Oona and the Shark by Kelly DiPucchio


Oona and the Shark by Kelly DiPucchio
Oona #2
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Oona loves to share her inventions with her friends. They’re big and bold and LOUD—just like her! But there’s one underwater creature who doesn’t seem to enjoy Oona’s company, or her creations.

Stanley the shark! He doesn’t care for her squeaky unicorn. And he’s far too busy for the Sea Horse Carousel. And oh GOODNESS! Oona’s latest hopping, chopping, and popping inventions just make him angry.

Oona may not know what Stanley likes, but she does know what he doesn’t. And maybe that’s a good place to start. Because mermaids never stop trying…not when there’s a friend out there to make.

There’s no such thing as having too many friends.

As I mentioned in my review of Oona, the first tale in this series that happens to share the same name with the protagonist, she was such a persistent and likeable girl. Oona made me smile every time I turned the page and saw what she’d decided to do next. She was the sort of character who could accomplish just about anything she set her mind to do!

I did find myself wishing that someone had reminded Oona to respect other people’s body language and boundaries. She ignored several clear examples of things someone will do and say when they’re uninterested but don’t feel comfortable clearly saying no to an offer. While there were reasons other than an overall disinterest in Oona’s friendship for this behavior in the shark’s case, I think it’s also important for kids and sweet little mermaids to learn how to gracefully accept when someone doesn’t want to play with them. I am saying this as someone who loved the storyline in general and would happily read it to the little ones in my life after explaining to them that it’s just as important to respect people’s boundaries as it is to find common interests with a potential new friend.

With that being said, the author did a wonderful job of showing how neurodivergence affects friendships. Shark’s precise diagnosis was never shared, so this could apply to all sorts of children. What mattered was that he was a little different from the other inhabitants of the ocean and that Oona needed to try something new in order to reach him. It was beautiful to see how much effort she put into understanding him and trying to find something they could enjoy doing together.

This is the second story in a series that does not have to be read in order. Definitely do check out Oona’s first adventure if you like it, though!

Oona and the Shark was a heartwarming summer read.

Sleep Train by Jonathan London


Sleep Train by Jonathan London
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A little boy climbs into bed with a book and starts counting the train cars in it, between the engine and caboose. “Ten sleepy cars going clickety-clack,” reads the refrain. But as the boy counts cars and gets sleepier and sleepier, his room looks more and more like one of the train cars from his book–the sleeping car, of course!

Rhythmically told by the author of the Froggy books, Sleep Train is also stunning to look at. 3D illustrator, Lauren Eldridge, has sculpted an entire train full of intricate details. Part bedtime story, part counting book, part children’s fantasy, Sleep Train is a magical ride to dreamland.

Learning to count is easy when it’s tied to such a memorable train!

It was intriguing to read a picture book that was almost entirely about inanimate objects. This isn’t a common choice in this genre in my experience but was certainly unique. I liked the way the narrator inserted hints about what kind of train it was without making any of the individual portions of it too much like humans or other living beings. Each car had a unique personality, so to speak of, that the audience had plenty of opportunities to get to know. The sleeping and dining cars were my personal favorites, but they were all worth reading about for sure.

I struggled with the thin plot. There were so few details shared about why the main character was on a train and where he was going that the line between his vivid imagination and something magical actually happening never appeared. This is something I’m saying as a reader who enjoys ambiguous storylines and filling in details on my own. If only there had been more clues!

With that being said, it was soothing to read about ten peaceful train cars clacking down the track after dark. I enjoyed the repetition of certain key words and phrases. Not only were they fun to read, but they also lulled my brain into a calm and happy state. This is something that seems perfect for a bedtime story because of how reassuring it was and how easy it is for readers to relax their muscles and fall into the rhythm of what was happening to the train and the little boy riding on it.

Sleep Train was a nice way to unwind before bedtime.

Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest by Phoebe Wahl


Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest by Phoebe Wahl
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Little Witch Hazel is a tiny witch who lives in the forest, helping creatures big and small. She’s a midwife, an intrepid explorer, a hard worker and a kind friend.

In this four-season volume, Little Witch Hazel rescues an orphaned egg, goes sailing on a raft, solves the mystery of a haunted stump and makes house calls to fellow forest dwellers. But when Little Witch Hazel needs help herself, will she get it in time?

Little Witch Hazel is a beautiful ode to nature, friendship, wild things and the seasons that only Phoebe Wahl could create: an instant classic and a book that readers will pore over time and time again.

Everyone needs some kindness in their lives, including forest creatures!

In “Spring: The Orphaned Egg,” Little Witch Hazel found an abandoned egg in the forest and decided to try to hatch it herself even though it was bigger than she was! I chuckled as she figured out how to safely bring it home and keep it warm as the creature inside finished growing. This was my first glimpse of what a compassionate character Hazel was, and it made me want to get to know her better.

