Book Reviews,  Book Talk,  Children's Fiction

Kid Lit Reviews Round 1

I’ve reviewed a lot of children’s literature through NetGalley in recent months, and though I don’t want to be known as a kid lit presence and thus haven’t been shouting these out from the roof tops, I do feel like they deserve a bit of a spotlight. So why not do a round-up?

Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which means there is no additional cost to you if you shop using my links, but I will earn a small percentage in commission. A program-specific disclaimer is at the bottom of this post.

Monty’s Special Day by Ellen Delange
My Rating: 4 Stars
Releases November 24, 2020

Monty’s Special Day is the story of Monty, an ordinary donkey, who always wonders where the birds are flying off to. One day when the birds fly past he notices that the gate is open, and off he goes into the woods. At first I was worried this was going to be the same as another children’s story I recently reviewed with a young bear following the birds on their migration, but then I turned the page and discovered these birds aren’t migrating anywhere, just going to where they know the best food is. It’s a fairly typical animal adventure type story, but it is unique, and Monty is adorable.

Some of the text placed over the illustrations is difficult to read with the font choice and size when it overlaps with grass texture.

The illustrations are adorable! I love the map of Monty’s adventure at the beginning and end.

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Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar
My Rating: 5 Stars
Releases November 30, 2020

Ritu Weds Chandni is the story of a lesbian couple’s traditional Indian wedding, told through the point of view of one of the brides’ young cousins, Ayesha. We meet Ayesha and her parents getting ready for the wedding, then they go off to meet the rest of the family at the starting location for Ritu’s baraat (wedding parade). When they arrive, Ayesha discovers that many of their friends and family have decided not to come. An older relative explains that it’s because not everyone is happy that Ritu is marrying a woman. Strangers from the area are gathering to try to stop the baraat and the wedding ceremony itself.

This is a story of love and acceptance in a place where tradition has not caught up with 21st-century morals. Ayesha ends up being a beacon of hope and love, accepting her lesbian cousins for who they are, seeing nothing wrong with who they’ve chosen to love, and encouraging everyone to continue celebrating despite attempts to spoil the day.

I appreciate the glossary of Hindi words at the end of the book, but I found the use of italics to emphasize these words throughout the text distracting and unnecessary. This is obviously a book about Indian culture and a wedding narrative, so we can assume that words we don’t recognize as English are indeed a foreign language.

The illustrations in this book are gorgeous! The story itself is inspiring and beautifully written. I would recommend this book for primary grade aged children, but probably not preschool, as there are large chunks of text per page. Had I attempted to read this to my three-year-old, I’m sure she would have lost interest. A six-year-old, on the other hand, would probably enjoy this.

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There’s a Chicken in My Kitchen! by Susan Kinsey
My Rating: 4 Stars

There’s a Chicken in My Kitchen! is a cute kindergarten level illustrated storybook about a little boy who wakes early for school one morning to find that a chicken has cooked him breakfast. The illustrations are very detailed and fun to look at, and the story itself is told in rhyming verse.

This is quite cute, and will be enjoyed by pre-K/Kindergarten kids everywhere. It doesn’t have enough of a plot to entertain the older storybook age kids.

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There’s a Kitty in the City Doing the Cha Cha Cha! by Susan Kinsley
My Rating: 5 Stars

This a cute preschool level illustrated story about a little girl who comes across a dancing cat (later joined by a dancing pig) who teach her to dance with them. It’s told in rhyming verse that flows well and will delight young children, and these are paired with adorable illustrations that are quite fun to look at.

There is also a bonus list of 10 facts about cats to teach to your children included at the end of the story.

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The Spider With So Many Shoes by Susan Kinsley
My Rating: 5 Stars

This is a cute preschool-age illustrated storybook about a girl who meets a spider wearing eight different shoes and asks why. The spider’s longwinded rhyming answer is adorable, sure to please all the little preschool and kindergarten age kids who will have this read to them, and poses adorable questions about a shoe industry made for spiders and their eight legs.

At the end of the book, there is also a lite of eight kid-friendly facts about spiders.

I think this book will do a lot of help kids be interested in spiders, less afraid of them, and more likely to treat these essential creatures with kindness.

