Little Aiden – A Feelings Book for Toddlers by Albert Choi

Little Aiden – A Feelings Book for Toddlers by Albert Choi
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Have you always wanted to introduce emotions and feelings to your toddler, but don’t have the right book on hand? Or perhaps you have found a few books on emotions and feelings, but they aren’t enough to keep your toddler engaged throughout the entire book!

As Little Aiden explores and experiences different feelings and emotions, he shows other toddlers in his own little way the importance of expressing feelings. There are different emotions and feelings shown in Little Aiden including, but not limited to the following:

“Sometimes Aiden feels happy.”
“Sometimes Aiden feels frustrated.”
“Sometimes Aiden feels angry.”

Using Aiden’s simple, repetitive style, you can teach your toddler that all their emotions and feelings are okay (not just the positive ones).

Through engaging and vivid illustrations, Little Aiden’s reactions will bring joy and laughter to the entire family.

It’s never too early to promote good mental health.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this picture book was that every scene appeared to occur over the course of a single day. Some days are a rollercoaster of emotions even for adults, and toddlers have much less experience handling that than grownups do. It was also interesting to me to see how the main character’s mood in one moment was often connected to the ones just before or after it. Aiden had good reasons for his reactions, and I enjoyed following him through a typical day for a mischievous kid his age.

I loved seeing all of the extra space Mr. Choi left for adult readers to explain things to the toddlers and preschoolers this was written for. The illustrations and text provided the basics, but all of it could be easily modified for more specific conversations about certain emotions as well if desired. This is exactly the sort of flexibility I was hoping to discover in a story on this topic.

It was refreshing to see every emotion treated identically. Whether Aiden’s feelings were negative or positive, the reader was always reassured that it’s okay to feel that way. I grew up in a time when some people were expected to hide certain emotions and not show any signs that they were angry or sad. Teaching kids that it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge how they truly feel is such an important part of raising people who will become emotionally healthy adults, and I’m thrilled to see this change in society.

Little Aiden – A Feelings Book for Toddlers was perfect.

So Much Snow by Kristen Schroeder

So Much Snow by Kristen Schroeder
Publisher: Random House Studio
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A beautifully illustrated, rollicking read-aloud about forest animals who are caught—literally up to their ears and antlers—in a snowstorm.

On Monday, it starts to snow.
Silent swirling.
How high will it go?

Follow seven forest creatures, from a tiny mouse to a giant moose, as they hunker down in a snowstorm. As the week progresses, the snow piles up and up–even past Moose’s antlers!

On Sunday, the sun starts to melt the snow, and it seems that, as the next week passes and it grows sunnier, spring has finally sprung. But wait…is that more snow?! This cumulative picture book is at once beautiful and lyrical and playful and joyful, with charming illustrations by a highly acclaimed illustrator.

Anything can change in an instant on a winter’s day.

The repetition was well done. I found it soothing to repeat the same themes and even some of the same words in multiple scenes. It was almost like listening to a lullaby about characters who might temporarily be in a little danger but who you somehow just know will live happily ever by the end. I’ll leave it up to other readers to figure out if that prediction of mine was correct!

I would have liked to see more attention paid to developing the storyline. The basic outline of it was there, but Ms. Schroeder could have done so much more with her ideas about what wild animals think of snowstorms and how they survive in them. I would have happily given this a higher rating if those questions had been better answered.

With that being said, I enjoyed the gentleness of this story. The characters were playful creatures who adored the first day or two of the storm. Seeing them invent new games to play as more snow kept falling made me wonder what they’d come up with next. It was a delight to watch them explore their winter wonderland and figure out how to deal with more snow than they were expecting.

So Much Snow was a peaceful look at late winter in the woods.

Catlumbus by Franny Plaia

Catlumbus by Franny Plaia
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Meet Catlumbus, a cat who loves to sail on his ship and go on adventures. When Catlumbus discovers a treasure map, he sets sail on a journey to find buried treasure on a tropical island. What will Catlumbus find on this island? Who will he meet along the way? Join Catlumbus on his adventure!

Anything can happen out on the ocean.

