Book Review – Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band

TITLE: Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band
AUTHOR: Tim A. McKenzie
ILLUSTRATOR: Elaine Atkinson
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2006

 

So, Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band looked interesting enough and I picked it up to check it out and realized it came with a CD of bass fiddle music.

*Sigh*  I really shouldda left this one on the display.

I googled the guy and apparently he’s a moderately successful fiddler, so of course he’d write a series about it (Note – I had no idea, apparently this is book 2).

I wanted to like this book, but it’s every single stereotype that I hate and by the time I was 2 pages in, I realized I was using one of those hick accents to read with because the book is written with the expectation of one.

But the book is… weird.  BBB wants to fiddle with the cowboys so he takes his Bass, which is about 3x the size of Baxter,  shows up at a ranch, and proves all the ways he and his bass can be useful – melting down a string for a branding iron, using it as a bridge for cows, a wagon, a….  ARGH.  You don’t treat an instrument like that and doing it cutesy in a book like this for kids isn’t going to teach kids how to treat an instrument.  (And yes, I do expect a little realism in my children’s books, even the silly ones… FIT THE WORLD YOUR STORY IS IN)

The words are part of the illustrations and in some places are a little hard to read.  Also, the toddler had ZERO interest in this book when I tried to read it to him.

The music on the CD isn’t bad, but it’s not worth the book.

I’m giving it 2/5 pages for the book and 3/5 musical notes for the CD.  Because I can.

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Book Review – The Monster at the End of This Book

TITLE: The Monster at the End of This Book
AUTHOR: Jon Stone
FORMAT: Hardcover (children’s)
PUBLISHED: 2004

The Monster at the End of This Book is a Sesame Street book featuring Grover, furry, lovable, monster.  Who is scared to death that there’s a monster at the end of the book.  In a glorious dropping of the fourth wall, you, evil reader, keep turning the pages and DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S A MONSTER THERE?!?!?!

I love Grover, and he’s perfect for a book like this.  The illustrations are adorable, the story line is great, and it’s a beautifully done story for a little kid (or a big kid…).  In fact, I happened to have it with me and one of my friends saw it and admitted that they hadn’t read it.  By the time it had gone around my circle of friends, everyone was talking about how well done the book was.

It’s a solid 5/5 pages, and easily one of my favorite stories.  I recommend this to anyone.

Book Review: Seven Spunky Monkeys

TITLE: Seven Spunky Monkeys
AAUTHOR: Jackie French Koller
ILLUSTRATOR: Lynn Munsinger
FORMAT: Hardback/Picture book
PUBLISHED: 2005

SO, I had decided a while ago that I wouldn’t do most of the picture books I check out for the kid that I nanny, except for a few exceptions. I found this one, and the art looked cute and the dust jacket said it was a bunch of monkeys going on an adventure, so I grabbed it on our way out of the library one Tuesday.
The book is told in typical (annoying) kids book rhyme (*Note – why can’t kids just hear sentences instead of stupid cutesy stuff?), and is the often done format of animal does something, animal disappears, lather-rinse-repeat until there are none.

The rhyming isn’t that bad. Sometimes it’s in limerick form, other times an ABAB rhyme pattern, but not overly stupid. I didn’t mind it.
But the story line reaaaaly annoyed me.
So seven monkey friends go have fun and then… they all fall in love in cutesy monkey pairs. Um. And then there’s only one left who decides “I’ll show them I don’t need them!” and goes to see a movie, gets there too late, and then ends up at a bakery where he… falls in love. *facepalm*
And then the seven monkeys have seven monkey spouses and seven monkey babies and isn’t life better this way?!

UGH!
Look, this is a book designed for two year olds. Can’t they just have cute little monkeys without a flow chart of cute little monkeys hooking up and having babies?
Even the kid, who loves books so much he will read them to me (okay, he will sit there and tell me in a mixture of gibberish and real words what a picture looks like) didn’t care for this book.

I’ll give it a three out of five because the rhyme wasn’t annoying and the artwork didn’t suck, but I wish the book would have ended before we had to have the happy monkey family reunion.

Book Review – Batula by Steven T. Seagle

Title: Batula

Author:  Steven T. Seagle

Illustrator:  Marco Cinello

Format: Hardback

Published: 2012

 

Tomorrow is Halloween so I figure this is probably the most seasonably appropriate book I shall read. While it is seasonably appropriate it is not scary in the least.  It’s all about a fruit bat turned vampire.  Yes you read that correctly.  A fruit bat who has been bitten by a vampire.  Okay with that out in the air, I would like to back track into how I came to read this book.

