Posted in Book Review

The Creature of the Pines – WARNING the Unicorns are a Lie!

Sorry about my absentee status this week. Between sick kids, a car accident, and listing our house for sale, blogging was put on hold. We are still going strong with our reading challenge despite the chaos. We have read 824 books as of today; however, our deadline is quickly sneaking up on an us.

Anyways, time to begin tonight’s book review. If you remember, my kiddos and I began reading The Creature of the Pines about a week ago. We finally finished it and the results are in.

The Plot

*WARNING: SPOILERS INCLUDED!!!*

The Creature of the Pines by Adam Gidwitz is the first book in the series The Unicorn Rescue Society. It follows two children, Uchenna Devereaux and Elliot Eisner, on a class field trip. The book begins with Elliot experiencing his first day at his new school. He has the typical new kid blues. Once on the bus, Elliot meets Uchenna, who quickly befriends him.

It quickly becomes apparent that Elliot and Uchenna are about as different as can be. Elliot is cautious and follows the rules. Uchenna is bold and downright reckless. These differing personalities become more evident as their field trip progresses.

Uchenna and Elliot are on their way to the the Pine Barrens Forest. While Uchenna is oozing with enthusiasm for the adventure, Elliot is dismayed to be journeying to the dangerous woods. He is also unhappy because the scary and eccentric Professor Fauna is leading the trip. Uchenna warns Elliot that Professor Fauna is even rumored to have a torture chamber in the school basement!

Uchenna’s fearless personality quickly gets Elliot into trouble once they are in the woods. Uchenna decided to sneak away from the group and to do her own exploring. Elliot eventually goes against his better judgment and follows Uchenna into the woods to make sure she is safe.

Shockingly, they encounter a small blue dragon – the Jersey Devil. After rescuing him from being tangled up, the mischievous dragon becomes a stowaway on the school bus.

Elliot and Uchenna once again have the opportunity to save the dragon. This time, the children team up with Professor Fauna to defeat the dubious Schmoke Brothers.

After their heroic acts, Professor Fauna invites the Elliot and Uchenna to join a secret society – The Unicorn Rescue Society.

The Positives

This 192 page fantasy book was well-written. Adam Gidwitz did a lovely job developing each of his characters. The main characters each had their own highly unique personality types. The attention to character development makes it easy for younger children to keep track of the different characters.

The characters are extremely relatable. Because of the diverse personalities of the characters included in this book, it is easy for a child to find someone to relate to. Plus several relatable themes are included. For example, trying to navigate the fears and awkwardness of being the new kid at school.

The book included a male and female lead character. I view this as a bonus. My girls are at the age where they strongly prefer characters who are girls “like them.” This book worked great because Uchenna was a lead character just like Elliot. If Uchenna did not exist in this book, I doubt the girls would have finished listening to it.

The illustrations were well-done. While the illustrations were all black and white, they were cute. My kids got excited whenever they saw a page with pictures in this book. The illustrations enhanced the reading experience.

Lastly, the overall story was enjoyable. It included a cute dragon, several humorous mishaps, and a caste of quirky characters. Children between ages 6 and 11 are likely to enjoy this story if they enjoy fantasy books.

The Critiques

My biggest disappointment with this book as silly as it may sound was THERE WERE NO UNICORNS. When I picked this book out for the girls, it was specifically for the unicorns. Who would have guessed that a book called The Unicorn Rescue Society: The Creature of the Pines does not contain one single unicorn. My girls were super disappointed. They just kept nagging me with “when are the unicorns going to show up?”

The first chapter completely failed to grab my kids’ attention. To be perfectly honest, I had to ask the kids to humor me and to give the book at least thirty pages to improve. I promised them if the book did not get better by page thirty, we would read something else. The book did improve enough for us to finish it; however, it got off to a rough start. Had I not volunteered to read the whole book aloud it would not have been finished. Also, my kids kept taking breaks to have me read books that they deemed more interesting. Specifically, we read two Magic Treehouse books, three Rainbow Fairy books, and one Junie B. Jones book, before we finished this book.

I also was not a huge fan of some of the “humorous” elements included in the book. I acknowledge that this is solely a matter of personal preference, but we do not gravitate towards books with farting jokes. This book had several farting jokes and scenes throughout. I try to encourage my kids to be polite and classy so farting was not humorous to them. Obviously this may be a non-issue for other families.

