Tuesday, March 14

Reviews of the Week 3/13

Anyone else celebrate Pi Day? I've got pi on the brain. Okay, mostly pie. Especially with pie making a repeated appearance in a reviewed book this week: The Warden's Daughter. Unfortunately, the pie references might've been the only part I really like in that book...

Little Big Girl
Written and illustrated by Claire Keane

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0803739123
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: November 8, 2017
Age: 3 - 6 years
Format: library book

Themes: siblings, big sister, newborns, family relationships, opposites (size)

"Matisse is a little girl in a big world. Despite her size, she gets to have all sorts of grand adventures, like seeing the big sights of the city, making big messes, and taking big naps when her little body is all tuckered out. But when Matisse meets her baby brother, she realizes that she isn't so little after all- She’s a big sister! And it’s great fun to show this new little person what wonders this big world has in store."

Okay, I have to admit straight up that there is huge personal bias in the rating right now because my own little girl is about to become a big sister to a baby brother. So this got all the sappy hormones raging—it's just so sweet! Yes, one may criticize that it is even too sweet; that Matisse adjusts too perfectly, and is just the sweetest thing to her new brother, no questions or hardship or grumps anywhere. This is seriously one happy little family. On the one hand, I appreciate this ideal outlook because it's cute and hopeful. On the other...well, I recognize that not every day will be this sweet in a family of four.

And capitalizing on this sweet story are some perfectly adorable illustrations that communicate such whimsy, love, and retro goodness. I love the hints at the beginning of the book that a baby is on the way. With Keane's background working for Disney's animated films, it's not hard to see that this whole book is practically a fairy tale. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to families expecting a new baby. Maybe the overt cuteness will encourage new siblings to be especially cute?

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Duck, Duck, Porcupine!
Written and illustrated by Salina Yoon

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1619637238
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: May 17, 2016
Age: Grades K - 2
Format: library book 

Themes: siblings, friendship, ducks, porcupine,

"Big Duck likes to boss around her younger brother, Little Duck, and she fancies herself the leader of their trio—when joined by their gentle friend Porcupine. Little Duck doesn't speak yet, but through his expressions and his actions, he shows that he has a better grasp on any situation than his older sister. Told entirely through dialogue and visual storytelling with subtle humor throughout, Little Duck ends up getting the trio out of whatever jam they are in."

There are so many good things going for this book. The humor! So perfectly subtle. Also, my favorite thing in early readers: speech bubbles. And cap that all off with simple illustrations that make it all possible. This is one of those early readers that, yes, has simple vocabulary and structure to make for an easy beginner book, but yet, so much more when you look for it! Wordless Little Duck is my favorite character by far (picture someone like Gromit from Wallace and Gromit—a genius little mute character that isn't given enough credit). The illustrations really carry the story into something all ages can enjoy. The characters can be a little too stilted and emotionless, but it's still definitely recommended. The second book just came out, too, so you can get your fill!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Warden's Daughter
Jerry Spinelli

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-0375831997
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: January 3, 2017
Age: Grades 6 - 8
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: library book

Themes: prisons, mothers, family relationships, anger, sadness, friendship

"In 1959, Cammie O'Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison—not as a prisoner, she's the warden's daughter. She spends the mornings hanging out with shoplifters and reformed arsonists in the women's exercise yard, which gives Cammie a certain cache with her school friends.

"But even though Cammie's free to leave the prison, she's still stuck. And sad, and really mad. Her mother died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. You wouldn't think you could miss something you never had, but on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, the thing Cammie most wants is a mom. A prison might not be the best place to search for a mother, but Cammie is determined and she's willing to work with what she's got."

Ah, Jerry Spinelli. While you must say he is a master at his craft, his poetic writing and abstract emotions, thoughts, and motifs can make his books a little hard for kids (I remember reading Stargirl as a young teenager and being pretty confused). This one is no different. Cap that style off with a main character that spends 90% of the book thoroughly angry and rampaging all over the place... it's a hard book to love.

It's not All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook (which is also about a pre-teen living in a prison--and happens to be a favorite of mine), but I couldn't help but compare it. Perry was dealing with hardships too, but he wasn't nearly so depressing. So yes, I'm admitting here that this book jaded my reading of Spinelli's, making for a really stark contrast that I didn't particularly like. Cammie's method of dealing with hardship involves a lot of striking out at those around her, miscreant behavior (shoplifting, smoking, etc.), and a LOT of brooding. Yes, this is realistic, and can happen to many kids. But man, it's tough to read. The other characters felt a little too flat (especially her father), and therefore, were no balance to Cammie's rampages.

Somehow, despite all of this, the ending wraps up so perfectly, with just about everything explained and topped with a pretty bow. What happened to the realistic attitude? How could Cammie make a turnaround that easily? In the end, I don't love this book. Other small hiccups include not enough explanation behind 1950s culture and terminology, random insertions from modern-day Cammie that broke up the narration, and some pretty slow-moving parts of the plot. I know it's gotten some Newbery buzz and that Spinelli is an artist, but this is not one I'll be recommending.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

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