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Duke Wibble of Wibblain: More children’s book reviews

December 22, 2011

Well, I still have over eight hundred books to review for this blog “by the end of the year.”  Heh.  AND Excel is still getting mad at me every ten seconds and not lining up the authors and books properly.  Joss Whedon did NOT write Knuffle Bunny.  (That didn’t actually happen, but it was Whedon’s name that made me realize that things weren’t lining up again.  Plus, Joss Whedon totally COULD have written Knuffle Bunny.  But no one would’ve been able to have a healthy, long-term relationship in it.)

Let’s knock out some more series, shall we?

The Fun with Phonics series is cute enough, with a lot of rhyming words.  I gave one of the titles, Learn to Read with Jen the Hen, one star less because of a forced rhyme.  But kids learning to read take them out a lot (or their parents do), so I guess they’re doing what they’re supposed to.  The other titles in the series that we own are Learn to Read with Baby Bug, Learn to Read with Dog in the Fog, Learn to Read with Fat Cat, and Learn to Read with Posy the Pig.  This is definitely not my favorite phonics series, but it’s probably the silliest one we have here at the library, and kids will likely feel it’s a break from the usual repetition.

Martha Speaks creeps me out, I have to say.  I’ve read several Martha Easy Readers over this past year–Thief of Hearts, Fireworks for All, Martha Camps Out, Pool Party, and A Winter’s Tail–and only one has gotten the “I liked it” three-star rating from me on Goodreads, and that’s Pool Party.  What creeps me is that the dog apparently ate some alphabet soup and now it can talk because THE SOUP LETTERS WENT TO ITS BRAIN.  And there’s a picture of this.  And it freaks me because I have a phobia about brains, starting with that book in the ’80s where the girl gets meningitis and goes blind, then deaf.  But that’s not why I didn’t rate the books well.  It’s because they’re not very good.  I kind of wonder if the non-ER book (or books?) is (are?) better, but I haven’t read it yet.  I’m sure I will at some point, and then I’ll tell you.  Sometimes ERs just aren’t as good as the E series from which they are derived (I’m lookin’ at YOU, Fancy Nancy), and that goes double for books that are derived from TV shows, which I’m guessing is part of the problem here.  If these are based on episodes (and I believe they are–I’m almost positive Thief of Hearts is), they’re not as smooth as they could be.

Oh, and speaking of Knuffle Bunny, let’s talk Mo Willems.  Mo is awesome.  Mo is the best thing that’s happened to me since I started working here, author-wise.  Knuffle Bunny and its sequels are some of the cutest, most moving books I’ve read this year, and I cried my little eyes out at the end of the third.  But Mo is not ALL Knuffle Bunny, and the Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie have also become new favorites.  Every time there’s a new Mo book in, I read it first, even though I know that it’s possible that every book I read after that is a letdown.  (Except today.  The new books are going to have to wait until the holiday display goes down or else there will be no room for them.  But I will still read that one and that one alone before I go today.)  So far I have read the Elephant & Piggie books We Are in a Book (LOVE LOVE LOVE it the most), Are You Ready to Play Outside?, Elephants Cannot Dance, and Should I Share My Ice Cream?, as well as Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! and The Pigeon Has Feelings Too–oh, oh, and Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep, and What’s Your Sound, Hound the Hound? and, of course, the new one Amanda and her Alligator, and I love them all.  If there’s one author you should be buying for your kids, it’s Mo.  Really, I can’t say enough, so I won’t say any more than that.  It’s true.

Science Rocks is a colorful series by Rena Korb which covers the topics Groovy Gravity (in my opinion, the weakest of the series), Crazy about Clouds, Radical Rocks, Wild Water Cycle, and my favorite, Awesome Air.  They are definitely a product of their time, cartoon-y and hyper, but I found them enjoyable and a good way to teach science to kids through books.