This was an exciting and fast-paced adventure. Catlumbus was prepared for all sorts of possible trouble, and I smiled as he tackled every challenge that came his way. One of my favorite scenes happened later on when he had a problem, he didn’t know how to fix that involved his boat. After how prepared he was earlier, it was nice to see him finally meet a problem that was a little trickier for him to figure out. That scene only made everything I already loved about this story even better.

A lack of detail was what held me back from giving this a full five-star rating. I found myself wishing that the narrator had spent more time explaining what the characters looked like and how being in these settings would affect what the characters heard, saw, touched, and smelled. This is something I’m saying as a reader who enjoyed everything else about it.

The riddles were well written and interesting. I haven’t noticed many riddles in the many picture books I’ve read these past few years, so it was refreshing to find them here. It’s such a fun way to introduce the mystery genre to little ones.

Catlumbus was a thrilling adventure.

Angie and Me by Sam Telpin

Angie and Me by Sam Telpin
Publisher: Shalchufa Books
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sam loves his home and social life but hates his new teacher, Ms Brown. She enjoys humiliating Sam and his friends (or, at least, he believes she does). After a classroom incident, Sam’s best friend, Angie, decides to take matters into her own hands. Angie knows it won’t be easy for her to get Ms Brown fired, but, whatever it takes, she’s determined to make it happen. Even if it means lying to adults, deceiving parents, bullying friends and stealing money from a charity. Sam has to reconcile his desire for Ms Brown’s downfall with his conscience as Angie hatches, reveals and executes her ruthless plan.

Justice can only be delayed for so long.

Even one year with an awful teacher can seriously damage a student’s self-esteem, grades, and interest in learning. I loved the way this book showed how all of these things can happen and why it’s so important to recruit kind and emotionally stable teachers who love spending time with kids and teaching them. Readers had plenty of opportunities to discover why Sam and his classmates disliked their teacher and why she should have never been hired to work in a school.

I found myself wishing for more descriptions in this book. For example, it was hard to imagine what the characters looked like because of how little time was spent on that topic. The settings were given more attention, but even some of them were difficult for me to picture in my mind as well. I would have happily gone with a higher rating if this hadn’t been the case as the storyline itself was humorous and memorable.

While I totally understood Sam’s anger about how terribly his teacher was treating him, I also found it interesting to see how his behavior affected someone whose patience for the typical antics of kids his age was already paper thin. His mischievousness could be disruptive in class, and he didn’t always listen the first time he was told to do something. This is in no way a defense of the horrible way Sam was treated, but it did show off memorable portions of both his personality and his teacher’s personality in ways that I don’t think either of them were necessarily aware of. It’s cool to discover stuff like that in stories, and it made me curious to check out more of the author’s work.

Angie and Me made this reader smile.

The Artist’s Page by Debra Rufini

The Artist’s Page by Debra Rufini
Publisher: Paragon Publishing
Genre: Inspirational, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

What would your response be to a group of small people, overlooking you,

to look at the masterpiece you’d lovingly made for them?

How would you feel by their admiration of your magnificent creation,

as they ignore your wonderfully creative hands?

Would you feel sad? Frustrated? Angry?

Imagine your relief when they leave your invisible side.

Picture your joy and gratitude with their replacement –

and appreciative group marvelling at your masterpiece,

undoubtedly produced by your love.

Would you feel glad,

grateful, relieved, believed,

like the Artist in this story felt?

The Artist’s Page by Debra Rufini is a wonderful children’s picture book that can be enjoyed with readers both young and old! Beautifully illustrated by Dina Kalo, this story tells of God’s love and His incredible gift. Rufini takes readers on a journey of looking at how different people might see of respond to this magnificent gift, and how sometimes they also choose to reject it.

This story is suitable, but the focus of the story might be slightly lost on younger children, and will have more meaning for those who read it more than once and over time.

I loved reading this story, and really felt it brought the story and lessons to life in a unique and beautiful way! Filled with creative imagery and enticing colors, The Artist’s Page is a pleasure to read!

Pebble by Jane McKay

Pebble by Jane McKay
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The small drone sped away from its dying star.

It did not look back at the doomed orb as it traveled through black space. It had a single mission – find a new viable planet and report. Many years of travel later it saw a possible candidate for its mission. The drone spied the blue-washed planet ahead. Would it find a world for its people or be doomed to a lonely existence on a faraway world?