Also, some parents as a matter of preference may take issue with the dragon being called the Jersey Devil. It was not a dealbreaker for us, but I know for some families it might be.

Conclusion

This book would be an excellent choice for a child who likes dragons. If your child likes unicorns, I would skip this book. In fact, my six year old recommends Pop-up Peekaboo! Unicorn instead for any young unicorn-loving readers out there.

Despite our rocky start with The Creature of the Pines, we did order book number two in the series. I will keep you posted on whether the second book goes over better.

For now, have a great day everyone!

Posted in Book Review

Time to Clap! – A Review of If You’re Spooky and You Know It

Introduction

My son is obsessed with certain children’s songs. One of our current favorite songs is If You’re Happy and You Know It. I was, therefore, ecstatic to find If You’re Spooky and You Know It. I love finding twists on classic songs since it spares me from having to sing the exact same song REPEATEDLY. If you have a toddler, I’m sure you understand.

The Premise of this Book

If You’re Spooky and You Know It is Aly Fronis’s twist on If You’re Happy and You Know It. The book does not tell a story but is a Halloween inspired song book.

This book takes children on a Halloween adventure where they can clap their hands with skeletons, nod their heads with vampires, stomp their feet with witches, and more! This book would be great for a toddler who could understand the lyrics of the song and who could act out the book.

This would be a fantastic book to read at a children’s Halloween party where the kids could dance along. I think this book would even be fun for children up to age 5. The song is easy to act out but it would still be entertaining for four or five year old children.

The Illustrations

This sixteen page board book is full of adorable Halloween illustrations. There is certainly nothing scary or spooky about the colorful cast of characters in this book. As a parent, rest assured your child will not be frightened by the pictures in this book. Jannie Ho created a variety of smiling, silly characters to dance along with.

This book features cute versions of classic Halloween characters such as mummies, skeletons, werewolves, and witches. Frankenstein and Dracula also make an appearance in this children’s song book. All of the characters exude cheerfulness as they dance around.

In addition to the enchanting characters, the colors used throughout this book are perfect choices. This certainly is not a dark dreary ghoulish set of colors, rather this book is full of cheery colors. Vibrant yellows, oranges, and greens are featured throughout. The lyrics are all in bold, easy to read black font. The reader friendly font is particularly valuable if your child is trying to read the book on their own.

My Critiques

While this engaging song book has many positive attributes, there are certain aspects of this book that could be problematic for some parents. There are three potential issues I want to highlight.

First, I could see a parent taking issue with some of the actual lyrics in this song book. For example, one verse includes the words “If you’re sneaky and you know it, nod your head.” On another page, the lyrics include “If you’re wicked and you know it, stomp your feet.” The lyrics also include “If you’re naughty and you know it, snap your fingers.” I could see these lyrics being problematic for parents.

These lyrics could be perceived as glorifying negative attributes that we as parents try to teach our children to avoid. For example, I know I reminded my six year old that it is NOT okay to be sneaky. Sneakiness is one of those issues we have been struggling with, so I did instruct her that this book is fiction. In real life, being sneaky will get your sent to timeout.

Alternatively, some parents might be offended by the idea of referring to their child as wicked, naughty, or sneaky. As parents we prefer to think of our children as sweet angelic types. 🤷 I might normally be troubled by the lyrics, except I recognize that these are just adjectives that work effectively in a Halloween song.

Second, while some parents allow their children to partake in Halloween festivities, they may avoid books that feature witches. This book does contain two pages where witches are dancing with brooms, black cats, and bats. The inclusion of cartoon witches was not a deal breaker for us, but it could be for other families.

Third, this book is simply a Halloween inspired version of If You’re Happy and You Know It. This book is not a story book that features some groundbreaking original Halloween story. It is simply a lighthearted Halloween take on a classic children’s song. If you are looking for an actual Halloween story, this is not the book for you.

My Closing Thoughts

Overall, If You’re Spooky and You Know It was a cute Halloween book to change up our normal music time songs. My infant enjoyed the book; however, it is not a book I plan to buy for our collection. This is certainly a book worth checking out at your local library though!

Posted in Book Review

Somebody Save the Chickens! – Day 2 of My Spooktacular Book Reviews

The Introduction

The terrified chickens of Eek! Halloween! need a hero! Something strange has been going on. They begin to encounter bizarre phenomena such as pumpkins with flickering eyes and mice that are the size of an elephant. What is going on?