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Benny Wants a Haircut by Judith Koppens
My Rating: 3 Stars
Releases November 3, 2020

Benny Wants a Haircut (or Benny at the Hairdresser as it seems to be titled on some listings) is a cute story about Sam, her dog Benny, and their trip to the hairdresser. The illustration style reminds me of 1990s cartoons and the story seems like it should be suitably interesting for kindergarten and primary grade age kids. I can definitely see my sister using this in her K/1 class. My three-year-old, on the other hand, was not interested in my read-through, which tells me it’s beyond toddler/preschooler level.

Minor note about the inside cover doodle pattern: the hairdryers don’t look like hairdryers when flipping past those cover pages quickly. Children shouldn’t see anything wrong with it, it’s fine, but adults rest assured it’s not what it looks like in your peripheral vision.

Overall it’s a cute story. The title gives it all away, but the age this is aimed at probably won’t mind.

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The Mermaid Counting Book by Suzanne Diederen
My Rating: 5 Stars
Releases October 27, 2020

The Mermaid Counting Book is an illustrated counting poem that teaches the numbers 1-10 by exploring all the things a young mermaid might find wandering around under the sea. The illustrations are fun, and the rhyme and meter of the poem flow so well. This was very enjoyable to read!

My three-year-old loved listening to this, and I think this will be the sort of book young readers pick up easily once they start reading on their own.

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Bear Is Not Sleepy by Jelleke Rijken
My Rating: 4 Stars
Releases November 3, 2020

Bear is Not Sleepy tells the story of a little bear preparing to hibernate for the winter when he realizes that some animals migrate to a warmer place instead of sleeping. That’s not fair! Bear wants to go someplace warm, too. Bear and his friends attempt to follow a flock of migrating birds to find this warmer place to spend winter. Will they get there?

The illustrations are adorable, and the plot is clear and entertaining. I tried to include my almost-three-year-old in my review read-through, but she lost interest half-way through, so I would say this book is suitable for Kindergarten age and up.

The repeated “but Bear isn’t sleepy… yet” lines would make this an amusing story to read at bedtime, but I think this would also be a great circle time read in a primary grade classroom. I would recommend this to parents and teachers alike.

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Pacita the Pacifier Fairy by Charlotte Attry
My Rating: 5 Stars

Pacita the Pacifier Fairy explains who the Pacifier Fairy is to kids and how she’ll take their pacifiers away to a safe place, take care fo them, and perhaps pass them on to younger kids in need when it’s time for growing kids to say goodbye to their own. It’s both a cute story and a handy resource for parents desperately trying to end the reign of the pacifier in their home. Parents can easily introduce this story, then follow through. Have kids leave their pacifiers out for the pacifier fairy, then exchange them with a letter from the fairy after they’ve fallen asleep.

My own daughter never wanted pacifiers, but my best friend’s 18-month-old won’t be caught without his, and I immediately thought that his mother could use this book in a few more months. I will definitely recommend this title to parents in that situation.

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Rembrandt, the Tuxedo Cat: Helps Callie, the Calico Cat, Find Her Meow by Marsha Walk Carroll
My Rating: 3 Stars
Releases October 6, 2020

The Adventures of Rembrandt the Tuxedo Cat tells the story of Remy, a young tuxedo cat, who finds a silent calico who he dubs Callie. After making friends with Callie they go off in search of her “meow.” It’s a cute story about acceptance of people who don’t communicate in exected ways and may be helpful for children who are excessively shy or selectively mute.

It felt like there’s too much text per page for the reading level this is meant to be. Abbreviating the text or spreading it out over more pages would have fixed this issue. For group reading storytime, such as in a classroom setting, this would only be a teacher’s personal preference issue. In paired/guided reading situations and independent reading situations, the amount of text per page may prove intimidating for young readers.

The illustrations are adorable! I must commend the author for making the calico character female, as this is pretty much always the case in reality due to colour instructions in cats being linked to the X-chromosome. As a science nerd and animal lover, I approve and I appreciate the attention to detail.

