Saturday, March 17, 2018

797-798 (2018 #s 20-21). Two Blah Children's Picture Books

I recently received a couple children's picture books to review. I'm not particularly impressed by either.

I Like Bees, I Don't Like Honey, written by Sam Bishop and illustrated by Fiona Lumbers, starts out OK, with rhyming text and colorful full-page (or double-page spread) pictures describing one child and what s/he likes and (sometimes) dislikes.   But every four pages, there are the questions "What do you LIKE? What DON'T you like?"  with numerous kids on the page and speech balloons giving their likes and (often oddly-contrasting) dislikes.  It gets old fast, and I think hurts the message that everyone is different.  I think the book would have been better with only one of the questions spreads, near the very end.  The last page has mostly-empty speech bubbles with just "I like" or "I don't like" in them and plenty of room for kids who can write to add their own words.

The Marvelous Mustard Seed, written by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenbert Sasso and illustrated by Margaux Meganck, is based on Jesus' parable, but isn't a retelling.  Instead, the message is that a small child, just like a tiny seed, has great potential.  The authors are a rabbi and a professor of Jewish studies and the New Testament.  There is a note for parents and teachers at the end of the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[These books, a paperback and an uncorrected proof respectively, were sent to me by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.  They will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

796 (2018 #19). Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales

I purchased this audiobook for my university library's collection because it won Audie Awards in 2010 for Audiobook of the Year and for Multi-Voiced Performance.  I've grown to really like multi-voiced audiobooks, so I figured this audiobook would be a winner all the way around, especially since I was looking for something short before starting a longer book for an upcoming day with six hours of driving.

Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed in this book - mostly because of irritations in the audio quality.  The 22 folktales are read by various celebrities, and some readers are better than others.  A number of them have a very annoying quirk of letting their voices drop to a whisper in some parts and boom out in others, which doesn't always work well in an automobile when road noise competes.  I had the same issue with the musical interludes - while the songs are great for providing a taste of the different musical styles in Africa, some are played at ear-bursting volume. It's also difficult, with the package design, to read the names of some of the narrators and titles of some of the stories, because the listings are in small print and are placed BEHIND the plastic holders for the relevant CDs.

There is a PDF available on the third disc which has a map indicating where each tale originated.  There's also a brief description of each tale and its background, along with an illustration, followed by a section on the authors (which in the case of the traditional literature tales, would be retellers).  The PDF also has the website for the audiobook, which includes extensive biographies of each of the celebrity narrators, as well as some comprehension quizzes, discussion questions, and coloring pages that can be downloaded (since this is supposedly an audiobook for children, although I think it's more appropriate for older children and adults).  A second PDF has track listings, song lyrics (five of the interlude songs are played in full on the last CD), and a helpful glossary, while a third PDF has complete track information.

I was surprised to learn that five additional tales (which apparently are in the print version of this book) are available for download by separate purchase.  At $2.27 each at Audible, I passed.

My gripes aside -  there are some very good stories in this audiobook, and most of the celebrities read them with good emoting.  My favorite was "King Lion's Gifts," a pourquoi tale that explains why certain animals look or sound the way they do.  Never heard of the reader of this tale - Ricardo Chavira - but he was quite good, especially at expressing Lion's aggravation with the other animals.  There are also fables, myths, African versions of classic folktales, literary fairy tales, and a number of trickster stories on the three discs.

The celebrity narrators all donated their time, and the audiobook publisher (Hachette Audio) donated all its profits from its sales to ANSA (Artists for a New South Africa), which in turn donated 20% to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.  So, definitely worth a listen.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Friday, March 09, 2018

795 (2018 #18). The Queen of Babble Gets Hitched

by Meg Cabot

I got an advance reader edition (ARE) of this book when I went to the Texas Library Association annual conference - back in April 2008!  Since I didn't get the book with an obligation to review it, it sat in my TBR stash for almost ten years, until I was looking for some fluff to read before tackling the next ARE on my TBR shelf, which is much longer and looks way more intimidating.  After finishing it, I guess there was a good reason this book sat on my shelf for so long.

Another reviewer called this book "bubble gum chick lit" and "bubble bath for your brain," and I think those are perfect descriptions.  A silly romance.  It's the third (and thankfully last) book in a series, but you don't have to have read the other two first (although perhaps some of the characters and their behaviors would make more sense if I had).  At this point I would not want to go back and read those books, as reading this one first creates spoilers for those.  The characters are not particularly likable (some are downright annoying), so I don't feel like I've missed anything.  I found Lizzie's babbling to be annoying, frankly.

Not for me, but then, this really isn't my genre, and is not well-written enough to compensate.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This advance reader edition will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

794 (2018 #17). NPR Favorite Driveway Moments

National Public Radio (NPR) describes a "driveway moment" as the unwillingness to stop listening to an unfinished story on your car radio once you've reached your destination - you are compelled to hear the end of the story.  I don't think many (if not most) of the stories in this "favorites" collection were of that type for me, however.  These favorites were chosen by NPR listeners and staff in 2009.

This anthology consists of 18 segments that first aired between January 15, 1977, and June 30, 2009, with all but three airing post-9/11.  The shortest segment was just over three minutes; the longest was over thirteen.

I don't listen to NPR, so perhaps I was not the best audience for this book.  I do listen to a LOT of audiobooks on my long commute, but I chose this set because I was looking for something short to listen to.