I was not so impressed with “Summer: The Lazy Day.” Hazel’s adventures began with her trying to run some errands and getting frustrated by her inability to finish any of them. As adorable as her day turned out to be, it bothered me a little to see a character not be able to gather berries for the winter, have her shoes repaired before autumn hit, or return library books so someone else could enjoy them next. It wasn’t like she was acting grumpy and expecting everyone else to be equally productive that day or anything like that! She simply wanted to plan ahead responsibly, and I think that’s something that should be encouraged even in lighthearted tales like this one.

There was just a little bit of spookiness in “Autumn: The Haunted Stump” when Hazel heard a scary noise and went to investigate who or what might be causing it. I enjoyed the Halloween themes of this one quite a bit, and the warm-hearted twist at the end made it all even better. As much as I want to go into more detail here, it really is best to read it without any hints about what she finds.

“Winter: The Blizzard” wrapped everything up beautifully. The themes of compassion and kindness repeated themselves for the fourth time, but now Hazel was the one who needed help after she was surprised by a terrible blizzard while walking home after a long day of doing home visits with various patients she was caring for in the forest. The plot was strong and fast-paced here, and I was eager to see how she’d get home safely when she was cold, tired, and still such a long walk away from her cozy fireplace and warm bed.

This seems like a good place to mention the fact that these stories are all connected to each other and should be read in the order they appear in this anthology.

Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest was a magical read.

Little Pig Saves the Ship by David Hyde Costello


Little Pig Saves the Ship by David Hyde Costello
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Little Pig is back in Little Pig Saves the Ship! When the sea-faring pigs go a-sailing! Intrepid Little Pig — still the littlest pig in the family — is too little to go to summer camp with his older brothers and sisters. He is left behind with Grandpa and Poppy. Little Pig and Poppy make and sail a toy ship all week, but on Saturday a gusty wind takes the ship into the current, and Little Pig has to use his newfound knot-tying skills to save the day.

A sweetly told intergenerational story about how even the littlest can make a big difference.

It’s never easy to be left behind.

Little Pig was such a sweet main character. I empathized with his dismay at not being old enough to join his siblings on their exciting trip. He wanted so badly to be included and would have done anything to go with them. Seeing how he chose to spend his time once they left made me smile. The adults in his life had clearly put some work into finding fun activities that he was currently big enough to do. These scenes made me wonder how he’d describe this part of his childhood when he grew up. He was having a wonderful time, but he was also in such a hurry to become big and independent like his sisters and brothers!

There are a lot of picture books out there about LGBTQ+ parents these days, but I haven’t seen as many about LGBTQ+ grandparents or other relatives. The subtle inclusion of Grandpa and Poppy made me smile. They clearly loved their grandchildren and had spent a lot of time developing a close relationship with them. I enjoyed watching them cheer Little Pig up with games and other diversions as he counted down the days until his older siblings would return home from summer camp.

As much as I enjoyed the beginning and middle of this tale, the ending was what convinced me that this was a five-star reading. It was exciting in some scenes and sentimental in others. I also appreciated the references it made to the first scene that described Little Pig’s disappointment. While I can’t say much else without giving away spoilers, seeing everything tied together so perfectly made this a must-read in my opinion.

Little Pig Saves the Ship was a heartwarming snapshot of family life in the summertime.

Hornet vs. Wasp by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Hornet vs. Wasp by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, non-fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts two ferocious insects. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling pair before finally discovering the winner!

This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

Yeah, this one wasn’t what I was anticipating, nor did I expect to learn a bunch of new facts about hornets and wasps – don’t call them bees. I know quite a bit about honeybees due to family interests, but I could never get it straight on the differences between a wasp and hornet. With the facts and trivia provided by Mr. Pallotta, and the clear and vivid illustrations by Mr. Bolster, I have a much firmer understanding. Since this short story is a book geared towards 6-9 yr.-olds, I’m pretty sure kids get the picture and will probably retain the information far better because of the delivery.

This little book doesn’t confine itself to the insect world per se. The author shows how wasps have inspired humans in all sorts of unexpected ways, both whimsical and practical. Until it was explained in a condensed and focused presentation, I was clueless. Kids have an incredible resource with the Who Would Win? Series. Parents will be as fascinated as their kids as they share this reading adventure into the hows and whys of hornets and wasps.

The author was thorough in his research, from nests, to food, to air battles, to the difference in stingers – I didn’t know that! – and how they compare with other insects that we see every day. The author even shared his misadventures with the stinging critters. The climax of the story is the battle between hornet and wasp. Who won? You’ll have to check it out.