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10 Ballet Dancers by Amanda Malek-Ahmadi
My Rating: 3 Stars
Releases October 13, 2020

10 Ballet Dancers is a beautifully illustrated ballet class version of “10 little monkeys.” The watercolour illustrations are stunning, and as a former ballet dancer, I appreciate the variety of ballet terms used in this book. It works both as a basic children’s counting book that makes the task fun, and also as an introduction to ballet terminology.

I wish it rhymed, though. “10 little monkeys” variants normally do, and the theme, in this case, is ballet, which is all about musicality, rhyme, and grace. The fact that none of the lines rhyme felt quite jarring.

Overall I did enjoy this book and I would recommend it, particularly to dance and music families.

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My Buddy Knows… Letters by Keith Wheeler
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Buddy Knows… Letters is an alphabet book appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers. The format is “My buddy knows that [illustrated item] starts with…” and then the letter and text-only sentence are revealed on the next page, repeat 26 times for each letter. The illustrations are cute and the vocabulary chosen is a well-selected mix of typical and surprise items compared to other alphabet object lists. Everything should be recognizable or easily explained to children of the target age.

This book is great in the classroom and at home.

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Peace by Miranda and Baptiste Paul
My Rating: 5 Stars

Peace is a beautifully illustrated storybook about instilling peace in the world by being kind and respectful to those around us. Essentially, peace is love, and love expressed through respect, clear communication, and understanding. These sentiments are artfully expressed with ways preschool-aged kids can understand, and paired with beautiful illustrations that depict a diverse group of people and animals.

I adore this book and would definitely buy a copy for my daughter. I will not hesitate to recommend it to the parents and teachers in my life.

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What Can You Do With a Color? by Gülşah Yemen
My Rating: 5 Stars
Releases October 27, 2020

I read What Can You Do with a Line? first, and then hopped over to this book, which is clearly meant to be a companion. It’s just as cute! This brief story introduces kids to colour theory while telling them about all the whimsical colour choices they could make for their drawings, like yellow lakes and purple cities. I love it, and I can see this being a tiny budding artist’s favourite story. I would definitely recommend this book to fellow parents of young kids and to the early grade teachers in my life.

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Chick Chat by Janie Bynum
My Rating: 3 Stars
Releases January 19, 2021

Chick Chat is the story of a very, VERY chatty little chick who doesn’t have a willing ear to chatter at. When everyone else in her family tells her to go talk to someone else, she goes off to play and ends up finding an egg. What’s inside? Will it hatch?

I very much enjoyed what this story is trying to achieve, and when you really consider the story the illustrations themselves are telling I think it gets there. My concern is that so much of the story is told purely through contextual clues in the illustrations, rather than in the text or even in big, obvious action points in the illustrations, that a lot of future kids experiencing this book are going to miss it. In a one-on-one reading situation between the child and older reading buddy, this book will work well. In any sort of reading circle situation with one older reader and many kids, the reader (parent, teacher, etc.) will need to do a lot of additional vocalized observations and discussion with the kids in order to get them to clue into the part of the story the text isn’t giving us. In the case of visually impaired children being read this story out loud, this story may not work at all unless the reader is skilled at describing the visual elements of a storybook to a visually impaired listener.

But again, if you can ensure that the child or children experiencing this book are getting the full story out of the illustrations, then the story is very good. I like the idea that this chatty chick with no one to talk to would luck into a conversation partner as a reward for caring about something.

Also, as the parent of a very chatty toddler, I had to laugh at the father (rooster) character near the beginning. “Make it stop!” We’ve all been there. Great little joke for the parents, teachers, and older siblings who will be introducing this story to the toddlers and preschoolers.

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Robert and the World’s Best Cake by Anne-Kathrin Behl
My Rating: 5 Stars
Releases February 2, 2021

Young Robert, his dad, and his dog Mopsi have the afternoon off, and that means there’s time for a cake party! But what’s a part without invitations? Robert starts by drawing up many illustrated invitations to the cake party at 3 pm, but most blow out the window and into the neighbourhood. Oh well, there’s still two left for Dad and Mopsi. Better start baking! What could go wrong?