Big Girls Use the Potty and Big Boys Use the Potty are two bigger board books by Andrea Pinnington which use photographs and gender-defining colors to aid in potty training.  Despite the whole “girls like this and boys like that” pink-and-blueness of the books, I like them, and they come with stickers to reward the child for using the potty.  I’d suggest them to patrons (and I keep the stickers behind the desk and will give out a row to parents who inquire until they’re gone).  Although I’d like to point out that the reason there are boy and girl versions of other potty books is not because of the pink and cutesy/blue and rough-and-tumble appearance of the child, potty, and decorations, but because of the different body parts, which aren’t mentioned here.

The First Facts series gives us “Spotlight”s on continents.  I used these books for our summer reading program, but not very much.  They are short books, and Asia especially is far too diverse to be covered by the breezy topics the series focuses on.  But they’re basically solid as introductions to the continents.

Getting back to my Fancy Nancy nitpicks, I thought I would HATE Fancy Nancy for her very existence, all bows and ribbons and ruffles.  But I don’t.  What I don’t like is the inconsistency of the books, especially when you pit the ERs against the Es.  I’ve read Splendid Speller, Fabulous Fashion Boutique, Aspiring Artist, Every Day is Earth Day, Marvelous Mother’s Day Brunch, and Hair Dos and Don’ts, and that goes in order of how much I like them.  Splendid Speller is great–it was my first one, I think, and I was really impressed.  Hair Dos and Don’ts I just read and I HATED it.  Nancy cuts her hair before picture day and freaks out because it isn’t perfect anymore.  Instead of someone teaching her that short hair can be fancy too, she’s given a baseball cap to cover it (the whole class gets them, so it could be worse), and hopes it grows back soon.  Because short hair just isn’t for girls, I guess.


I liked the Body Coverings series by Jennifer Boothroyd, which are Fur, Scales, Feathers, Shells, and Skin.  (As always, there’s one I found weakest, and that was Shells.)  Liked the pictures, liked the facts. 

Karma Wilson is popular here, but mostly with the kids, not the librarian, although I often choose her stuff to read to the kids.  Hogwash! is good, and good to read aloud, Bear Feels Scared and Bear’s Loose Tooth are okay, as is Mama, Why?  The kids mostly like Bear though.

Kristin Sterling’s Exploring Flowers, Exploring Roots, Exploring Leaves, Exploring Stems, and Exploring Seeds are sort of all over the place, with Seeds being the only one I thought was very well-done.  Not bad for new readers trying to learn, but from a writing stand-point, I was a bit disappointed.

One of the things I’ve been dealing with as someone who reads a lot of sets is how the same authors write a set so strictly that they don’t realize when they need to bend the formula a little, or rewrite it entirely.  I’m not saying this specifically about Sterling, but I find that when I read a set, I get more critical than when I’m reading a series, because the books are obviously meant to be read together, or close together.  They should be consistent, sure, but they should also be strong.  What’s the point of keeping a series if it’s not well-done?  I should really track where this stuff comes from so that I can make better decisions in the future.

It’s hard though, because ordering library books isn’t always easy.  Sure, sometimes it’s “WE NEED ANOTHER COPY OF THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK YAYYYYY!”–but other times it’s “You know what we don’t have?  Books about the water cycle” and then it’s “Uh, where do I turn?”  From now on, I”m going to keep a closer eye on where things come from, specifically catalogs.

Charlie and Lola never disappoint, and this year I read three: My Best, Best Friend, Slightly Invisible, and I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed (which I knew from when my daughter was youngish and did a story time with it because, you know, it’s great).  I’ve never seen the show but I’m assuming it’s just as good.  What came first?  I don’t know, and can’t guess, which tells you a lot about how good it is.

Okay, I’m under 800 now.  I feel like I can stop now.  Next up: NOT kids’ books.  (Maybe teen books, instead.  Heh.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. offshore bank account permalink
    January 3, 2012 9:55 pm

    There Is a Bird On Your Head! is my son’s favorite of the Elephant and Piggie books! This whole series is great fun… my son loves the expressions on the faces of both characters. And, more importantly, HE wants to do the reading at bedtime because he has fun trying to match his reading to the expressions from the faces. And, we love looking for Pigeon on the back covers! I wish there were more of these books!

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