Tag: kids

Oct 26 2017

Halloween Books for Beginning Readers

Love Monster and the Scary Something by Rachel Bright is the most recent in the well known Love Monster series. Love Monster is struggling with insomnia one evening. The harder he tries to sleep, the more awake he becomes. As the night goes on, his imagination begins to run wild, and Love Monster is convinced the noises he is hearing are something terrible!

Love Monster and the Scary Something is a terrific book for helping small children understand and overcome basic fears such as fear of the dark or anxiety about unfamiliar noises at night. It is a lighthearted and amusing addition to the Love Monster collection. Bright writes well at a level that is easy for young kids to understand but does not condescend to them. I did find however, that Bright’s invention of the word “awaker” detracted from my enjoyment of the storyline. While it is tempting to create unique word choices to make stories more accessible to children, it came across as awkward in this instance.

There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher follows a monster who is trapped inside the book. Young readers are encouraged to shake, turn, and blow on the book to prompt the little monster along. Fletcher
has created a cute romp that young readers will enjoy though it is reminiscent of (and not as enjoyable as) The Monster At The End of this Book.

How To Catch a Monster by Adam Wallace centers around a tiny Ninja who is determined to scare away the monster he has discovered living in his closet. The two go against each other as the ninja repeatedly traps the monster who repeatedly breaks out of the traps. Finally, the ninja realizes the monster simply wants to make friends.

How To Catch A Monster employs a rhyming sequence that is jarring in places. In addition, Wallace has simplified the language to make it easier for early readers to understand, but it reads as if it has been too simplified even for the 3-5 year old age group it is marketed toward. Finally, the entire book culminates in a fart joke, which may appeal to young children but will leave parents rolling their eyes.

Sam the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the World by Mo Willems continues the story of a Sam, a little boy previously introduced in Willems’ book Leonardo the Terrible Monster. Sam is afraid of everything and everyone except his monster friend Leonardo. One day, however, Sam meets Kerry, the second most scaredy-cat kid in the world! Seeing that the two children are terrified of each other, the monsters conspire to help them see what they have in common and to overcome their own fears.

Willems’ writing starts out strong and does an excellent job of meeting kids on their level, however the ending is quite abrupt and readers are left without any resolution. This leaves the door open for continuing the series but, still, children will likely be left wondering “are the kids still scared?”, “what do the monsters do?”.

Bonaparte Falls Apart written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Will Terry, centers around a young skeleton who is literally having a hard time keeping himself together. When Bonaparte tries to throw a ball, his arm goes with it. When he tries to eat lunch, it’s rather jaw-dropping. Bonaparte is, quite simply, falling apart in the worst sense. Fortunately, he has a supportive group of friends and a surprising new companion who help him cope with the travails of being a little different.

Cuyler and Terry as a team create an adorable and clever story about insecurities and being a little different. Cuyler does an excellent job of writing intelligently and, in fact, makes use of some rather groan-worthy puns. Boneaparte Falls Apart should become a frequent rotation in the bedtime reading routine and is a wonderful story that both kids and parents will enjoy.

The X-Files: Earth Children are Weird by Jason Rekulak portrays Mulder and Scully as young children. The two alien hunters have pitched a tent in the backyard for a sleepover but are quickly bombarded by strange sights and sounds. True to their characters, Mulder is convinced aliens are behind every shadow while Scully insists there must be a rational, more commonplace source. What follows is an enjoyable story that plays nicely into the X-Files franchise.

Earth Children are Weird provides a wonderful way for parents to introduce young children to one of the most popular sci-fi shows of all time. While the television show is too intense for early readers, the book creates an entertaining side universe that will amuse fans of the series. Rekulak does an excellent job of presenting Mulder and Scully as children while keeping previously established elements of their adult personalities. Those who loved the TV show may have to indulge in a little suspension of disbelief given that Earth Children Are Weird plays a little loose with established canon.

Kim Smith’s illustrations complement the text brilliantly and her depiction of the amusing surprise ending will make readers both younger and older laugh out loud.

Oct 25 2016

Review: Graphic Novels for Halloween

Halloween is on us again, and as in previous years, I thought I would do a Halloween themed review of books for kids, middle schoolers, and teens.

I recently discovered a series of classic horror literature converted to graphic novel format.  These include Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven & Other Tales.