I love this adorable little story about a dad helping his son make an elaborate cake on a whim. I love the creativity of the story and the hilarious illustrations. (A towering cake, taller than the young boy, covered in toy cars. What’s not to love?) I also love the fact that this story shows a positive father-son relationship in what could be part of a larger family, part of a split family, or just a father-son family. This will be a heartwarming touchstone to lots of kids with different types of families.

The reading level, as well as the font size and paragraph length on the page, suitable for group and partnered reading for kids in preschool and up, but probably more of a grade 1-2 level for self-guided reading. 5 stars, would recommend to all the parents and teachers in my life!

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Meet Me By the Sea by Taltal Levi
My Rating: 5 Stars
Releases February 2, 2021

Meet Me By the Sea is a quick but mesmerizingly beautiful story about a little girl who feels invisible because her parents are too busy for her, so she takes herself out into the woods and eventually out to the sea where she wanted them to take her. She makes friends with a fox along the way who helps her feel seen and not so invisible after all.

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and it reminds me of here where I live in Newfoundland, Canada. The story is short and simple, presented just one line per page and in plain enough language that an early reader of preschool age could easily enjoy it, but it feels ageless enough to be read to older children as well. I think this book will become a cherished childhood favourite for many kids in the future.

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D is for Diversity: Celebrating What Makes Us Special from A to Z by Shannon Jett
My Rating: 4 Stars

D is for Diversity is a cute picture book for young children that introduces them to the diversity in cultures and races all around us. 26 diversity words, one for each letter of the alphabet, are highlighted with a beautiful illustration and a concise but clear preschool appropriate paragraph explaining the diversity element being featured.

I very much like the concept behind this book. Teaching kids that diversity is a positive thing and that we should love and accept everyone is wonderful. Educating kids on the visual things that make people from different cultures different (bindi, turban, etc.) is a great idea, as knowledge encourages acceptance and chases away fear and prejudice.

With that said, I felt like this book attempted to bite off more than it could chew. We’re discussing races (A is for African American, H is for Hispanic, etc.) and cultures and religions (B is for Bindi, M is for Muslim, etc.) but then we get W is for Wheelchair? Yes, disabilities are part of diversity and important to discuss as well, but there’s so much more to discuss on that topic than “some people use wheelchairs.” Perhaps that should have been reserved for another book. At the same time, some letters were used to discuss concepts (L is for Love, O is for Old, etc.) rather than looking for more religious, cultural, and racial words to explore. How about L is for Latino? O is for Ojibway?

This book also felt very America-centric. I understand that it’s written by an American author and published by an American company, but the fact that a Canadian was allowed to review it tells me this will be marketed outside of the USA. N is for Native American? Well in Canada we call them First Nations, and in Mexico I believe they’re just Mexicans, yet the paragraph says these are the indigenous people of North America.

All in all this is a cute book, and I can see it being a great tool to start conversations and lessons about diversity and acceptance with young children. I would be happy to see it in my daughter’s school library, or in my sister’s (teacher) own classroom.

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Dinosaur Book for Kids: Coloring Fun and Awesome Facts about the Prehistoric Animals That Ruled the World! by Katie Henries-Meisner
My Rating: 5 Stars

This is an absolutely adorable colouring book full of facts and name pronunciation guides for 25 dinosaurs. The illustrations are beautifully done, the pronunciation breakdowns are very clear, and the fact blurbs are perfectly age-appropriate for kids who are just getting into self-guided reading. This could easily be enjoyed as a group activity between parent and child, siblings, or the whole family, or as a solo activity for primary grade kids.

As a fellow dinosaur lover myself, I very much appreciate the inclusion of feathers on several dinosaur species in this book. Thank you for instilling this important fact in the next generation’s minds! Too many colouring books and picture books out there on the market that deal with bird-like dinosaurs still look like the artistic director of Jurasic Park approved them. (Which is to say very cool, but inaccurate.)

My online critique is the fact that the book info provided on NetGalley for potentially reviewers, which I can only assume will be the selling points on the cover, boasted 50 illustrations to colour. While there are indeed 50 pages featuring dinosaur illustrations to be coloured, these are two colouring pages per each of the 25 dinosaurs and both illustrations are pretty much the same. The dinosaur to be coloured on the name page is an isolation of the main dinosaur in the full illustration after the fact page. It isn’t technically a different illustration, but rather a cut-out from the more detailed one.

