Book Review – Elephants Never Forget! by Anushka Ravishankar

Title: Elephants Never Forget!
Author: 
Anushka Ravishankar
Illustrator: 
Christiane Pieper
Format: 
Hardcover
Written: 
2007
Published: 
2007

A rollicking adventure story takes one little elephant through terrifying thunderstorms and tiger attacks, isolation, and even an existential crisis, as he learns what really shapes his identity. After running away and joining a herd of buffalo, a little elephant finds his place despite his differences. He stays on with the herd, and is appreciated for who he is and what his differences can bring to the group. When he crosses paths with a herd of other elephants, he is torn about where he belongs, and finds himself making a difficult choice. The text bounces, and swirls across the page, full of onomatopoeias and impact words. Beautifully, but starkly illustrated with elaborate woodcut-style prints in black, white, and a medium grey-blue, this book has a lot of cohesive symbolism. Am I this? Or am I that? Could I be something in the middle? The illustration style not only reinforces that concept, it dances and plays around those boundaries.

I love books that give children credit for having complex inner experiences, and this one definitely does that. There is plenty here to interest younger children, like bold images and big words, but I think this book would be best for children just starting school, when social divisions begin to occur, and some children struggle to find their place in a new little society. This book reinforces the idea that your friends, and your experiences with them, help to shape you as a person, but that ultimately, you are the arbiter of who you decide to be. and you don’t have to be who the rest of the world might think you are. Growing up as an Army brat and frequent transplant, I would’ve gotten a lot out of this book’s message during my own childhood.

I would recommend this book for a library trip, and certainly for K-3 classrooms and read-a-louds, but I don’t think it’s a book that kids will pull out for themselves or get the most out of without guidance from adults. For that reason I’m giving it 4/5.

Books Review – Board Book Roundup

My method for picking out children’s books is to walk around the library and look for books on display that seem interesting/cute, randomly flip to a couple pages and see just how much text there is and to check out the artwork (I can’t tell you how many books I’ve put back because the illustrations are awful!), and then read them to a ridiculously smart almost three year old.  Anyway, I decided to combine several in this review.


TITLE: Harold’s ABC
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Crockett Johnson
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: Originally 1963. This edition – 2016? 2015? (New book/doesn’t say)

The book is kinda cool.  Harold and his trusty purple crayon (yes, that Harold) go out on an adventure through the alphabet.  This isn’t a typical ABC book.  There’s no A is for apple, turn the page, B is for Banana, etc… Instead, what you get is a story interrupted by that… “To go on any kind of trip, you have to leave home. He started with A for Attic…”  And as Harold is going through this, you see illustrations where the letter is front and center to something they’re talking about (In A’s case, the A makes up the top of the house. Q forms the Queen’s head.)

It isn’t bad, but this book is *small* – like maybe 4 inches or so.  I wish it had been just a little bit larger and the letters had been a little bit bolder.  I’m guessing with a kid a little older who already knows his letters that this story would go over better, but in this case, the toddler knows *most* of his letters and it was a little difficult to get him to pick out the letters and he got bored with it.  [Note: This paragraph brought to you by the phrase “little bit”]

A few of the letters were weak (X is for X-out), and Z was for snore “Zzzl” – um.. since when is there an l in the middle of a snore?  But most of them were good.

I’ll give it a 3/5.  Nothing overly wrong with it, but nothing exceptional about it either.


TITLE: Dig
BOOK BY:  National Geographic Kids
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: 2015

So, Dig looked cute.  There’s a photo of large excavating equipment on the front, and when I opened it up randomly, I opened it to a larger photo of the same piece of equipment.  So I sort of assumed that it was about big equipment, which excited me.

Apparently, I should have looked at more pages, because it’s about all kinds of things that dig – people, dogs, whatever.  I was a bit disappointed.  Also, the toddler didn’t really care that mommy and daddy could dig in a garden.  He wanted the big equipment too.

This is an issue I have with board books.  Nothing about the book on the back cover, just a sales pitch for the rest of the series.

Anyway, really disappointed. The book was done well enough, but it isn’t what either of us wanted. And some kid apparently snacked on the library copy, so it tastes good enough.

Still, I’ll give it a tentative 4/5.  I was disappointed in it because it wasn’t what I thought it was (and really, what are the odds that I’d open randomly to the one page of equipment and not any of the other 10 pages of mammals?), but it wasn’t a bad book.


 

Book Review – My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic: The Journal of the Two Sisters: The Official Chronicle of Princess Celestia and Luna By Amy Keating Rogers

Title: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic: The Journal of the Two Sisters: The Official Chronicle of Princess Celestia and Luna
Author: 
Amy Keating Rogers
Illustrator: 
Interior Becky James /  Cover by Ross Stewart
Format: 
Hardcover
Published: 
2014

At the library my nephew insisted on a My Little Pony book, so we browsed the catalogue and thought this looked cool enough to place a hold and wait for it to come in.  The Journal of the Two Sisters gives additional background on the Alicorn princesses from the television show My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic that rule over Equestria and how they came to be in charge of raising the sun and the moon.  The first two-thirds of the book alternates between journal entries by Luna and Celestia, and then abruptly that ends.  The remaining third is a rehash of journal entries and episodes from the television show. 

My nephew, who is 5, was reasonably sated.  I on the other hand was horribly disappointed.  This was such a good concept and so poorly executed. The biggest fail is the character voices.  If you’re going to write first person, particularly alternating first person, capturing the distinct voice of each character is important.  While reading, I found myself wondering if the author had bothered to watch the My Little Pony episodes that feature Celestia and Luna.  She wrote them in a style that I could best describe as stereotypical preteen.  For instance, the first page has Celestia (a normally articulate character) use the word “amazing” seven times, and Luna’s first journal entry has her declaring that her signature Royal Canterlot voice is “silly”.

I’m willing to accept that Celestia might develop a more advanced vocabulary over a 1000 years, but seeing as how her sister was essentially in suspended animation most of that time, there’s no reason Luna shouldn’t sound like Luna. The Royal Canterlot voice thing becomes a symbol of everything wrong with this book.  It glazes over why Luna and Celestia were chosen to be princess, but apparently it’s a surprise promotion given to them for purely genetic reasons (Alicorns are a mix of the other three pony races) but for some reason they were taught the “Royal Canterlot Voice” while they were fillies by the other Alicorns who…psychically guessed they would be chosen over other Alicorns to be princesses?  It’s not clear because the other Alicorns are never really mentioned again.

I know some of you are wondering why I’m taking a book based on a children’s show so seriously.  But there’s a reason MLP is popular with 30 year old men.  The TV show is funny, smart, and well written.  But the book was none of these things.  I had some hope it might tie some of the show’s unique mythology together a little better, but it did little in that direction.

It started picking up some hints of plot about midway through, but then the book abruptly stops, and the last third is an entirely different book or part of a book, “The Journal of Friendship”, which would have been a cute idea if it actually logged all the entries made over the course of the show.  Instead it’s a rather random assemblage of episode scraps and references.

Really the only thing saving this from being one star is that it’s pretty and I’m a sucker for pretty hardbacks.  The interior and exterior artists did a wonderful job (at least through the Two Sisters Section), but the writing just doesn’t stand at the same quality.  To be fair, with a franchise book it’s hard to know where to put the blame, since the writers often have to work under restrictions, but really, even with six to ten year old girls as the primary audience, our kids deserve better books.

2 out 5.

Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

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