You and your little pumpkin can go through this quirky journey with a group of scared chickens. Eek! Halloween! by Sandra Boynton is an excellent board book choice for getting your young child in the Halloween spirit.

The Illustrations

The illustrations in this book are simplistic yet highly effective at engaging a toddler or young child. The book is filled with charming pictures of the chickens who star in this book. The expressive poultry really come to life on the pages. The exaggerated reactions of the chickens are likely to make your child giggle with delight.

Not only are the drawings themselves effective, but so are the color choices utilized throughout the book. This book uses extremely high contrast, powerful colors. Every single page features a strong color palette that draws in the reader’s attention. My ten month old mostly prefers board books with touch and feel elements or flaps, but even he was drawn in by the pages of this book.

The Story

This book tells a Halloween story from the point of view of a group of clueless chickens. These chickens have never before witnessed any Halloween festivities. When animals in costumes begin to appear, panic ensues. Eventually a friendly pig in a chicken costume saves the day by telling the silly chickens that it’s Halloween.

All three of my kids enjoyed the story. The book only contains 104 words, yet it manages to convey a comical chicken tale. Obviously this book does not have an elaborate plot given how short it is; however, I would still recommend reading it for some holiday fun.

This book is certainly not the next great literary classic; however, it is a delightful book to get your child in the holiday spirit.

My Critiques

I have largely positive thoughts regarding this book, but I do want to identify some aspects of this book that may be considered negatively by other parents.

First, the construction of this book is not the best I have ever seen. My son would decimate this book if left him alone with it. The binding is extremely flimsy although the pages themselves are sturdy cardboard.

Second, the main focus of this book is the chickens. The illustrations, therefore, are almost exclusively the chickens. If a parent were looking for a Halloween book with more traditional Halloween illustrations, this may not be the book for you. I thought the chickens were charming, so I personally did not mind them being the stars of this book.

Third, the book could be perceived as just another kitschy holiday book. I did not select this book because I was seeking a literary masterpiece. My kids and I were just looking for a fun Halloween story to read together.

Lastly, the price is less than ideal for the length of the book you get. On Amazon, this book is currently $7. This book only contains 104 words so I could see a parent being disappointed by the accompanying price tag. I am a huge advocate of using my local library, so the price was a non-issue for us.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a silly not scary Halloween book to read with your toddler, this is a great option. I think this book is best suited to children who are 0 to 4 years of age. So what are you waiting for? Head over to your local library to check out this fun Halloween board book! 🎃

Posted in Book Review

31 Days of Halloween Books

It’s finally October! The season of sweaters, boots, and pumpkin everything is nearly upon us. As Halloween continues to creep up, I decided to review one Halloween book a day for the next thirty-one days.

To kick off my spooktacular Halloween book reviews, we begin with Five Little Pumpkins. This sixteen page board book was illustrated by Dan Yaccarino.

This book is seventy-one words long, so it can easily be read to your wiggly little ghouls and goblins. The length of this board book makes it ideal for children ages 0 to 4 years old.

The book itself contains brightly colored illustrations that help grab the attention of babies and toddlers. The illustrations, while fairly simplistic in design, are still enchanting. There are cute pumpkins and ghosts that haunt the pages of this book. My ten month old son definitely enjoyed the pictures in this book.

The book itself contains a rhyming children’s poem rather than a story. The rhymes make this a great book for reading out loud to a baby or toddler. I will warn you, if you are looking for a Halloween story, this is likely not the book for you.

This book is perfect for someone who is looking for a merry not scary Halloween poem to read with their baby or toddler.

Posted in Book Review

The Magic of Rainspell Island and Ruby the Red Fairy

We had a thirty minute drive to the local harvest festival, so we brought along a book from our local library – Ruby the Red Fairy. Even though the book was sixty-five pages, we finished the whole story prior to our arrival. I was reading the book out loud to my three kids. I am sure it would have taken my 8 year old way longer to read the whole book by herself.

Ruby the Red Fairy by Daisy Meadows is the first book in the Rainbow is Magic: Rainbow Fairies series. This book is very simplistic which makes it ideal for a little girl who is just starting to make the transition to reading chapter books.

