Review: Hello, My Name is Octicorn


Hello, My Name Is Octicorn
Created by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe
Additional illustrations by Binny Talib
Published by Balzer + Bray (May 17, 2016)
Ages 4-6

My rating: 4 Stars

Review:

As the title and cover suggest, Hello, My Name Is Octicorn is a humorous take on what it’s like to be different.

Octicorn speaks directly to the reader – asking questions, telling the story of how he came to be the only Octicorn in the world, and letting the reader in on why it’s sometimes difficult to be a half unicorn, half octopus.

In a friendly way, Octicorn also tells the reader what he likes to do. One could almost imagine Octicorn as a young child introducing himself to another young person his age.

With its likable character, Hello, My Name Is Octicorn is a lighthearted approach to the concept of being different from the crowd. It would make a fun, interactive introduction to kindness and not judging a person based on their looks. The suggested age range is 4-6 years, but I can see this being read to much younger children because of its simplicity and engaging character.

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Review: The Almost Terrible Playdate


The Almost Terrible Playdate
by Richard Torrey
Published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers (February 16, 2016)
Ages 3 – 7

My Rating: 3 Stars

Review:
The Almost Terrible Playdate starts with an oft asked question among children, “What do you want to play?” Two friends begin formulating ideas about their own ideal pretend play, and as they do they inevitably disagree on what to do. In imaginative thought bubbles we see the girl wanting to be characters that are the most important and powerful, and we see the boy wanting to dominate his stories. Typical behavior for both kids and some adults. Aren’t we all the main character in our own minds? After retreating to separate play areas, the two friends, thanks to curiosity, organically manage to compromise. Who says one story can’t have a ballerina, a circus, a dragon, a race car and a zoo?

The conflict in The Almost Terrible Playdate is cleverly portrayed on the cover with opposing crayon illustrations in opposing colors – a technique that is carried throughout the story. The cover art and the entire story are very accessible. It’s easy for even the youngest ages to understand what is happening from the illustrations. For parents, it may even seem like they’re looking at a slice of their own children’s play experiences. It is a humorous view of two children riding the emotional wave from stubbornness and selfishness to curiosity to compromise.

The reason I am giving an average 3 out of 5 star rating is because it is heavily gender stereotyped. Does it ring true that the girl wants things like Queens, ballerinas and ponies in her story? Does it ring true that the boy wants dinosaurs and race cars in his story? Of course it does. And that’s partially what makes the book accessible. But which comes first – the boy who likes cars and the girl who likes ponies or the images and messages that they receive from parents, TV and books about what they are supposed to like? The conflict in the story would have been just as poignant had the girl wanted to be an astronaut and the boy wanted to be a zoo keeper. With so many gender neutral combinations that would work just as well to tell the tale, there was a lot of room here to push the envelope. While the story provides a realistic view into the world of pretend play and offers a way for teachers and parents to easily introduce kids to the concept of cooperation, it’s a bit too conventional for my taste.

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Review: By Mouse & Frog


By Mouse & Frog
by Deborah Freedman
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers (April 14, 2015)
Age 3-5

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:
What happens when two friends or two siblings are complete opposites? How do they relate? When one is quiet and careful and the other is rambunctious and unfettered, it’s not always easy for them to get along, but sometimes opposites come together to create a real friendship.

One morning, Mouse wakes up and starts writing a story. As Mouse begins, Frog bounces onto the scene, wanting to help. Frog wildly adds kings and dragons and melting ice cream to Mouse’s story, which had barely begun. When it all turns to chaos, it is just too much for Mouse. Mouse explodes and shouts at Frog. Frog is hurt, but they manage a truce. Mouse begins the story again. This time Mouse finally gets to the part where Frog is part of the story, but that’s not enough for Frog. Frog aches to add elements to the story. Mouse obliges, but makes suggestions to keep things a little more down-to-earth. Together they create a colorful, magical story they are both happy with.

By Mouse & Frog explores themes like cooperation and mutual respect in a way that is natural. The dialogue between Frog and Mouse sounds a lot like how real children talk when they’re playing together, yet in a structured story. Anyone with multiple children will see their most wild, free-spirited child in Frog and their most subdued, restrained child in Mouse. The text is subtly humorous, and the illustrations are soft and endearing. Mouse and Frog are the kind of relatable, charming characters that would be good in a series (think Frog and Toad for younger kids), but unless the author has plans for this, we’ll just have to be content with this delightful story about two friends learning to play nicely with each other in order to create a masterpiece.

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Review: Be a Friend


Be a Friend
by Salina Yoon
Published by Bloomsbury (January 5, 2016)
Ages 3-6

My Rating: 5 Stars

Review:
The cover of Be a Friend wears its heart on its sleeve, so to speak. The heart of the story is clearly about a friendship between a regular-looking girl and boy who is a little bit different. The intriguing part is that the boy is so outwardly offbeat. I couldn’t help but wonder how a mime would get along in the world of chatty children and rough-and-tumble play.

Dennis doesn’t speak. To express himself, he acts out scenes. While the other children show-and-tell, Dennis puts on his wordless show. When the other children climb a tree, Dennis stands tall and lets a bird rest on his branches. Because Dennis is silent and a bit different, the other children barely see him and he is lonely. One day, when Dennis kicks an imaginary ball, it is caught by a girl named Joy. Even though Joy talks to the other kids and likes to play in the tree like the other kids, she also understands Dennis and becomes his friend by miming with him. Eventually, Joy’s friendship and understanding opens the eyes of the other children – they see and play with Dennis, too.

Every time I read this book, I fall in love with the illustrations a little bit more. I love how Joy is quietly noticing Dennis all along. I love how the red heart Dennis wears on his black-and-white striped shirt suddenly appears pinned on Joy’s dress after a few spreads of them miming together. And, I love how the expressions on Dennis’ face are spot on.