Muted colors pervade Frankenstein, emphasizing the themes of loss and loneliness from the original text.  Characters are drawn with a perspective that creates a feeling of viewing from a  distance or being separated from the events of the story.  Frankenstein’s monster, were it not for his stitches and hallow face, could almost pass for a regular man.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde also utilizes color to emphasize theme but, in contrast to the monochromatic tones of Frankenstein, the illustrator makes heavy use of red, brown, green, and even pink.  Perspectives are closer with less depth of field, highlighting themes of chaos and madness.  Mr. Hyde is portrayed with deformed, almost caricature witch-like features.  In addition his face is marked with sores indicating disease such as smallpox or similar.

The Raven & Other Tales makes strong use of bright almost neon colors.  In one section of the book, each page is overlaid with a different bright color such as purple, turquoise, or red.  The reader is given a sense that the narrator is experiencing hallucinatory sensations.

While Dracula uses similar color schemes as Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the drawings are less detailed or refined.  In some places, sketches take on almost a satirical expression while in others there is detailed use of shadow and shading.  These may have been deliberate choices to highlight certain aspects of the story line.

Retaining the dialogue of the original text, these classics have been carefully illustrated to   retain the feel and theme of the original.  The graphic novel format may appeal to teens interested in exploring the original text in a more accessible or familiar format.  This introduction to the stories may further inspire teens to delve into the original novels.


Ghosts, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, centers around the story of Catrina (Cat) and her family.  Her sister Maya has cystic fibrosis, so the family has moved to the coast of Northern California in an effort to improve Maya’s health.

BahÍa de la Luna is different from other places in that the old missions and constant fog provide the perfect conditions for ghostly visitors.  The entire town is obsessed with ghosts and as such Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is an especially grand affair.  Maya is delighted by this revelation.  Cat, however, desperately wishes it would all disappear.

As with Dracula and the other classics, the graphic novel format makes the story more accessible to younger readers or to kids who might not otherwise read a 200 plus page book.

The inclusion of the cystic fibrosis story line is presented in a positive yet realistic manner.  Cat knows that her sister’s lifespan is likely to be cut short due to her condition, and as such she is protective of her even as she finds her annoying.  The novel does not shy away from the subject of death but addresses it with a frank yet sensitive tone.  Maya’s illness has made her determined to live as full a life as possible, and feeds her obsession with the town’s ghost culture.  Cat, on the other hand, struggles with the idea that her sister might not always be around and as such, retreats more into herself and tries to reject the ghost stories.

Some readers objected to the depictions of the Dia de los Muertos celebrations claiming Telgemeier appropriated a culture that is not her own and that she presented the holiday as more of a “Mexican Halloween” than a day during which families honor and pray for those who have gone before.

Ghosts is not as scary as the title implies, but since the Dia de los Muertos holiday has come to be celebrated starting on Halloween Day it is an appropriate book for the time of year.  Children of Hispanic descent will likely enjoy a book which depicts characters who look like them and who have cultural similarities.


Peanut Butter and Brains written by Joe McGee and illustrated by Charles Santoso introduces the reader to Quirkville, a town overrun with zombies.  Reginald is a young zombie who is different from the other zombies in that instead of craving brains, he desperately wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The residents of Quirkville are understandably frightened of the zombies.  After all, nobody wants to get their brains eaten.  In addition, the other zombies are confused by and skeptical of Reginald.  How can a zombie not be interested in brains they wonder?  Then one day, Reginald sees a little girl at the bus stop with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her hands.

Peanut Butter and Brains is a great book for beginning readers.  Santoso’s illustrations nicely complement the story line without being too frightening for small children.  The theme of standing out from the other zombies emphasizes the positive aspects of being unique.

Parents will be amused by Reginald’s eagerness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and may in fact see their own picky eater within the plot lines.

Peanut Butter and Brains will delight kids and will not bore parents quite as quickly as a constant diet of peanut butter and jelly might.


I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehraupt and Scott Magoon presents Theodore a monster who lives in a quiet cave.  Occasionally various animals wander by the cave and each time, Theodore wonders if he should eat them, but each time decides that he is not hungry.  Eventually, a little boy comes to the cave.  Theodore is getting hungry.  Should he eat the little boy?

I Will Not Eat You is a delightful book about little boys, dragons, and unusual friendships.  Illustrations are presented in large images with broad strokes and bright colors.  Young children will be eager to see whether or not Theodore eats the little boy, and parents will audibly laugh at the somewhat dark twist at the end.