My head is a buzz with all I learned, and I’m an adult! I am glad there are books like this out there. It’s just the right number of pages, information and visual stimulation in a well-presented format for young kids with maturing attention spans. Whether you use the print book or an eBook, the colors and illustrations pop. This is a must read. I mean, who hasn’t seen a bee/hornet/wasp by the age of 6, right? Hornet vs. Wasp has information that’s a must for inquisitive kids. Yes, bees are furry, but hornets and wasps can actually bite! I didn’t know that!

Brutus Finds a Friend by Tif E. Boots


Brutus Finds a Friend by Tif E. Boots
Publisher: Sheltering Tree . Earth
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Brutus is a puppy in need of help. He can’t find his new ball.
Scrump is a bunny that was told to stay away from puppies.
Will Scrump help Brutus? Will Brutus find his ball? What adventure awaits?
Will a friendship be found? Open the book to discover what is waiting for Brutus and Scrump.

Friendship is a gift.

One of the most memorable scenes happened early on when a frightened Scrump ran away from Brutus. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover why Scrump made this decision, but his reasoning made me curious to learn more. It was also interesting to see these characters get to know each other as Scrump calmed down and explained why he was scared. Talking things out is such an important skill for people of all ages, and I liked the way it was shown here.

I would have preferred to see more descriptions included in this book, especially when it came to the setting. Farms are filled with so many different things to experience. There was plenty of material for the author to dig into. I simply didn’t see quite enough development here for me to go with a full five-star review even though I enjoyed everything else about it.

The ending was perfect. It made me nod in appreciation as this is not always an easy accomplishment when writing for this age group. It left plenty of space for future stories about Scrump and Brutus if Ms. Boots decides to write one while also making it perfectly clear that this particular adventure was finished. That’s exactly the sort of clear writing I like to see for kids who are just beginning to read on their own and who are not quite ready yet for more subtle hints.

Brutus Finds a Friend was a heartwarming tale.

Ultimate Jungle Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Ultimate Jungle Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different jungle animals battle it out in an epic fight! Who will be the champion?

This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious jungle creatures. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

You’re never too old to learn, or to enjoy reading to your kids only to find out you’re just as fascinated as they are. I mean, I’ve watched enough National Geographic over the years to be aware of some of the facts in this story/picture book, but there were quite a few I had no idea about. My eyes bugged a few times, as in, “I didn’t know that!!!”, throw in a couple of “Whoa!” and “Yikes” and I can safely say that I am impressed with Ultimate Jungle Rumble.

Once again there are 16 unlikely combatants that are thrown together to see which of their natural protections and instinctual behaviors put them on the top of the jungle kingdom. My favorite was during round one with a gorilla. I’m not sure how 7-yr. olds would respond, it’s been a while, but mentally, I totally cheered and gave a thumbs up to a very effective strategy. Yeah, I could get behind that one. Then there was the defense technique of a capybara. Okay, that one got a snort and a chortle out of me. The illustration from Mr. Bolster that accompanied that battle ending might prod a giggle or two from the younger reading set for sure. I mean, I’m looking at it as I type this and I’m snickering. I showed the illustration to my eldest and my husband and they both gave it a chuckle and grin.

The green anaconda was a creepy contender. I don’t know what age Ophidiophobia starts in humans or why, but just in case – parents – there be snakes.

Accompanying the great illustrations are many amazing facts and trivia provided by Mr. Pallotta. From how many types of bears there are in the whole world – I didn’t know that – to the difference between horns and antlers, which I seem to remember but am admittedly foggy on, well, that was until I read this book, and why a sun bear is called a sun bear. I remember seeing a documentary about the sun bears and they and humans don’t get along so well. This little book gave me information about sun bears that the ‘adult’ show did not. Very cool.

How it ends and which jungle animal ends up being king was what I hoped for, but it was a close one! Then again, I watch a lot of those sci-fi monster movies so you might say I’m a bit biased. I can see why this series is so beloved and popular. It’s fun while learning cool facts about the animals we share the planet with, and if parents haven’t tried this book or this series with their kids, I recommend giving it a look-see. My youngest gave it a thumbs-up, I suspect yours will too.

Neither by Airlie Anderson


Neither by Airlie Anderson
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In this colorful and touching story that celebrates what makes each of us unique, a little creature that’s not quite a bird and not quite a bunny–it’s “neither”–searches for a place to fit in.

In the Land of This and That, there are only two kinds: blue bunnies and yellow birds. But one day a funny green egg hatches, and a little creature that’s not quite a bird and not quite a bunny pops out. It’s neither!

Neither tries hard to fit in, but its bird legs aren’t good for jumping like the other bunnies, and its fluffy tail isn’t good for flapping like the other birds. It sets out to find a new home and discovers a very different place, one with endless colors and shapes and creatures of all kinds. But when a blue bunny and a yellow bird with some hidden differences of their own arrive, it’s up to Neither to decide if they are welcome in the Land of All.