 

It was a while back from now that I found myself perusing the comics at my local shop when I found the book.  It hat my attention at the title.  I mean really what is there not to love about bats?  Yes I am fond of the little winged rodents of the night.  Not my favorite critter in the world but a fascinating creature all the same.  Of course the title alone speaks of Dracula so I was intrigued further to the point of reading the back of the book.  It was at this point that I found myself having the need to possess this books at it makes many a promise that was just too good to pass up.  Generally speaking when we hit the three win mark I know it is a book I’m interested in.  This book promised me more than 3 win points, and I shall list out the win points this book has beyond the fact of being a children’t comic (which is a neutral point as this can be both a good and bad thing depending on the content).  Win 1 – The story is about bats,  Win 2 – The story is about Vampires  Win 2.5 – The story is  about a bat that is turned into a vampire (I mean really that has to count for something!  Win 3 – There is a ‘werewolf’ in the story (really for me this should count as a double win as I love werewolves even if this ‘werewolf’ is a werewolf spider named Wulf).  Win 4 – This book was published by Image Comics which is a publisher I generally trust as most everything I’ve read produced by them has been quite good.  Win 5 – The back cover is enticing in format Win 6 – The cover is really cute/good in my opinion.  (See image bellow.)

 

Needless to say 6 wins told me that this as a must own book! Of course, there is the adage of never judge a book by it’s cover and honest to goodness I didn’t judge on cover alone – I did use the blurb on the back as a guide as well.  Now I will say now that book isn’t bad but it doesn’t deliver on the promises it makes or at least the immense potential that this story could produce.

 

To be honest, the story was very direct and straight forward even for a children’s picture book.  It told a rather bland story about Livingston the fruit bat who was turned into a vampire bat met the spider Wulf and stopped an attack on his orchard all the while garnering attention and adoration from the other bats who didn’t notice him much because he learned to like himself.  Yet, while the story was lacking the pictures held up very well, a lot of the images were adorable and I loved looking at them, even as I write this post I’ve flipped through the book a few more times taking the time to examine the pictures and appreciate the art work for what it is.  In looking through the book a second time it has won and charmed me a bit more than the first time through.

 

Also, I feel it should be noted that while this book was done by Image Comics and was in the comic book store, it is not fashioned like a comic book, it is more fashioned like a children’s picture book.  In the end, the book wasn’t quite what I expected and didn’t live up the the win score it promised me from the start but it was still a decent read, I still love the art work and if there were to be another Batula adventure I would probably read it as this story was still something of an introduction to the character and there is a lot of potential when it comes to the character and the stories one can tell with him.  So because of the adorable artwork I think this book can come in at at 4 out of 5, particularly for a children’s book.  If you judge it on story content alone (which you can’t really and shouldn’t as the art tells a story too) or on a book among all books the story would be a 3 out of 5 for me.

Book Review – Mr. Wuffles

Title: Mr. Wuffles
Author: David Wiesner
Format: Hardback
Published: 2013

Mr. Wumples is a true picture book. (Okay, there are about six words… but they’re not really the story anyway.)

In this book, the cat ignores its new toy because, duh, cat.  But also because of another cat toy-looking item – an alien spaceship.  And the rest of it looks like a comic book, except there are no words (okay, the aliens talk, but in total symbol gibberish), and it’s all about the aliens trying to deal with the cat and the cat wanting the aliens.

It’s full of weird unexplainable cat behavior, but when the cat is staring at “nothing”, we know that the aliens are in the walls, holed up with the mice, and that’s what has the cat’s attention.

I LOVED IT.

So a word of advice.  I got this to ‘read’ to the baby (11 months old) – not knowing there were no words – and he was bored with it.  But given to a kid of the right age group (or an adult that just doesn’t want to totally grow up old), and you’ll have a winner.  5/5 pages.

Book Review – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Reader Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Title: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Reader Edition
Author: 
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Illustrator: 
Elizabeth Zunon
Format: 
Hardcover
Published:
 2012

So a few weeks ago, I squeed over the adult edition of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind but recommended that elementary students try the Young Reader version due to some PG-13 content.  Since I recommend it, I thought I ought to actually read it.  As with the adult version, it tells the story of William Kamkwamba a young teen from a poor village in Malawi who is forced to leave school and endures a famine, but rather than giving up, he self educates through a small library and builds a windmill to bring electricity to his village.

In my head, I had pictured a nonfiction chapter book for advance elementary readers and thought this would work very well, maybe get 3rd-6th graders excited about practical science.  I was a little taken aback to discover it was a picture book told much like a fairytale.