Read the exciting story of Pebble as it helps to battle for its new family on its new home world, Earth. Can it help protect them from a menace from outer space?

Kindness is essential.

It’s always nice to meet characters who think logically and plan ahead. Some of the dangers they faced could be predicted far in advance, and they did a good job of predicting what might happen and figuring out the best ways to respond if their first few attempts to deflect the antagonists or escape didn’t work out so well. This kind of common sense is a breath of fresh air, especially in the young adult genre.

I had trouble keeping track of the large cast of characters in general. Not only were there a lot of them, their character descriptions and development weren’t always strong enough for me to read a familiar name and immediately know who the narrator was referring to. If only this had been easier to figure out.

With that being said, I enjoyed the many exciting plot twists in this book. There were multiple subplots that wove themselves together in all sorts of attention-grabbing and also surprisingly kind ways. This was especially true when it came to Pebble’s backstory and how its programming tipped the scales into surviving dangerous circumstances over and over again.

Pebble was an adventurous read.

Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry

Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Paranormal, LGBTQ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

There’s something wicked in the wind on Ambrosia Hill and strength is held within a stone.

Zinnia knows nothing is as it seems in the witching world, and she realizes the aunts calling her back to the Fern House was not without consequences. Zinnia must embrace her witch abilities and undergo her biggest test yet. Can she learn to rely on her personal magic, the strength in others, and trust that what she sees isn’ t always reality? There’ s something wicked in the wind this Halloween on Ambrosia Hill and Zinnia must fight for those she loves most.

What might you find if you peeled back the stereotypes and looked at who someone really was?

The romantic subplot made me smile. I’ve enjoyed seeing it gradually develop from a friendship into a heartwarming romance since first meeting these characters in Amethyst. Not only was the slow burn approach perfect for them, it also gave me plenty of time to notice all sorts of similarities between them that make me think they’d be a great match. I can only hope that any sequels in the works will include more of this storyline as it’s such a nice contrast to the sometimes-scary work a witch must do.

Once again, I would have liked to see more character development. Yes, it is happening slowly, but I found myself wishing that Zinnia especially would be given more opportunities to show the audience how she’s changed as a result of coming out of the closet as a member of the LGBTQ community as well as accepting her identity as a witch. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a five-star rating.

I know I’ve mentioned the beautiful world building in both of my previous reviews of the first two books in this series, but it continued to impress me this time around. Ms. Henry has been doing a wonderful job so far of feeding the audience exactly enough information about witchcraft and witch culture in this universe to keep my interest levels high. Just when I think I have it all more or less figured out, she adds yet another layer to it that deepens my previous understanding of how it all worked and makes me eager to see what might happen next. As far as this reader is concerned, there’s still a ton of ground to cover for these characters, and I hope for many more updates to come in the future.

While the plot itself could technically function as a standalone work, this is the third instalment of a series that should be read in order to best understand the complex and memorable world the author is building here.

Bloodstone made me yearn for more.

Waiting for Snow by Marsha Diane Arnold

Waiting for Snow by Marsha Diane Arnold
Publisher: Clarion Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Badger cannot wait one more minute for it to snow. When his friend Hedgehog explains that everything comes in its time, Badger is as unconvinced and impatient as ever. But Badger’s friends have a few tricks up their sleeve to try to get the snow’s attention and distract their pal in the meantime. In the end, Badger sees there’s no trick—only waiting—until at last, it’s time.

Wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.

Remaining patient can be difficult for people of all ages, and it’s often even harder for kids (and hedgehogs) who haven’t had as many chances to practice it yet. There were some subtle and thought-provoking messages in this tale about how someone should act when they really want something but can’t have it. Ms. Arnold’s decision to trust her audience to understand what she was saying worked nicely for these characters and this setting. Not everything needs to be spelled out directly, and sometimes a message can be even stronger if it isn’t.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to why Hedgehog was yearning for snow so much. Other than the fact that he thought it was an essential part of winter, what did he hope to do with snow? There were so many fun answers he could have given to this question, and I would have gone with a higher rating if he’d explained his plans at some point.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed the zany things Hedgehog and his friends did to encourage a snowstorm to come their way. They had some pretty creative tricks up their sleeves, and I chuckled as they cycled through them in an attempt to find something that worked.