I Will Not Eat You is a perfect addition to the collection of Halloween themed books and will likely become a favorite among young kids and parents.

Oct 08 2013

Review: Star Wars books for kids by Jeffrey Brown

The announcement last year that Disney had acquired the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas and the subsequent announcement that they would be releasing at least three more Star Wars movies, has sent the sci-fi and fantasy world into a frenzy.  This has created a surge in books that are outside the normal reference books and fictionalized takes.

Three of those books are by New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Brown.  The first, Darth Vader and Son is an amusing approach told in single panel illustrations on the premise “What if Darth Vader found himself a single parent to his four-year old son, Luke?”  The result is a hilarious depiction of Lord Vader dealing with a son who won’t eat his vegetables, put away his toys, or go to bed on time, intermixed with quotes from the movies that any fan will recognize.

The book also depicts Vader trying to tackle some of the tougher childhood questions such as “Where do babies come from?” and “Dad, why is it called a Death Star?”  In special homage to the hardcore fan-base, Brown also pokes fun at the Han/Greedo “who shot first?” debate.

While anyone who has ever been around children will be able to relate to the scenarios portrayed, parents will especially appreciate this book and find themselves smiling in sympathy.

Darth Vader and Son is aimed at Star Wars fans and other geeks, but anyone from reading age up to adults will find it enjoyable.  In addition, this book is a great way for parents to give their reading age children who have seen the movies an additional introduction to the Star Wars universe.

 

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The second book in Brown’s series is Vader’s Little Princess.  Following the same premise of Darth Vader as a single father, this companion book tracks Leia from a young girl into the teenage years.

In early panels, Vader deals with incidents such as wearing a bright orange cozy on his head, simply to please his daughter, and being reduced to putty by a simple hug while trying to scold an Admiral.  In true twin fashion, Luke and Leia are depicted teaming up against Vader and getting into mischief such as hiding his keys and crashing Luke’s X-Wing into the Degobah swamp.

As Leia grows into young womanhood, Vader finds himself at a loss as to how to deal with the changes in his daughter.  Suddenly, she’s hogging the bathroom and asking her father to park the AT-AT around the corner when dropping her off at school. The perils of teenage driving are touched on when Vader is teaching Leia how to drive his Tie Fighter, and career day turns awkward when Princess Leia starts asking questions about what her father does for a living.

Finally, in a brilliant homage to The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo is introduced as an on again-off again love interest.  Brown takes scenes from the original film and turns them into fun moments any man with daughters will recognize.

As with Darth Vader and Son, Vader’s Little Princess is intended for the Star Wars devotee, but parents, especially those with teen girls, will relate to the scenes within.  Though amusing and fun, a few of the panels felt as if they were “reaching” to create the joke, and I felt it paled slightly in comparison to it’s companion volume, Darth Vader and Son.

Vader’s Little Princess is appropriate for all ages, and scenes regarding dating and skimpy clothing are handled in such a way that even parents of young children should feel comfortable sharing this book.

 

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Brown’s third book, Jedi Academy, steers away from Darth Vader and delves into the story of Roan Novachez.  Set approximately 200 years before the events of Return of the Jedi, Roan is a young boy on the planet Tatooine who thinks his life is over when he is rejected by Pilot Academy Middle School.  Convinced that he is doomed to attending Tatooine Agriculture Academy, Roan is shocked when he receives an acceptance letter from Jedi Academy.  Here, Roan meets Master Yoda and other Academy instructors including Librarian Lackbar, T-3P0, and RW-22.

Readers of Jedi Academy will notice similarities in style and perspective to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  As with Greg in Wimpy Kid, Jedi Academy’s Roan recounts his struggles as the new kid at school.  The Jedi Academy normally does not accept older children, and this adds to Roan’s feelings of awkwardness and of being an outsider.

Jedi Academy is appropriate for readers aged 7 to 12, though as with his other books, Brown creates a story that adult readers will be able to enjoy as well.  Star Wars fans will enjoy the subtle references to the movies, such as Roan’s least favorite teacher bearing a marked resemblance to Darth Maul and Yoda’s urging of “Do or do not, there is no try.”

Jedi Academy is an enjoyable and amusing read, although the ending felt a bit rushed.  In addition, the handwriting font was at times difficult to read and detracted from the overall story.

Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess would both make wonderful additions to the collection of any Star Wars fan young or old.

While most adults will not be as interested in Jedi Academy, it would be an excellent gift for younger or middle school aged children.

 

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