Kiki’s Dream by Susan Coryell


Kiki’s Dream by Susan Coryell
Publisher: Two Sisters Press
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Snow – nature’s exotic creation, magical, beautiful, exciting – is only a dream for Kiki who lives in Hawaii. Growing up in Hawaii, five-year-old Kiki romps on the beach all year round. Still, her dream is to experience snow, which will never happen in Hawaii. With excited expectation, Kiki hopes a surprise family trip to Michigan will make her dream come true.

Snow makes any day a little more magical.

This was the first time I have ever reviewed a picture book for Long and Short Reviews about a child who has never seen snow before so far as I can recall. Kudos to Ms. Coryell for coming up with such an uncommon idea for this age group. It certainly grabbed my attention immediately, and I was intrigued to see how Kiki would react to cold weather after spending her entire lifetime so far in such a warm and sunny place.

With that being said, I was disappointed by how little time was spent showing what Kiki did after she and her family arrived in Michigan. There was such a huge buildup to this moment in her life that I was expecting a large portion of the story to focus on how she felt when she saw snow for the first time in her life and what she might have been surprised by during that experience. If those scenes had been given more space to develop, I would have happily gone with a much higher rating as everything else about her adventures was adorable.

What a playful child Kiki was. I enjoyed her bubbly personality and her endless curiosity about the world. The narrator captured what it can feel like to be five years old and have a strong desire to try something new and exciting nicely. While I don’t know if the author was thinking of turning this into a series, there is certainly space here to do so if she wishes and this reader would be interested in more.

Kiki’s Dream was sweet.

Bad Dog by Mike Boldt


Bad Dog by Mike Boldt
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Childrens (Ages 5-10), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The differences between cats and dogs have never been funnier! In this hilarious new story from the illustrator of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, a little girl really, really wants a dog . . . but gets a cat instead!

“Look what I got for my birthday! A pet dog!” says a little girl holding a . . . cat? Rocky doesn’t listen or obey like all the other dogs. (Because Rocky is a cat.) And Rocky hates her leash and doesn’t seem to like other dogs. (Probably because Rocky is a cat.) And rather than play fetch, Rocky prefers to . . . lick between her toes? Ew. Rocky is a bad “dog”! BUT Rocky doesn’t bark, and is so cute when she sleeps in sunny spots. Maybe Rocky IS a good dog? (Or, you know, maybe Rocky is a cat.)

Cat lovers and dog lovers alike will howl with laughter at this little girl’s willful insistence that her cat is a dog. The hilarious ways in which cats and dogs are different are brilliantly illuminated with each turn of the page and will leave young readers and their grown-ups giggling.

The baddest dog around…who isn’t really a dog.

I liked this short story about a little girl who gets a great present. I liked the writing in this story. It’s fun and goes along at a great clip. The little girl is a great narrator. It’s fun how she deduces that her dog isn’t really a dog. Kids would love the way she figures that out and how sometimes we think we know what we know, and we really don’t.

If you want a book to make you laugh and will be one to read over and over, this one is for you. Give it a try.

Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl by Tedd Arnold


Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl by Tedd Arnold
Publisher: Cartwheel Books
Genre: Childrens, (ages 6-10), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Fly Guy has met his match, and her name is Fly Girl. Fly Guy can do fancy flying. Fly Girl can do fancier flying. Fly Guy can eat gross stuff. Fly Girl can eat grosser stuff. Fly Guy can say his boy’s name–Buzzzzzz! And Fly Girl can say her girl’s name–Lizzzzzzz! Fly Guy is totally impressed, and totally smitten. Will Fly Guy and Fly Girl get married and leave Buzz without his dear pet?

Fly Guy and Fly Girl??? How cool!!

I liked this series from the start and this addition is fantastic. The writing is crisp and fun. It easily kept my attention, and the drawings are great, too. I liked the message of this story—find friends everywhere. Don’t be afraid to make friends. You might have a lot in common!