This colorful, simple, and touching story promotes diversity and offers a valuable lesson to the youngest of audiences: it is our differences that unite us.

Some things in life need a little bit more explanation.

One of the biggest strengths of this picture book in my opinion was how open-ended the storyline was. While it was originally written to help explain people who are gender non-conforming to kids, the message in it could easily be used to talk about race, disability, or any other number of differences that little ones might notice in others. To paraphrase certain key elements in the plot, not everyone can be easily categorized into this box or that one.

From a storytelling perspective, I found my wishing that the narrator had spent more time explaining why the rabbits and birds had never thought to explore places beyond their homeland or even to wonder what they were like. There didn’t seem to be any barriers between their land and what lay beyond it, so I was a little surprised to learn that they knew nothing about the geography of the world they lived in other than the little piece of it they were born on. It would have been nice to be given some logical reason for them to be unaware of such things.

I loved the positive and hopeful ending. It fit the age group this tale was written for perfectly while still leaving space for more exploration for kids who had additional questions or who wanted to keep talking. It’s reassuring for little readers to know that there is a place in this world for everyone even if they feel out of place at the moment, so I was also pleased to see that idea included as well.

Neither was a good conversation starter.

Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different dinosaurs battle it out in an epic prehistoric fight! Who will be the champion?
This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious dinosaurs. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

I adored dinosaurs while growing up but exciting books about them were few and far between. I wish they had the Who Would Win? Series back then. I would have been learning a lot more while having fun.

This picture book had awesome illustrations and the battle wounds for the losing dinosaurs in the matches were tastefully done. It shows where the winner bites to defeat its opponent but there’s nothing gory or worrisome for parents. Some kids might find it really cool. It’s not always the teeth that gives consistent advantage, there were some surprises.

The picture book has the names of the contestants, has fun facts about the meaning of a particular dinosaur’s name, and lists the attributes of each dinosaur that nature gave them to defend themselves. A reader will start with 16 dinosaurs, but there will only be 1 winner. Who will it be?

Now, for parents who might read this book with their kids, which would be a good idea if only to help them out with pronunciations, I would like to share that there is one battle that caught me by surprise. I blurted out a very loud, HA! As in, laugh out loud funny. If you were a fan of the early years of Saturday Night Live, this scene might bring back memories. I showed that dinosaur battle with my not-so-young-anymore son who had never seen SNL and even he thought it was hilarious and in turn said, “You gotta show dad!”.

All in all, this was a delightful read that was brought to life with wonderful illustrations by Mr. Bolster, coupled with facts, like one dinosaur has feet like a chicken, and great battle descriptions by Mr. Pallotta. The most interesting thing for me was that the winner wasn’t the dinosaur I expected.

Even though the range for this book is ages 6-9, and this book is labeled as non-fiction, I think the battles portrayed are wonderful and pure, storytelling at its finest. It uses fiction to make the non-fiction interesting, engaging and entertaining. Could those battles have actually taken place, and used the fighting techniques described therein? Quite probably, but we’ll never really know, will we.

I think this is a wonderful book and I do believe both parents and kids will enjoy watching (reading) The Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble.

The Adventures of Honey & Leon by Alan Cumming


The Adventures of Honey & Leon by Alan Cumming
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), LGBTQ, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Honey and Leon are rescue mutts who love their dads very much. But their dads often have to go away on glamorous and important business, which worries the dogs. Honey and Leon are done staying home and fretting—they’re off on a dad-protecting adventure! Careful to remain incognito, the two pups shadow their dads on a trip across the sea, keeping them out of danger at every turn! How did they survive without Honey and Leon’s protection for this long?!

Alan Cumming and Grant Shaffer wrote this story as a tribute to their own dogs, based on their frequent conversations about what Honey and Leon get up to while they’re away.

Nobody likes being left home alone while their parents have an adventure.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored the relationships between the dogs and the dads. Their family was a close and loving one, and it showed. I smiled as the narrator explained why Honey and Leon were so concerned about keeping their humans safe and how they planned to make sure everything was okay on their dads’ latest business trip.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent on the world building. As much as I enjoyed the open-ended nature of certain topics that I will mention in a moment, there were other times when I couldn’t help but to wonder about what people in this universe expected from the dogs around them. Most of them seemed so relaxed and understanding of talking dogs taking a cab or flying in an airplane that it made me wonder if similar adventures were well known enough that this was somewhat ordinary in their world. If only there had been more information about this!

The thought of two dogs travelling alone tickled my imagination. I couldn’t help but to wonder how they would avoid drawing unwanted attention to themselves and whether they’d be successful in their mission. It was a great deal of fun to come up with my own theories about how this all would work. The author gave enough information about this for the plot to make sense, but he also left plenty of space for little readers to come up with their own creative interpretations as well.

The Adventures of Honey & Leon made me smile.