First the art.  The art is cool, a sort of mixed media approach with great color balance and slightly three-dimensional effect, but it’s also the sort of cool that will probably excite adults more than kids.  The proportions are a little off on the people and give it a slightly surrealist vibe that I would have found off-putting at ten.

I can’t help feeling they really missed the mark by going the stylized picture book route rather than a more concrete approach with photographs for slightly older children.  The photo of William standing on his quirky construction towards the back of the book is a lot of fun, and I feel like a more concrete approach would have been better for actually getting kids excited about hands on science and recycling.

Overall the word flow is fairly smooth, there were a few pages where I feel they tried to pack in a little too much plot for a picture book, but then the ending cuts off rather abruptly with some vague line about magic.  It would have been a great place for some variation of “I tried it, and I made it.” which was a great quote from Kamkwamba’s first TED talk and really more to the point of his story.

So while I gave the adult version a 5/5, the Young Reader version fell a little short of my hopes.  I’d give it a 3 for story adaptation and 4 for the art, so 3.5/5.

Book Review – Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell

Title: Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell.
Author & Illustrator: Vincent Eke
Format: Paperback Picture Book
Published: 2013

Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell is about a greedy turtle who doesn’t share his food during a famine with the other members of the animal kingdom, and when they find out about this they tie up his family, take all the food, and then chase him off a cliff.  Oh and some poor goat gets eaten for lying (actually telling the truth), because apparently the lion doesn’t have to share with the other meat eating animals but does have to rationalize.

Along with the normal Dr. Seuss and Thomas the Tank Engine, I’ve been reading my five-year-old nephew Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, often a full chapter in a single sitting. Keep that in mind when I say I think my nephew would be bored and bothered by The Turtle’s Shell.  I certainly was.

On the upside, I can’t criticize the spelling or grammar, but the wording was often clunky and redundant. Not in the charming way that children’s stories can repeat a line with rhythmic variation, but the staid way of repeating information unnecessarily.  The animals gathered for a meeting; the animals have the meeting; the animals go to do what they agreed upon in the meeting.  Five pages are dedicated not to the story itself but to the storyteller before and after the tale.  This sort of metafiction wrapping might work if it had been short and punchy, but it isn’t.  Instead it gives a lot of descriptive information that should be provided by the pictures in a picture book.

At first glance, the cover illustration has a nice balance of color, and the title pops. The golden tone of the story pages have an intriguing richness to them. But soon the illusion of good art begins to fade. The line work looks appropriate to a dollar store coloring book, and the coloring is a clunky mix of Photoshop gradient fills and inconsistent brush work. The tree looks nice and crisp, but the children’s faces are oddly waxy. The back cover is flat out awful, and things don’t improve inside where we get the same coloring book line work with no color.

If the book was designed to be a “color it yourself” interactive experience, the lack of interior color on the illustrations and coloring book style would make sense, but I could find no indication that this was the intention.

On to technical issues: This book is awkwardly large.  My nephew has plenty of other books the same size, but they tend to be hardback, which stay open more easily, and have more intricate illustrations. Even with the oversized font, there’s lots of wasted space. The empty bubbles that frame the title page so neatly continue through the whole book and seem to serve no purpose or connection to the story.

The font is a little too big for the reading level and far too small to use as an oversized book in a group read setting. It was not so bad for the first few pages, but midway through my eyes were getting tired.

The story is a bit too complex and violent for most preschool readers.  I would not try the current version with a child under eight and definitely not as a group read.  It could easily be trimmed down into a nice fable of greed and consequence, but only if the superfluous material was cut away. However if it’s intended for eight and up, it’s really too short and might be better off expanding to a proper chapter book.

The idea of introducing some African wisdom and fables to general audiences is good, but as a nerd, I’m annoyed that there’s no reference whatsoever to what portion of Africa this story is supposed to come from. Instead of some interesting culture notes at the end, we’re bombarded with an avalanche of links to help us follow the author online.  In particular, an explanation of the term “Kanji” would be nice, since it’s clearly not referring to the Chinese symbols commonly used in Japan.

One last note, there are a couple references to the “wisdom of the gods”, which may make some parents uncomfortable and seem out of place in a picture book that claims to be appropriate to all children. I have no problem with children’s books that deal with religious topics, but since this one doesn’t, the framing in these sort of religious terms seems out of place, adding to the too complex for preschoolers aspect mentioned earlier.

This one gets a 2/5 for good idea but poor execution.

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