If you’re looking for a fun book to read with your child, then this might be the one for you. Check it out.

As a Little Child by Catalina Siri

As a Little Child (Come Into the Agape Boat) by Catalina Siri
Publisher: Tellwell Talent
Genre: Children’s, Inspirational
Rated:
Review by Rose

I was inspired by Jesus to write this book. In combining nature and the sacred word of the Bible, my intention is to take the reader into a place of contemplation of the wonderful things God has created for the care, nourishment, and enjoyment of His creation, especially humanity. This book’s central theme is the character of love of our heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this book is an introduction to young children to the knowledge of the God of the Bible, who is unknown to most of the Christian circle and the world at large. God is the source of Agape and He is inviting all to receive Agape from Him through His Son Jesus.

I loved the illustrations in this book, and I feel just those would be an excellent way for parents to use this book in expressing the message…that God loves all children. It expresses agape (pure love) as a river that all people can access.

I found the wording itself to be a little on the old side for the target audience of small kids, but it would be a good start for parents to put the message in their own words. The author also includes Bible verses that back up the text and the message of the story, as well as a glossary in the back to also help parents explain the story to their kids.

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Hello Around the World by Sindhu Narasimhan


Hello Around the World by Sindhu Narasimhan
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Non-Fiction, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“Hello Around the World: Learn to Say Hello in 20 Languages – A Practical Guide with Pronunciation, Flags, and Traditional Dress for Kids Across Cultures” offers an immersive learning experience for children aged 2-6. This paperback book is designed to open young minds to the richness of global cultures and the power of simple greetings.

Saying hello can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I appreciated the pronunciation guides for saying hello in all of these different languages. It made it easy to sound them out and practice this greeting with all of the characters I met in this picture book. I was surprised by how many syllables are required for this greeting in some languages as well as how similar some of the answers were depending on which parts of the world they came from and how closely related they were to similar tongues. What a fun discovery that was!

It would have been nice if the children’s names were given the same treatment. While I already knew how to pronounce some of them, others weren’t so familiar to me. Knowing someone’s name is such an important part of socializing and learning about other cultures, so I wish there had been some assistance here as well. I would have chosen a higher rating if this had been included.

This little book was the perfect length for toddlers or young preschoolers. Those aren’t always easy ages to write for by any means, so I commend the author for condensing his messages about kindness, inclusion, and learning small pieces of new languages down to something that can be read in a few short minutes and adapted to even the shortest attention spans. What a good job he did with that. I look forward to seeing what he might come up with next.

Hello Around the World made me smile.

Garden of Lost Socks by Esi Edugyan


Garden of Lost Socks by Esi Edugyan
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Akosua was always told she was too nosy.

Her parents loved her very much, but she always seemed to find trouble.

“Trouble isn’t what I find!” said Akosua. “I’m an Exquirologist. What I find is lost things.”

This big-hearted picture book debut from one of Canada’s brightest literary stars follows Akosua, a budding Exquirologist, as she finds both a new friend and a remarkable world hidden right in her very own community. Acclaimed artist Amélie Dubois adds a layer of magic to Akosua’s charming adventure with her delicate, compelling illustrations.

Each turn of the page pulls readers deeper into Akosua’s journey, daring them to become Exquirologists too, and encouraging them to seek out magic in the mundane!

Any day can be an adventure if it’s approached the right way.

Losing a sock is disappointing, but it’s not something I’ve seen mentioned in a picture book before from what I can recall. Seeing how the author expanded this into such a multi-layered topic that touched so many different families made me want to read more from her. It takes talent to write something like that, and I thought Ms. Edugyan did an excellent job of exploring how people think about socks, why some socks are so special to certain folks, and what happens to articles of clothing that suddenly disappear.

I loved the friendship that Akosua developed with another character in this story. They were both curious and imaginative kids who loved to explore every inch of their neighborhood and come up with ideas for what to talk about in the letters he sent home to his nana basia. The fact that they were willing to do everything from crawl on the ground to visit the local laundromat to find out what was happening made me smile. What a good team these two were!

