A Wee Boo by Jessica Boyd


A Wee Boo by Jessica Boyd
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

This heartwarming ghost story will make readers laugh out loud and sympathize with a ghost who is too cute to be scary.

Wee Boo is a ghost who wants nothing more than to earn her haunting license like all the other accredited ghosts. The problem? She’s far too cute to scare anyone! She’s given one last chance, with extraordinarily low standards: Boo doesn’t need to make anyone scream or gasp or shudder, she just needs one “whoa” to earn her place as a certified ghost. But she’s running out of chances and her final haunting is not going well―that is until she meets a baby. When Boo makes the baby laugh, she realizes something: although she’s terrible as a scary ghost, she might just make an outstanding imaginary friend. And a baby laughing in a crib at an invisible friend might just be enough to spook someone after all―the baby’s parents.

Even ghosts have to follow the rules.

Boo was utterly adorable. I loved her gentle personality and her belief that everyone she met was a future friend. She was such a kind spirit that being scary enough to finally earn her haunting license was the hardest thing she’d ever tried to do. I smiled as I read about her dilemma and wondered what else she’d try to fix it.

I loved the subtle messages this tale shared about the assumptions we make about how we should behave based on other people’s or other ghost’s in this case, expectations of us. Getting along with others is a good goal, but there are other things to consider, too. I can’t say much more about this part of the storyline without giving away spoilers, but I thought it was blended into the narrative nicely and had an important point to make for readers of all ages.

The plot twists were delightful for Halloween and beyond. They were straightforward enough for young children to follow but also included some extra layers of meaning to appeal to older readers. I always enjoy finding picture books that work well for both preschoolers and their siblings, parents, or caretakers who are reading it aloud again to the small ghost-lover in their lives. It takes talent to pull that off, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for what Ms. Boyd might release next.

A Wee Boo was the perfect ghost story for readers of all ages.

Forest Baby by Laurie Elmquist


Forest Baby by Laurie Elmquist
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

From a carrier, a baby peers out at the trail. Leaves rustle overhead, and a turtle stretches toward the sun. Everything shimmers with light, including the jeweled wings of a dragonfly and the star-shaped lilies. This delightful board book takes the reader on a hike accented by the soft sound of footsteps on the trail and grounded by the rhythmic rocking of mother and baby moving through the forest. Travel along on their serene journey with Laurie Elmquist’s lyrical verse and Shantala Robinson’s warmly painted collages. A beautiful book that will be treasured by anyone who loves the outdoors.

No one is ever too young to appreciate nature.

It was beautiful to experience a forest scene through the perspective of a toddler who was seeing, smelling, touching, and hearing everything for the first time. Small things like maple trees shedding their seeds or a turtle who wandered nearby were enough to cause excitement for this character. Those moments made me smile and wonder what this family might discover next on their nature walk.

I would have preferred to see a little bit of conflict included in the plot. While I understood the gentle approach it took in order to appeal to the youngest age range that can possibly sit and listen to a brief story time, the storyline would have been stronger if the characters had been given some sort of challenge to overcome even if it were a mild one like an approaching thunderstorm. As peaceful as their forest walk was, this was something I’d struggle to read over and over again due to how few things happened in it.

The ending was satisfying. I appreciated the way it wrapped up this particular excursion while also making the audience wonder what this mother and child might see the next time they spent an afternoon in the woods or had some other adventure. It could have easily led to a sequel or simply allowed readers to come up with their own theories about what happened next. I always like it when that happens.

Forest Baby was a sweet and mellow take on what an autumn hike can be like for a young family.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith


The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When the tsunami destroyed Makio’s village, Makio lost his father . . . and his voice. The entire village is silenced by grief, and the young child’s anger at the ocean grows. Then one day his neighbor, Mr. Hirota, begins a mysterious project―building a phone booth in his garden. At first Makio is puzzled; the phone isn’t connected to anything. It just sits there, unable to ring. But as more and more villagers are drawn to the phone booth, its purpose becomes clear to Makio: the disconnected phone is connecting people to their lost loved ones. Makio calls to the sea to return what it has taken from him and ultimately finds his voice and solace in a phone that carries words on the wind.

Grief can be a heavy burden to carry alone.
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I wasn’t aware of the true story of the wind phone in Otsuchi, Japan, before picking up this fictionalized version of what happened there, so it was nice to have the wind phone explained so fully in the plot. It was easy to imagine what it would be like to use such a device. The thought of picking up a phone that wasn’t actually plugged into anything and talking to a deceased loved one made me smile. What a nice way for people to make peace with their deaths but still feel like one could communicate with them in some way.

It was tricky to figure out which age group this picture book would work best for. While the tsunami that killed so many people was described gently enough for younger readers to hear, many of the themes in the storyline like how complicated and lonely the various stages of the grieving process can be seemed far more appropriate for kids who were well into their elementary school years. Had it been more specific about who the audience was supposed to be, I would have given it a five star rating.

Tragedies can affect the communities that go through them in so many different ways. It was bittersweet to see how Makio, Mr. Hirota, and all of the other survivors found ways to reach out to each other and deal with their grief after the cleanup from the tsunami ended and they had time to sit quietly with their thoughts. They seemed like such a loving and close-knit village. More than anything, I wanted everyone who lived there to find peace with what happened.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden was a heartfelt tale I’d recommend to adults and children alike.

What Matters by Alison Hughes


What Matters by Alison Hughes
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What happens when one small boy picks up one small piece of litter? He doesn’t know it, but his tiny act has big consequences. From the miniscule to the universal, What Matters sensitively explores nature’s connections and traces the ripple effects of one child’s good deed to show how we can all make a big difference.

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One of the things I liked about this story the most was how much meaning Ms. Hughes was able to pack into a few sentences. She shared almost everything she needed to share with the audience in the space of only a couple of sentences per page. There was no need to go into more detail than that for most of the storyline. While there were a few exceptions to this that I’ll mention in a moment, I was impressed by how well she was able to get her point across in so few words in the rest of the scenes. This was something short enough that a toddler could understand it, but it also had a message that would appeal to adult readers as well.

The narrator tried to show how a small action like throwing away a piece of trash can have a big impact on the environment over time. There were times when I had trouble understanding the connections it was trying to make between the original act of kindness and all of the good things that happened as a result of it. As much as I liked the author’s careful use of words in general, this was something that would have benefited from having more details included in it.

Good deeds don’t have to be big to be meaningful. I liked the fact that the hero of this tale was a young boy who did something that almost anyone is capable of doing and who didn’t expect any sort of reward for it. There are so many little ways a person can make the world a better place without seeking out attention for their actions or knowing how those actions would affect things in the longterm. It was nice to see this kind of behavior being given so much positive attention.

I’d recommend What Matters to environmentalists of all ages.