Ruby the Red Fairy introduces the reader to the storyline for the next few books. In this book, Kirsty and Rachel are two little girls who meet on their way to Rainspell Island. Upon their arrival, they go on a treasure hunt for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Instead of finding gold, they meet Ruby the Red Fairy. Ruby had become trapped under a heavy pot while fleeing from Jack Frost.

Kirsty and Rachel promise Ruby that they will find the other missing rainbow fairies. Without the rainbow fairies uniting, Ruby’s homeland will remain under Jack’s spell forever.

In my opinion, there were both positives and negatives with this book. First, the writing style was very simplistic. On one hand, this is a positive for new readers who are transitioning to chapter books. Conversely, the simplistic style of this book made it highly predictable. As a parent reading this book, you will most likely be bored.

Second, the book contains pictures throughout which helps ease the transition to chapter books. The illustrations are quite simplistic. The illustrations are essentially glorified black and white stick figures. My girls were not particularly impressed with the illustrations. My eight year old said she could have drawn prettier pictures.

Third, the book felt like it was a trailer designed to lure you into buying book two. It just did not feel like much happened in this book. As soon as you started to feel like the story was truly beginning, the book ended.

Fourth, the book itself is made out of flimsy materials. The cover and pages are thin. The spine is not particularly durable either. I highly recommend obtaining these books from the library rather than spending your money to buy these books.

After we finished reading this book, I asked the girls if we should start book two. Both of my girls, voted to read book five of The Magic Treehouse series instead. My kids did, however, say they think we should read book two of The Rainbow Fairies series.

Overall, I think this book is best for children ages 4 to 8 years old. This book is ideal if you have a little girl who is going through the fairy phase.

On an unrelated note, as of today we have read 578 books. We are getting closer and closer to our goal of 1,000 books!

Posted in Book Review

Finding Beauty in Mistakes

Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg is a truly unique and creative children’s book. The twenty-eight pages in this book have a special layout. The book features exquisite colors, interactive pages, and tactile experiences galore.

This book uses flaps, bent corners, torn pages, and crumpled paper to showcase the beauty of artistic creativity. The book’s message is minimalistic yet powerful. Through its design, this book tries to inspire readers to seek out creative ways to turn their mistakes into something beautiful.

For example, a tear in a piece of paper is transformed into an alligator’s smile. Later, a bent corner of paper becomes the beak of a penguin. As the book unfolds, several other transformations emerge on the pages.

Beautiful Oops! is only eighty-nine words long; however, its simplicity is powerful. The words are there to transition the reader through the interactive illustrations.

My kiddos who are 10 months, 6 years, and 8 years old are obsessed with this book. This book is unlike any other book in our personal collection. My oldest is particularly enamored with this book because of her love of the arts. My youngest son adores how interactive this book is.

I highly recommend that you check this book out if you have a child between 0 to 8 years of age. There are some potentially negative aspects of this book that are worth noting.

First, this book is short which might disappoint some parents. The main focus of this book is the artwork and the interactive layout. Second, this book does not tell a story. This book contains a life lesson rather than telling a story. Third, if you are looking for a crafting book this is NOT the book for you. Fourth, if your little one is not the artistic type, they may find this book boring. Lastly, the flaps and other interactive elements of this book are not durable enough to withstand the rough handling of a toddler.

Despite the possible drawbacks of this book, I still give this book the highest praise.

Posted in Book Review

Introducing Bruce the Grumpy Bear

1 Grumpy Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins is a fantastic counting board book. This twenty-four page book is filled with adorable animals, high quality illustrations, and vivid colors.

This book makes all three of my kids laugh and smile. They particularly love the fact that Bruce stays true to his grumpy ways throughout the entire book. The illustrations really bring the animals to life for kids.

The book only has thirty-eight words which makes it perfect for reading over and over again. (Trust me I know). I have re-read the book so many times that 1 Grumpy Bruce is now in our Amazon cart. The good news is right now the book is only $4 if you have Amazon Prime.

The only criticism I can find with this book is it might be hard for a child to count the animals in this book if they were just learning how to count. The animals are not laid out in neat orderly rows, and some of the animals do overlap each other in the illustrations. Personally I do not view this as a negative but I could see other parents taking issue with the layout.

I highly recommend this adorable counting book if you have kids between ages 0 to 5 years. This book is perfect for a child who is working on learning to read.