There will always be children who are a bit different from their peers. They may not fit in as well because they’re quiet or they look different or they come from a different culture or economic background. While sometimes it’s not easy to understand others who are different, it is a great kindness to simply try – to look at another person and see their humanity inside.

Dennis isn’t a monster, he’s a regular boy with a different way of expressing himself. Because another child looked and accepted him for who he is, he was spared from loneliness and the rest of the world got to see and appreciate his uniqueness.

Be a Friend is a hopeful book. And, I hope it makes its way into the hands of many children.

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Review: Waiting


Waiting
by Kevin Henkes
Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (September 1, 2015)
Ages 4-8

My Rating: 5 stars

Review:
In our “hurry up” culture, waiting is so often associated with negative feelings, like impatience and worry. In the world of Waiting by Kevin Henkes, waiting feels more like reverence for the simpler things in life.

Five toy friends – the owl, the pig, the bear, the puppy and the rabbit – sit upon a child’s windowsill. They wait and watch for the things they love – the moon, the rain, the wind and the snow. And the rabbit simply loves watching out the window. While they wait, they see wondrous things, like rainbows and images in the clouds. The friends are sometimes separated, but they always return to their home where they are happy together. They lose a new friend to tragedy, but are in the end graced with another friend who is waiting for something special. When that something special arrives they are blessed with new friends to enjoy their windowsill home with.

The calming effect of Waiting is palpable. The waiting in the book doesn’t feel anxious. It feels more like waiting for those things in life that are always there for you, like a warm fire in the middle of winter or the warm sunshine on the first day of spring. Everything the toy friends wait for is either cyclical in nature or bound to happen at some point in the future, so the friends appear to have patience and faith that their favorite things will come around again. This is very different from the experience of waiting that most children and many adults have. It’s exactly this difference that makes the story worth reading again and again. It’s an introduction for children and a reminder for grown-ups that waiting doesn’t always have to be fraught with worry, fear and longing. The rabbit exudes the attitude best – watching and letting the world reveal its wonders can be enjoyable itself. You don’t even have to be waiting for something in particular. Simply being in the world in the here and now is its own reward.

It always amazes me how much emotion can be shown with the simple change in expression on the face of a character. Henkes, of course, masters this with the subtle changes of the toy characters whose home is always the same, but with a backdrop that is always changing. This is most poignant in the four pages with the toys observing the rainbow, the lightning, the snow storm and the fireworks. The wonder, fear, awe and enjoyment are portrayed with great skill. The feelings are familiar, and they jump off the page into your heart.

Waiting is thought of as a book about friends, but I see this as a book about family. The ending especially drives this home. These friends are a family enjoying each other’s company as they each experience the world in their own unique way.

Kevin Henkes has offered the world many great works of children’s fiction. What’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments section.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.

Review: Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast


Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast
by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Published by Sterling Children’s Books (September 1, 2015)
Ages 5+

My Rating: 5 Stars

Review:
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk is set to be released on Tuesday, September 1st. I unwittingly stumbled upon my “advance copy” at the local bookstore over the weekend. The cover art is what caught my eye. It was also hard to ignore the delicious title that said, “Hey, I’m going to be funny. Pick me up.”

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, the best of pals, are hanging out in the fridge when along comes their neighbor, Miss Brie. She tells them there is only one drop of syrup left. Suddenly, the best pals begin to race each other to the bottle of syrup – leaping over beets, getting stuck in chili, climbing up celery and scrambling through the fridge to reach the coveted last drop of syrup. Will competition destroy Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast’s friendship?

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast is very entertaining. The fast-paced race to the finish line moves the story quickly, and the rhyming text, with antics at every page turn, is a pleasure to read. The illustrations are colorful, quirky and delightful.

In the end, a lesson in sharing is learned, but how they learn it is too fun for me to give away.

Goodreads Giveaway: If you go to the Goodreads page for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast between now and August 31st, you can enter to win a copy of the book.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.

Review: Stick and Stone

Stick and Stone
by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 7, 2015)
Ages 4-7

My Rating: 5 Stars

Review:
I’ve been thinking about friendship a lot lately, so when I saw Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry on The New York Times Best Sellers list for children’s picture books, I was immediately interested. Unlike several of the books on the list that have had a lengthy stay, such as Press Here by Hervé Tullet, Stick and Stone has, so far, only been on the list for two weeks (Aug. 9 & Aug. 16), and it fell off the list this week. That seems like a shame, since Stick and Stone is a wonderful example of how stories that are just a word or two or three on each page can have great meaning.

Stick and Stone are at first alone, but they soon become great friends. Stick stands up against Stone’s bully, and Stone gets Stick unstuck. Together they make a great pair.

The rhyming text is poignant and straightforward. The illustrations are welcoming and humorous, and they capture the emotion of the story with great skill. They have a lovely simplicity and symmetry that bring out the glow and wonder of the budding friendship and the sadness of the hard moments. Stick and Stone feel like characters you’d want as your friends.

I really enjoy how Stick and Stone shows how to be a friend and that being and having a friend can make life sweeter.

There is only one line that made me cringe a little when I first read it, even though in the context of the story it makes perfect sense. The line is, “Alone is no fun.” Granted, Stone is sitting on one end of a see-saw looking sad. A see-saw really is no fun by yourself, but I often fear that our culture sends the message that being alone is no fun a little too much. After all, being alone can sometimes be the best thing for us, and many of us have to learn in adulthood how to be comfortable with being alone. Some of us even crave alone time. I don’t think the line takes anything away from the story. It belongs there. I just hope there are enough messages out there that say it’s okay to be alone, and that sometimes it’s good to be alone.

Do you have a favorite friendship story? Let me know in the comments section.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.