Kindness was woven into every scene of this tale. Akosua and her family had clearly moved into a welcoming area, and I enjoyed seeing how all of the adults quietly kept an eye on the children who roamed around the block in search of adventure. Their gentle care was reflected in how the younger members of this community also treated others compassionately. I can’t go into specific details about how this happened, but I can say that it was heartwarming and provided a beautiful ending to something I was already thrilled to read.

Garden of Lost Socks was a cozy and sweet look at city life. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Christmassy Cactus by Beth Ferry


The Christmassy Cactus by Beth Ferry
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Tiny Cactus loves Christmas!

But she doesn’t love that her little girl seems to be spending more time with the giant sparkly tree in the living room than with her. Maybe if she were decorated like the Christmas tree, her little girl would notice her again.

And so Tiny Cactus makes a wish—to be special, to be noticed, to be a part of the magic of Christmas. With the support of her friend and some Christmas magic, Tiny Cactus learns that wishes can come true if you believe hard enough.

It’s not really Christmas until everyone is included.

Jealousy comes in many forms, but it generally isn’t talked about in books about this holiday in my experience. I liked the fact that the author acknowledged how celebrations can accidentally leave some people – or cacti – out of the fun and what someone should do if they feel like they’re being left behind. This was a thoughtful exploration of how to deal with a difficult emotion and how to think the best of others even if their actions sting a little.

I was surprised by the fact that no one in this story thought to decorate Tiny Cactus, especially given how much she was loved by her little girl. When I was a child, I put small, light decorations on my family’s house plants at Christmas time. It would have been nice to know why these characters didn’t think of that solution as it was a pretty simple fix for the conflict.

One of the other things I liked about this tale was how realistic it is. Other than the fact that the cactus could talk, everything else was firmly rooted in what could really happen that would make the holiday season more memorable for everyone involved without requiring the intervention of anyone wearing a red suit and passing by in a magical sleigh. This is an uncommon choice for this genre, but it worked really well for the subject matter.

The Christmassy Cactus was heartwarming.

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? by Mac Barnett


How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? by Mac Barnett
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Santa arrives at a child’s house on Christmas Eve, does he go down the chimney feetfirst or headfirst? What if he gets stuck? What if there’s no chimney? Maybe he slides under the door, as thin as a piece of paper? Or is it possible he pours himself through the faucet? What happens once he’s inside? Whether it’s shape-shifting or impromptu laundry use, Mac Barnett’s iconic talent for earnest deadpan humor and Jon Klassen’s irresistibly funny art honor the timeless question with answers both ridiculous and plausible, mounting in hilarity as the night continues. Channeling a child’s fanciful explanations (and begging for further speculation), this latest collaboration by a New York Times best-selling team will find a secure spot among family holiday traditions.

A little magic is all Santa needs.

The creativity of this tale made me chuckle. I laughed out loud at an early scene showing the reindeer gently lowering Santa into a chimney head first, and the answers to this riddle only grew wilder from there. They reminded me of the way small children think about the world and how they can sometimes expect large things like a person to magically fit into small spaces with a little effort. It was delightful that the authors were able to tap into this portion of childhood and really dig deeply into the wacky side of how Christmas Eve visits from a magical elf might work.

As amused as I was by the premise, I would have liked to see a bit more character and plot development. Almost all of the pages were dedicated to coming up with all sorts of ways that Santa may enter homes even if there’s no chimney to climb down. I kept expecting the narrator to eventually share a solution that seemed more likely than the rest, and I was a little disappointed when that never happened.

With that being said, I did appreciate how the author wrote this to appeal to all sorts of children. Whether a little one wholeheartedly believes in Santa, is skeptical about the idea but still hopes it is true, or doesn’t believe at all, there were scenes in here to amuse a wide variety of audiences. I should note that this could easily prompt kids to discuss their differing beliefs about Santa if this is read in a mixed group of opinions, but I think that can be a good thing for everyone involved if handled well. Differences should be celebrated, not ignored!

