Review: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great

Unicorn

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Bob Shea
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (published June 2013)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 1423159527
ISBN-13: 978-1423159520

Things are a lot different around here since that Unicorn moved in.

Nothing’s been going right for Goat since Unicorn moved to town. Goat bikes to school; Unicorn flies. Goat shows off his magic tricks; Unicorn turns stuff into gold. Goat bakes marshmallow squares “that almost came out right”; Unicorn makes it rain cupcakes.

Goat sulks, full of resentment for this flashy newcomer and his magical capabilities, when Unicorn comes over to investigate his goat cheese pizza. Turns out poor Unicorn can only eat glitter and rainbows (“Darn my sensitive stomach!”). Maybe being a unicorn is not all it’s cracked up to be — and maybe Goat and Unicorn can find a way to be friends.

This book is a giggler, that’s for sure. Some of the humour flies a bit over young kids’ heads — I loved Goat’s fantasy of a Goat/Unicorn crime-fighting duo: “Taste my cloven justice! You’ve been unicorned!” but none of the six or eight kids I’ve read this to seem to catch the old-school superhero references — but I have no problem with a book that tosses the occasional humour bone to the beleaguered parental reader (thanks!) and there’s plenty in this story to keep kids of all ages laughing. The sketchy, irreverent illustrations are a spot-on match for the cheeky text and there’s not a child alive who can’t relate to the idea of being upstaged by a flashier friend. A great jumping-off point for a chat about jealousy, friendship, and how everyone is different, or a silly read that will have you and your kiddo tittering. Your pick.

Review: Rosie Revere, Engineer

rosie EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Andrea Beaty
Illustrator: David Roberts
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (published September 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1419708457
ISBN-13: 978-1419708459

Babies are born to fail, and they’re totally cool with it. Think about how many times they have to try to roll over before succeeding, how much flailing is required before crawling is achieved, and how many bumps on the bum take place before a toddler successfully toddles.

Somewhere along the way, though, that little baby will learn to fear failure. Somehow, trying mightily and failing has become a negative to us, something to be ashamed of.

And so it is for Rosie Revere, who once spent her days creating zany inventions for her uncles and aunts, including “a hot dog dispenser and helium pants” (wonderfully, and hilariously, illustrated by David Roberts). But after her uncle Zookeeper Fred laughed at the hat she invented to keep snakes off his head (“from parts of a fan and some cheddar cheese spray — / which everyone knows keeps the pythons away”), her embarrassment and shame makes her keep her dreams to herself, hiding her machines under the bed and feeling too shy to speak up in class. When Rosie’s great-great-aunt Rose (sharp-eyed readers will recognized an aged Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and tells Rosie of her dreams of flying, Rosie sets out to make a cheese-powered helicopter to make her auntie’s dream come true.

In a moment of genuine suspense, the heli-o-cheese-copter hovers briefly, then crashes — and with it, Rosie’s dreams take another nosedive. She’s done. She’ll never try again (and who among us has not had a moment or two like this?). Great-great-aunt Rose comes to the rescue, though, cheering her for her “perfect first try”: “‘Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! / Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!’ / She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere, / who smiled at her aunt as it all became clear. / Life might have its failures, but this was not it. / The only true failure can come if you quit.”

It may not be the most subtle message, but I think that’s a good thing. I think this is a message that needs to be hung in a frame on every child’s wall and written on the blackboard (or smartboard) at the start of every school day and handed out to every teenager upon graduation. Because, frankly, without the beautiful failures of children, there will be no magnificent achievements in the future. So grab a copy of Rosie Revere for the little girl, or boy, in your life who might be a future astrophysicist, bionanotechnician, or harpsichord and double-necked ukulele virtuoso. Because whatever else our kiddos need to do before they succeed, they’re going to need to do some failing first.

