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.

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.

Review: Beyond the Pond


Beyond the Pond
by Joseph Kuefler
Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (October 6, 2015)
Ages 4-8

My Rating: 4 stars

Review:
One way to make the cover of a picture book capture the interest of potential readers is to make it naturally invoke questions. Questions like, “Why does that backyard pond have sharks and squid in it?” and “What are the boy and the dog at the edge of the pond going to do?” These are the questions that pop into my mind when glancing at the cover of Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler.

For young Ernest D., life is ordinary and boring, so he decides to explore the pond in the backyard. After poking it with a stick, using a fishing pole to dip down into it and throwing a stone, he discovers that the pond is bottomless. Excited to explore a pond with no bottom, Ernest D. drags out all of his explorer gear, prepares himself and dives in, with his dog, to uncover the mysteries of the pond. After the fish and the frogs come the sharks and squid, sunken treasure and darkness. When Ernest D. and his companion come up on the other side, they discover a world that is wondrous and magical, but also frightening and beyond imagination. Ernest D. is a brave young boy who battles his way through the scary monsters of this strange, wild world. Satisfied that he has found something “exceptional,” he travels back through the dark pond and emerges back home with a new perspective. His own ordinary world becomes extraordinary.

The illustrations for Beyond the Pond are pretty magical. I’m especially fond of the spread where Ernest D. and his pup sit in a tree watching the sun rise in a land where dinosaurs roam in the distance and purple butterflies float against a backdrop of rainbow-kissed mountains.

The story, not just the cover, may lead to a lot of questions, especially from younger children. I found myself asking why the dog doesn’t wear diving gear like the boy, and you may find yourself explaining the meaning of the words exceptional and ordinary.

You might also find yourself reassuring sensitive kids that sharks don’t actually live in ponds. As a kid, my imagination used to run wild while swimming in our local lake and even our pool. Sharks would pop into my mind often when I closed my eyes to go underwater. And I didn’t even need a book to suggest this. Imagination is a funny thing – it can be both frightening and inspiring.

Beyond the Pond is a great story for starting a discussion about what’s real, what’s fiction and how imagination can change the world.

What’s your favorite book about the power of imagination? 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.