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? was a cute and cheeky read.

The Dis’Aster Family’s Halloween by Helen C. Johannes


The Dis’Aster Family’s Halloween by Helen C. Johannes
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Meet the Dis’Aster Family!

The kids are creative. The parents are outnumbered. And the pets, well, they’re unusual.

When the kids decide to enter a Halloween costume contest, what could possibly go wrong?

Come along for the ride. Can Halloween survive?

Spooky season is coming, and some folks are more ready for it than others are.

It’s always nice to see large, happy families in children’s stories. I don’t come across this sort of family very often these days, and I was intrigued by how all of the siblings might get along. Luckily, I soon discovered plenty of examples of the ways they played together and hints about what they thought about having lots of brothers and sisters. It was heartwarming to get to know the Dis’Asters and see how they tackled all sorts of things that are more complicated when you have more relatives to think about.

I would have liked to see more plot development. The first half or so of this picture book was spent introducing the many members of the Dis’Aster family and sharing their hobbies. As helpful as it was to know who everyone was, this also meant that there wasn’t as much time to show how they spent their Halloween as I was expecting. Given how important that holiday was to them, I was surprised by the smaller amount of space that ended up being saved for it.

This read like something a child would come up with if he or she were telling it. Tapping into the imaginative ways kids think can be difficult for adults, so I tip my cap to Ms. Johannes for pulling it off so well. Creativity was infused into scenes that many adult readers might assume would turn out a different way instead. I smiled every time the characters once again did something I wasn’t expecting them to do.

The Dis’Aster Family’s Halloween was an exciting ride.

The Skull by Jon Klassen


The Skull by Jon Klassen
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Holiday, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jon Klassen’s signature wry humor takes a turn for the ghostly in this thrilling retelling of a traditional Tyrolean folktale. In a big abandoned house, on a barren hill, lives a skull. A brave girl named Otilla has escaped from terrible danger and run away, and when she finds herself lost in the dark forest, the lonely house beckons. Her host, the skull, is afraid of something too, something that comes every night. Can brave Otilla save them both? Steeped in shadows and threaded with subtle wit—with rich, monochromatic artwork and an illuminating author’s note—The Skull is as empowering as it is mysterious and foreboding.

Would you spend the night in a haunted house?

Otilla was a brave girl who I quickly grew to like. She was kind and sweet even when she was afraid. That’s not always an easy thing to accomplish, so it made me more curious to learn about where she came from and why she was running away from something that frightened her in the first scene. The more I learned about her, the more I wanted to know.

Some of the scenes in this picture book were pretty intense, especially since this was rated for ages 4 and older. I would be hesitant to read this with younger kids without first figuring out how much horror they can handle. Certainly some of them would love it, but I also felt that the talking skull’s biggest fear in life was much darker than what is typically written for preschoolers and elementary-aged readers.

Otilla’s friendship with the skull was sweet. Both of them had pasts they didn’t want to talk about and seemed to find difficult. It was rewarding to watch them figure out they had this in common and decide they were going to protect each other. Few things are better than having a friend who behaves so loyally!

I would have loved to see more character and plot development. The eerie setting had a nice Halloween vibe, but there weren’t a lot of explanations about who the skull was when it was alive and still had the rest of its body or how they were connected to the grand old mansion that was now slowly falling apart. As an adult, I was able to make certain assumptions about what the author might have meant based on subtle context clues, but I don’t think a lot of kids would necessarily pick up on enough of them to make sense of everything without help.

With that being said, I did enjoy the scenes that explained what the skull could and couldn’t do. For example, it could taste tea, but it could not keep tea inside of its mouth because it didn’t have a body or a stomach to digest it. There were multiple examples like this, and each one made me smile as I added more details to my mental file of what this character’s abilities and limitations were.

The Skull was a spooky Halloween read.