Monday, November 02, 2015

524-525 (2015 #81-82). A Couple Blah Children's Books

[This is post number 500 on this blog!]

Felicity the Dragon, by Ruthie Briggs- Greenberg, is a fantasy picture book sent to me to review by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It has a nice message about being yourself and helping others even if you are "different," but the forced rhyming and unremarkable amateurish illustrations make it mediocre at best.  I'll be adding it to my university's curriculum collection, but only because I didn't have to buy it.
I recently selected the audiobook of the 2014 Newbery Medalist, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo for my university library's collection, and this one falls into the "unfinished" category.  I'm not really surprised, because I HATED DiCamillo's other Newbery Medalist (in 2004), The Tales of Despereaux.

Although I LOVED actress Tara Sands' reading of The Language of Flowers, her voice really started to grate on me with this audiobook.  So much so, combined with the annoying characters and ridiculous plot, that with the last sentence of chapter 43 (on page 144 of the hardbound print copy), when the main character, ten year old Flora, describes her mother's romance writing to her pet squirrel Ulysses as "sickly sweet nonsense" and realizes "yes, it was treacle," I realized I was tired of this treacle too, and gave up on the book.

I suppose that the silliness of this book will appeal to young readers, but I cringe to think that this was considered "the most distinguished American children's book published" in 2013.  The print copy of the book has a number of whimsical pencil illustrations by K. G. Campbell, and I suppose those add to the book's appeal for most children.  Some of the illustrations are in comic book format, and the audiobook narration adds superhero music and a description of what is occurring in those sparsely-texted panels that would be helpful for struggling readers.  The book is written at about a fourth-grade reading level.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received a hardbound copy of Felicity the Dragon through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program in exchange for a review.  It will be donated to my university library, which is also where I borrowed and returned both a print and audiobook copy of Flora & Ulysses.]


  1. Hi Amanda,
    I just read this review of my book today and am very sorry you disliked it so strongly. You commented that the illustrations were "unremarkable and amateurish" and I am very sorry you felt that way. I just finished my MFA in painting and drawing, and I painted one portrait of "Felicity" in particular that followed traditional portrait drawing methods. I used the idea of some very finished works and paintings inter-mingled with some 'concept paintings' that could perhaps please the eyes of adults and children. If you take another look, you will find that there are 5 paintings that reference famous artists, such as Diego Velazquez, Van Gogh an Tomas Cole. While I don't intend to sway your opinion, and respect everyone's right to dislike or like what they choose, I wonder if you might take a closer look to see if you may find the famous painting references in the book, which might make the book make more sense as to the variety of styles. I did write a curriculum to accompany the book, actually, that may help teacher's integrate it into a lesson plan. Again, I am sorry you were so disappointed, maybe you can take a look at the second book I illustrated though, called 'Sea of Echoes' which has many more paintings done in a more realistic style (that one is for older readers, Felicity is really for little kids under 5). I did a book signing a few weeks ago, and was surprised and delighted at the reaction small kids had to Felicity, and I did an author event where many small children requested their parents to buy it, and it made them laugh. I would like to request that you consider having a small child see it, see what they think, or maybe offer it to a parent of a small child and see if the child might like it. I appreciate you reading this post, and hope "Felicity" might have a shot with your reading audience. If you would like to see more of my paintings, you can google my name and it leads right to them. Thanks for your time, Ruthie

  2. Hi Amanda,
    I am Ruthie Briggs Greenberg, the author/illustrator of "Felicity" and I very sorry you disliked the book so strongly. I just finished my MFA in Painting and drawing, and used both very detailed paintings in some scenes, as well as more concept based paintings in other scenes. When you stated the pictures were "unremarkable and amateurish", I wondered if the variety of styles in the book may have been something you didn't like; there are so many styles because there are references to five very famous paintings, the first one being the portrait of Felicity which a landscape by painter Thomas Cole; then there is a reference to Van Gogh, and Sargent, and later Diego Velasquez; I though it would be fun for parents to perhaps recognize these famous pieces. The book does have a curriculum I wrote for it, based on State Standards.
    While you are not a fan of this book, I would like to request you give it a chance with parents with young children, as I've seen kids giggle at it and many requested their parents to buy it while I was at a book signing at Barnes & Noble, and another author fair. I also have another book I illustrated, called "SEA OF ECHOES" that has many more elaborate and less conceptual paintings throughout the book that might have greater appeal to your aesthetics. I hope you will give "Felicity" a shot with your patrons at the library, and I hope that some readers may find it charming and funny, she's had very positive reviews, and I've seen kid's like it; you could always try it and see if an audience responded, as they have around the country. I appreciate your time in reading this comment, thank you! Ruthie (You can see more of my paintings by googling my name and going to my site).

  3. Thanks for commenting, Ruthie, and for sharing more information about your book. Felicity the Dragon is being added to my library's collection.