All in all a very good educational colouring book that I would be happy to buy for my daughter!

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What Can You Do With a Line? by Gülşah Yemen
My Rating: 5 Stars
Releases October 27, 2020

What a fun little book! A little blob of tangled black lines tells kids all the different things they can do with simple lines. It starts with long and short, thin and thick lines, then morphs into shapes, becoming more complex as the book goes on. It works very well as a simple story, and I can absolutely see this making little kids giggle and want it read out loud again and again just because of how amusing it is, but I can also see this book inspiring future artists to pick up a pencil (or crayon) and let their imagination guide their hand.

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Catching Fireflies by Celina Lagnado
3 Stars

Catching Fireflies is a cute little story about a monster who wants to keep souvenirs from nature, but learns that nature is best left and appreciated where it belongs, rather than kept in jars.

This is a great story for kids to introduce them to the concept of conservation. It reminds me of the Scouts motto of take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

The illustrations are cute, but inconsistent in quality. Some pages have beautifully rendered textures, while others look like they were completed quickly in MS Paint. The colours are bright and fun, and I don’t think the target age audience will mind those differences. That’s just the artist in me nit-picking!

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Sir Tim Has a Secret by Judith Koppens
My Rating: 5 Stars

Sir Tim Has a Secret by Judith Koppens is a cute story about a little boy named Sir Tim who learns that lying and keeping secrets make him feel bad, and telling the truth makes him feel better. It’s well written, and would probably be best read to kids ages 4-6. My daughter is 2.5, and although she enjoyed the beautiful illustrations and eagerly pointed out the dog every time he appeared, she didn’t have the attention span to listen to the whole story.

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Different Like Me by Xochitl Dixon
My Rating: 3 Stars

Different Like Me by Xochitl Dixon is a children’s storybook from Christian publisher Our Daily Bread. It’s told from the perspective of a child who is looking around at all the diverse children around him or her and noting how different they all are, and how much that makes them the same where it counts. It’s a very cute story with captivating illustrations. My 2.5 year old daughter thoroughly enjoyed reading through it with me and pointing at all the pictures of the kids and their enormous kites.

The story opens and closes with Bible verses, and follows it up with a set of 9 discussion questions to lead a conversation about diversity and acceptance with your children and students.

The pros: This book does a good job of pointing out the obvious differences kids are likely to see around them, such as skin colour and body type differences, visible disabilities, and differences in language. It aims to normalize these differences, and show that everyone is special and beautiful in their own way.

The cons: This story doesn’t do anything substantial to actually discuss race issues, accessibility, or invisible disabilities. It’s also deeply and overtly a Christian text, which may not be for everyone.

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A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager
My Rating: 4 Stars

From the same author as A Tale of Two Daddies, this is an adorably illustrated children’s book about a conversation between three kids at the beach. One little boy has two mommies, and the other two children, a boy and a girl, are asking questions in the format “Which mom does this?” The story format is two questions, two answers, repeat.

This story does a great job of normalizing different family structures, particularly those with “two mommies” as the title implies. It shows kids that it’s okay to ask questions, and that a family of this structure is just as functional as one with a mom and a dad. That said, it does not prepare children in the little boy’s position for unkind or difficult questions, nor does it demonstrate to other children that not all questions are polite to ask.

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A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager
My Rating: 4 Stars

This is an adorable book with captivating illustrations about a conversation between two children on the playground. The characters are a little girl who has two daddies, and her little boy playmate who asks questions about her daddies. The story format is two questions, two answers, repeat. Every question is “which dad does this?”

I think this is a wonderful book for normalizing families with two daddies, and it shows kids who don’t live in a family structured like this that it’s okay to be curious. What it doesn’t do is show the child who is in this family structure that not all the questions will be kind or easy, or how to answer those questions.

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Jenna is the artist/illustrator and author behind Westveil Publishing and its sub-banner platforms Jenna Gets Creative and The Westveil Archives. She live in Newfoundland, Canada with her husband, daughter, and feline overlords.

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