Waiting for Snow made me smile.

Junk Magic and Guitar Dreams by T. James Logan

Junk Magic and Guitar Dreams by T. James Logan
Publisher: Bear Paw Publishing
Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

A guitar, a box of junk, and a pile of trouble…

Fifteen-year-old Otter is in a dark place.

Child Services wants to put him in foster care, or even a home for troubled youth.

Living on his own, he’s one bad decision away from the street. His band’s first gig is only two weeks away, but his crush on their new lead singer has him tied in knots.

Then he inherits a box of random junk from a dead grandfather he barely knew, only to discover that the junk is infused with his grandfather’s memories. Can this “junk” help Otter win the girl of his dreams, reconnect with his family, and keep him out of juvenile detention…maybe even become a rock star?

You’ll love this touching, contemporary fantasy because it will play power chords on your heart strings.

Get it now.

Otter is a kid just orphaned and emancipated at the age of fifteen. He lives in a trailer park and helped his mother as she was dying of cancer. Now he must take care of himself. A woman from child services wants to put him in foster care, but Otter is dead set against this. He wants to take care of himself. He gets a job and misses school.

He has some things in his favor though: some good friends and neighbors and music. He plays bass guitar in a band, and music is a driving force for him. His grandfather leaves him an interesting box of junk, but it’s not just any junk. While going through it, Otter relieves the memories of his grandfather. He comes to understand him and learns some important things. This is an interesting aspect of the story, to see how Otter uses this knowledge in his life.

Otter has a nefarious neighbor, and in dealing with him, one sees how naïve Otter really is. He gets sucked into some bad things without realizing the truth, and this escalates. His best friend warns him, but he blows off the advice. Things get worse when someone steals his bass guitar when his band has an important gig coming up. Otter is already living on starvation wages. Then when Otter is with this troubled neighbor, the neighbor and his cohorts do something terrible in Otter’s presence. What will Otter do? If he calls the police, his life could be in danger, but he wants to do the right thing. This truly is a dark hour for him.

The story is underlined with his romantic interest, friendship, and other themes of family, racism, poverty, dreams, music, immigration, and other important issues. The characters are realistic, and one’s heart will surely be moved by the circumstances the kids find themselves in. The music aspects are done well. Vintage music comes to life here, and the descriptions of musicianship are perfect.

For an entertaining YA story with some depth, why not give this one a try?

That Morning by Toño Malpica

That Morning by Toño Malpica
Publisher: Windmill Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Mangrufo and Leuklaya don’t feel like themselves. Mangrufo can’t enjoy playing with toys or reading, like he usually does. Neither can Leuklaya. They hurt each other the day before, and both feel ashamed and lonely. However, neither one of them knows what to do with their feelings. It’s not until they come together once again that all feels right with the world. This book boasts a subtle monster theme within a real-world, relatable situation. Through powerful language and fantastical illustrations, That Morning is a guidebook through the difficult feelings of conflict and the power of forgiveness.

Everyone has conflicts with the people they love sometimes, but figuring out how to behave after a fight takes a completely different set of skills.

I was intrigued by how little time was spent on the only grown-up in this story. Mangrufo and Leuklaya’s relationship took center stage, and their frustration with each other was shared in ways that felt completely appropriate for their young ages. Normally, I’d expect their mother to swoop in and make things right between them fairly early on. The fact that she didn’t show up until much later gave these two characters all of the space they needed to explore their feelings and try to figure out what to do with them.

It would have been helpful to have more plot development. As important as the message was, the little ones in my life would struggle to understand it without a discussion about what happened afterwards because of how both of the monsters changed abruptly at such a late point in the storyline. I’m saying this as someone who loved the creativity of it and wished I could justify choosing a higher rating.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones that compared Mangrufo and Leuklaya’s feelings. We weren’t told who started the quarrel between them the day before or what they argued about, but it was clear that they both felt guilty for their behavior and weren’t exactly sure how to talk to each other after what appeared to be a pretty big fight. There is definitely something to be said for encouraging this sort of reflective thinking in this age group. Empathy is something that can take years to fully develop, but the faintest glimmers of it could be found here.

That Morning was a creative tale.