The funniest segment was one I'd actually heard on another NPR Driveway Moments collection, Love Stories, called "The Complexities of Modern Love in the Digital Age," on what might happen if two automated customer service voices, a male one and a female one, were to have a relationship.  I also got a kick out of a segment interviewing Cookie Monster (and his creators) of Sesame Street, and one from StoryCorps about a "wardrobe malfunction," called "Andes or Bust."  Most of the segments were more serious, addressing such topics as 9/11, Sarajevo, Afghanistan, and an earthquake in China.

All in all, this was an enjoyable collection, good for times you need something to listen to that is short and easy.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library collection.]

Sunday, March 04, 2018

793 (2018 #16). The Outcasts of Time

by Ian Mortimer,
read by James Cameron Stewart

The premise of this book was really interesting.  Stone mason John and his brother William, a cloth merchant, catch the plague in 1348 while on their way home in England.  A good deed John attempts goes awry, and they are given a choice by a mysterious voice (their consciences? the devil?).  They can either go home to spend their last six days before dying and going to hell, or to attempt to find salvation by living each one of their remaining six days 99 years after the last. And so they wake up each morning in the same place on earth where they went to sleep the night before - just 99 years later, in 1447, 1546, 1645, 1744, 1843, and 1942.  John, not wanting to chance infecting his wife and children back home, chooses the latter, and his single brother decides to go along with him.

Interestingly (to me), Ian Mortimer has written three books with titles beginning "The Time Traveller's Guide" - to Medieval England (14th century), Elizabethan England (1558-1603), and Restoration Britain (1660-1700).  I haven't read them, but from their descriptions, he concentrates not so much on historical events of the period, but rather what day-to-day life was like in those periods.  The same is true of The Outcasts of Time.  After listening to this audiobook, I've learned more about everyday life in those years, particularly for the poor.  As they move through time, John and William marvel at the changes and improvements, but also observe that some things, alas, don't change - and some even worsen.

There's a religious and philosophical aspect of this book that I could have done without, but all in all, I enjoyed this book.  John and William are very likeable characters.  I particularly like the way Mortimer worked in the Exeter Cathedral - as a stone mason, John worked on it, and he is able to see it at various times, both good and bad.  I knew very little about this and other places mentioned in the book, but (like good historical fiction) it made me want to learn more.

James Cameron Stewart was fine as a reader.  I had lots of problems with the MP3 discs on which the audiobook arrived.  They wouldn't play consistently on my car's CD player, so I transferred the files to a thumb drive and used an MP3 player.  They didn't play very well there either, perhaps because the player was rather inexpensive.  I wish the publishers (and LibraryThing) would specify the exact format in which their review copies are available.  I knew this would be an audiobook, but I was expecting regular CDs.  Had I known it would be MP3, I might not have requested a review copy.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This MP3 audiobook was obtained from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be donated to my local public library.]

Saturday, March 03, 2018

791-792 (2018 #s 14-15). A Sibert and a Belpre

When the American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners of its annual Youth Media Awards on February 9, 2018,  I went to my local public library and checked out two more picture books that were honorees.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee and illustrated by graffiti artist Man One, was a runner-up (Honor book) for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for the most distinguished informational book for children.  The copyright page says, "The art was created in separate layers.  Most of the backgrounds were first spray-painted onto large canvas, then photographed.  The characters and detailed drawings were created in penciel, then 'inked' digitally on the computer, where all parts were then assembled."  Two-and-a-half of the three pages of back matter focus on the notes and biographies of the authors and illustrator, with just half a page of bibliography and resources.  The spare text comes across more as realistic fiction than an informational text. The book is based on a real person, but between the content and the illustrations, I think it's more suited for older children.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra, was named a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book, given to "Latino/Latina ... illustrator[s] whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."  With its emphasis on the artist as a child and all her pets, this book is definitely aimed at a younger audience, making the unusual Kahlo more accessible.  Parra's acrylic paintings remind the reader of Kahlo's work.  The book also has a great trailer!

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[These books were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Friday, March 02, 2018

790 (2018 #13). Grand Canyon

by Jason Chin

This wonderful informational science nonfiction book won a 2018 American Library Association (ALA) Randolph Caldecott Honor designation, as a runner up to the the Medalist, which "honors the illustrator of the year's most distinguished American picture book for children."  I think this book should have been that Medalist!

It was also a runner-up for the 2018 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for the most distinguished informational book for children, and the winner of the 2018 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award, established in 1989 by the National Council for the Teachers of English for promoting and recognizing excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children.  This book is also on the 2018-2019 Texas Bluebonnet Award reading list.

 I LOVE this book!  Through the metaphor of a hike from the bottom of the canyon up to the top, author/illustrator Jason Chin packs tons of information about the ecosystems, rock layers, and paleontology into the book, using clever techniques like the following:

1.  marginalia, illustrations in the margins that provide additional information - such as this example of a part of one page, of plants and animals one might find in each of the ecosystems;

2.  die cuts, used with fossils the hikers encounter (such as in this clip of part of another illustration)....

...which is perfectly placed for the following double-page spread, where the young girl hiker is immersed in the past in the environment the fossilized plant or animal lived in;

3.  a double gatefold at the end of the book that is just gorgeous (not gonna spoil that one);

4.  EIGHT pages of illustrated back matter with even more information, author's note, and bibliography,


5.  Beautiful endpapers with a map of the Grand Canyon in front and a generalized cross-section in back.

The illustrations are done in pen and ink, watercolor, and gouache.  Some of the near-full-page illustrations have white borders, and with their detail, look almost like photographs in an album.  In an interview, Chin talks about his research process for the book.

Younger children will enjoy the basic story, told through Chin's large illustrations, while older readers can delve into more detail through the marginalia and back matter.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This book has been purchased and will be added to my university library's collection.]