Review: Perfectly Percy

percy

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-6
Author and illustrator: Paul Schmid
Publisher: HarperCollins (published January, 2013)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0061804363
ISBN-13: 978-0061804366

While we were packing up to go to a cottage with family this past weekend, Little E seemed deeply concerned about the potential presence of porcupines. I reassured here that we were very unlikely to see a porcupine at the cottage (I did not mention that there might be some porcupine remains on the highway we would traverse to get there) and that if we did see one it would be quite likely to run away as fast as its fat little legs could take it. Still, my three-year-old persisted (don’t they always?). Would there be porcupines? Would they come into the cottage? We would be celebrating Tiny J’s first birthday and my niece’s fourth at the cottage, and Little E was adamant that the porcupines would not be welcome at the birthday parties. Eventually, in response to what I do not know, she relented. They could come, but only if they brought their cereal bowls.

I had no idea what my bizarre child was on about.

When we arrived at the cottage, my mother greeted Little E with a hug and the words “There better not be any porcupines around here!” and I finally put my foot down and demanded to know WHAT exactly was going on with these bloody porcupines.

My mom handed me a copy of Perfectly Percy she had read to Little E recently and the mystery was solved. Porcupines could not attend the birthday parties because they might pop the balloons.

Percy is a little porcupine with a predictably ill-fated love of balloons. When he can’t keep his balloons from popping on his pointy quills, he doesn’t want to cry or give up, so he thinks. He thinks and he thinks and he thinks, and then he asks his big sister Pearl for ideas. When her suggestion — little marshmallows on the ends of all of Percy’s quills — doesn’t pan out, Percy goes back to thinking for himself. Over his breakfast cereal, his thoughts finally coalesce into a beautiful idea. A cereal bowl on his head provides protection for the balloons and Percy and his balloons can have all the fun they want together. Have fun, Percy!

The story and the pictures in Perfectly Percy are both sweet and simple — and the words few enough that a younger child can follow along — but both also have enough depth to maintain interest over several readings and to hold the attention of a preschooler or kindergartener. Percy is a porcupine with personality, no two ways about it, and kids will relate to the challenges he faces while he tries to come up with a solution to his problem, including a mother who’s too busy to help him and distracting thoughts of ice cream. The subtle messages about perseverance and thinking for oneself are also bonuses in my (metaphorical) book.

Be warned, however: your child is very likely to try to put her cereal bowl on her head after reading this story, so it might be an idea to have a clean one around to avoid a problem I’m going to call Milk Hair. I’m just saying.

Review: Giraffes Can’t Dance

Giraffes-cant-dance

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book (also available as a board book and audio book)
Age: 3-5
Author: Giles Andraea
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees
Publisher: Cartwheel Books (March 2012)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0545392551
ISBN-13: 978-0545392556

Gerald is a clumsy giraffe whose talents lie in the realm of “standing still and munching shoots off trees”; when it comes to physical activity, he is far less gifted. When the animals get together for the annual Jungle Dance, the warthogs show off their waltzing, the chimps get together for a cha-cha, and “eight baboons then teamed up / for a splendid Scottish reel.” but Gerald doesn’t even try — the animals laugh him off the dance floor. Through the unsolicited advice of a friendly and musical cricket, though, Gerald begins to listen to the sounds around him and the music of nature, and learns how to…you guessed it…
QuotesCover-pic60

The message is a lovely one: “We all can dance…when we find music that we love.” The straightforward illustrations suit the simple text. Overall, it’s a fine read. I have few quibbles with this book, but quibble I must. Firstly, and you may feel free to call me nitpicky*, I’m tired of books, especially children’s books, that refer to Africa as though it’s one homogeneous country. Too many adults think that way; I believe we can do a bit better with our children. It would have been simple enough to set the story in a specific country or to leave out the reference altogether. Secondly, the rhyming and the metre are a little lacking. I may be biased as a book editor, but I feel strongly that the wording could have benefited from some polishing: “violin” doesn’t rhyme with “thing,” nor “on” with “song.” I take issue with near-rhymes and lacklustre metre in children’s books: these are the books that give kids a grounding in language, teach them what rhymes are, and provide their first examples of the music of poetry. Children’s authors shoulder a great obligation and I don’t believe the obligation was met here.

However, Gerald as a hero is hard to resist; my toddler and I do enjoy reading this book together. She loves to see Gerald dance. I want her to learn to follow her own music — and I really do love those tangoing lions.

  • As a freelance editor, I nitpick for a living.