming illustrations, Me…Jane follows the title character as she and her stuffed chimp explore the environment around her home.  Always fascinated with the outside world, Jane studied her backyard, taking detailed notes and making drawings of her observations.  I’m impressed by how hard she worked at cataloging the flora and fauna around her, perfecting skills that would become so important later in her life.  I love the theme of this picture book, too, and think it is an important one for kids to constantly be exposed to.  Everyone has dreams, and everyone has the ability to make them come true, if they are willing to work hard enough.

The visuals are delightful and capture Jane’s sense of adventure and wonder as she explores the world around her.  To compliment the simple, yet expressive illustrations, the narrative is sparse, but the prose carefully emphasizes the importance of following your dreams.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher