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A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell Book Review

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 17, 2014

Whoever is reading this book is a very messy person. They have spilled peanut butter AND jelly all over the pages. And what is the point of telling a story if it isn't perfect?

There has been a plethora of audience participation type picture books lately and I absolutely love them. I think kids do too. This may be personal bias as I have always had a thing for The Monster At the End of This Book, but as a kid I loved the idea that my book may be talking directly to me. Coincidentally, I also loved Choose Your Own Adventure stories and The Neverending Story. Artistically, this is a great example of mixed media with the McDonnell using real pictures over his illustrations. Story wise, this is an anti-perfectionism book. As a perfectionist myself, I think it is an incredibly important message to convey to children that not everything can be perfect, but that is okay. The story may still be good even if it isn't perfection.

Otherbound byCorrine Duyvis Book Review

Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: June 17, 2014

Nolan has epilepsy. At least that is what everyone believes. What he doesn't tell people is that every time he closes his eyes, blinking for even a second, he experiences another world through the eyes of a girl named Amara. Amara is a servant with the ability to heal. Like all servants in her world, her tongue has been cut out, she is banned from reading or writing, and can only use sign language to communicate. Her healing, a gift from the spirits that helps her in her duties to protect the Princess Cilla who has a curse upon her. If Cilla bleeds, even a tiny drop, the curse is activated. Amara, with her gift, must mingle her blood with the princesses, suffering pain and torment until the princess stops bleeding. Among their company is Jorn, a man who keeps them safe, but can have violent mood swings from time to time. And Maart, a fellow servant and her lover who is constantly asking Amara to run away with him. Nolan, watches all of this, an unwilling participant in Amara's life, but with no way to tell her of his existence. His own life is a shambles, because how can a person concentrate when they are living someone else's life when their eyes are closed? Then, Nolan accidentally takes two pills from his new epilepsy medication and somehow he is able to control Amara's body. Upon learning of his existence Amara feels violated and angry, but it may require both of them to discover the true nature of Cilla's curse and how to life it.

Have you ever read a book and been jealous of the author? This may be a writer thing, but sometimes I will read a book that I think is so good that I am jealous of the author who wrote it. Not in a competitive way, but rather because I wish, hope, and strive to write things myself. And hope beyond hope that it actually happens one day.

I loved this book. The characters are so strong. Amara, despite a missing tongue and being forced to serve, is strong-willed, intelligent, and caring. She is complex and thoughtful and when she discovers Nolan's existence is most upset by the notion that her thoughts, which are the only thing she can claim as her own, were being listened to by this strange boy from another world. Maart was a bit more two-dimensional, but this is mostly because we are seeing the world through Amara's lens and she doesn't know or understand everything about him. Cilla is a very interesting character and for reasons I cannot get into without giving too many spoilers, lets just say that she has a strength that is long hidden by this horrible curse. Even Jorn and their enemies have complex stories. Nolan and his family are equally interesting with his parents worrying over his epilepsy, his sister almost writing him off, and he himself wondering if maybe he is just making it all up.

The world itself was interesting, although not always clear to me. Nolan and Amara know their world so well though that to really go into any more detail though would have just resulted in a lot of pace slowing exposition. I am still not entirely sure how Nolan actually got into Amara's head, but I think that this is one of the instances where one must just suspend their disbelief and let the magic take over. There are a lot of things to like about this book along with some fabulous instances of diversity that never felt forced. I was completely sucked in from beginning to end and loved that the story was unpredictable and magical.


The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee Book Review

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Release Date: September 23, 2014

In this wordless picture book we follow the story of a little clown and a farmer and their unexpected friendship. Separated from his family after accidentally bouncing off their circus train, he lands in a farmer's empty field. The farmer is reluctant to take in the little clown, but as they spend more time together they discover that they really like one another. It is bittersweet when the train comes back through with the clown's family to reclaim their child, but one can't help but feel that this is not the end of the story for the little clown and the farmer.

I absolutely love wordless picture books especially when they are done by Caldecott medalists. Reminiscent of the 1950's, complete with circus trains, baby clown, and muted colors, this story was absolutely adorable. Frazee chose just the right kind of clown as to not be scary. Although, as someone who used to do clowning, I don't really find clowns terrifying and don't fully understand people who do. (stop watching horror movies people!) The farmer is just grumpy enough to remind you of a curmudgeonly old grandpa, but he quickly warms as the story progresses. You will find yourself smiling by the end of the book and entranced by the illustrations. I wouldn't be surprised is this ended up with another award or two.


Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea Book Review

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea
Illustrations by Lane Smith
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Release Date: October 7, 2014

Drywater Gulch has a toad problem. Not the hop-down-your-britches, croaking-all-night toad kind of problem. Instead it is the thievin', hootin' and hollerin', steal-your-gold never-say-thank-you outlaw Toad kind of problem. Then hope rides into town in the form of seven-year-old Sheriff Ryan. He might not know much about shooting and roping, but he does know a lot about dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs. And it turns out that knowing a thing or two about paleontology may be just the thing they need to round of some no-good bandits.

This book was a fun one to read aloud, although it lacked any kind of logical story-line. A seven-year-old sheriff with a knowledge of paleontology that insists that all the thievin' being done in Drywater Gulch is actually dinosaur activity. Despite the dialectic mouthfuls, I was left wondering what in the world I had read at the end and whether I was supposed to be making sense of it. Lane Smith's illustrations are en pointe as always. In the end this was just a silly book that holds some appeal for kids and some interesting dinosaur facts, but don't expect it to make sense.




Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett Book Review

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett
Illustrations by Jon Klassen
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: October 14, 2014

Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. And so they dig. And dig. And dig. And they find nothing. Of course, unknown to them, each time they decide to dig a different direction whether that be left, right or down, they are actually missing out on some amazing treasure.

This was a suspenseful story in a way that I rarely see in picture books. With each turn of the page the reader is shown beautiful diamonds hiding right beneath the surface, yet Sam and Dave always decide to dig in a different direction. Each time they miss the jewels, which only become more and more extraordinary as they dig. Add to this the dog that is always pointing the way toward treasure. There is humor without the need for meaning or moral, which only made the story more interesting. No lesson is to be learned here, just a nice story about two boys that always seem to be digging in the wrong direction. If any lesson was to be garnered from these pages it would simply be this--perseverance will bring its own reward.

Creature Keepers and the Hijacked Hydro-Ride by Peter Nelson Book Review

Creature Keepers and the Hijacked Hydro-Ride by Peter Nelson
Illustrations by Rohitash Rao
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Jordan Grimsley hates the idea of spending his entire spring break fixing up his grandfather's old house with his sister and parents. He doesn't have to worry though because the swamp behind his grandfather's house holds secrets that he couldn't even dream of. Soon, he is welcomed by a local boy Eldon Pecone and introduced to a secret society called Creature Keepers. This group has the important job of protecting and hiding all manner of mythical beasts, from the Loch Ness Monster to the mythic South Florida Skunk Ape. It's not an easy job and it only gets harder when Nessie goes missing and the reasons are far more nefarious than anyone wants to deal with.

This story started out strong. I instantly liked Jordan, his family, the old people in his neighborhood, Eldon, and the Skunk Ape. Jordan's worrying about no wi-fi was completely relatable and I liked that although he didn't want to help fix up the old house, he did help when asked to. Eldon is a bit more of a goody-goody, but once you get to know him it is clear that he is the glue that holds this whole thing together.

Creature Keepers was a light adventure story, perfect for the Wimpy Kid lovers, and is sure to be a series. The pacing felt a bit off sometimes and I still am not quite sure if I follow the internal logic of why the cryptids need people to take care of them or why someone wants to steal them, but I don't think it is meant to be read into too deeply. I have to say, the illustrations really didn't do it for me. Many of the characters kind of looked like potatoes and Nessie barely resembled the beautiful creature she is on the cover. I hate being critical of any art, especially since I can barely draw stick figures, but if the illustrations of a story fail to add or capture the imagination, then I think that is a problem. There isn't much substance to the story, but it is a fun romp through the swamp with some likable characters.

This Book Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne Book Review

This Book Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Release Date: September 30, 2014

First it is the dog that disappears into the gutter of the book. When Bella calls for help, all the helpers disappear too. It quickly becomes clear that it will take more than just a tug on the leash to put things right. However, once Bella gets eaten, the only one who can save them is the reader.

A fun play on a popular phrase, this book was almost perfect for the bibliophile. Characters disappearing into the gutter of the book? Seriously, how do people come up with these ideas? A picture book writer I am not. I was kind of hoping that the author would use the construction of a picture book to determine when the characters would reappear, but I guess that would have been overly confusing and only for the book construction nerds. I am, of course, referring to the way a printer prints and folds a standard 32 page picture book. That said, the interactive nature of the book, similar to Press Here was fantastic. One of my favorite picture books so far this year.

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies Book Review

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release Date: September 30, 2014

Every day, in a house by the sea, Noi watches his father leave for a long day's work and he is left alone. That is, until one night a terrible storm washes a small whale ashore. Taking the whale home, he finds it to be a very good listener, but it is impossible to keep it a secret from his father. Realizing Noi is lonely, the father helps return the whale to sea but from that day forward, he makes sure to be a good listener for his son too.

I am interested in this book's path to publication. The original book that seems to have been published a year ago, has completely different illustrations or at least a different cover and was published by Simon & Schuster. I understand that sometimes another company will buy the rights to a book and then publish a different edition, but it was a little confusing and the Internet is doing nothing to clear it up for me.

That said, this is a rather melancholy book about loneliness, something that I think any human child can relate to at one time or another. The illustrations are adorable. Obviously, you will have to suspend belief because how in the world did that kid get a whale all the way into his house? Obviously, mass and weight are not concerns in this whale of a tale. Additionally, Noi is rather young to be left home all alone and must live in a very remote place for there to be no other children around. (or babysitters for that matter) But the point is loneliness, and Davies gets that element across quite well. It is presumed in the end that Noi, his father, and whale all benefited from the storm that night and will live much happier lives because of it.

If You Were A Dog by Jamie Swenson Book Review

If You Were A Dog by Jamie Swenson
Illustrations by Chris Raschka
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Release Date: September 30, 2014

If you could be any kind of animal what would you be? A dog perhaps? Or maybe a sharp-toothed dinosaur? What kind of sounds would you make?

Let's admit it, kids and adults love books where they get to make funny noises. I loved that the story didn't just stick to common animals either. Dinosaurs, fish, bugs. All get their moment. It made the book unpredictable in a way that kids will just love. The best part is that in the end, it is decided that perhaps the best animal you can be is a kid. The illustrations are simple and hold that distinctive style that is Chris Raschka, abstract in form and engaging. This is definitely a story that begs to be read out loud.


Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince Book Review

 Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince & Elaine DePrince
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 14, 2014

Michaela's life has had its share of trials. Born in war-torn Sierra Leone, Michaela's idyllic family life is shattered when her father is murdered by "debils", young rebel men armed with guns and machetes. Forced to live with an abusive Uncle who hated Michaela for her spots (Vitiligo) and how she already knew how to read, Michaela's life was centered around starvation and avoiding abuse. Then, Michaela's mother dies and her Uncle, unwilling to care for the girl, takes her to an orphanage. There, she is able to make some friends, but is still mistreated by the Aunties, always given less food and worse treatment due to her Vitiligo and superstition. She is told that no one will ever want to adopt her because of her spots and that she is in fact, the devil's child. What Michaela does find one day at the gates of her orphanage is an old magazine with, what she believes to be a fairy on the cover. Michaela soon learns the word Ballerina and vows that one day she too will dance on her tippy toes just like the woman in the picture. But dance lessons are not a reality for little Michaela. Michaela's life is once more disrupted when the debils murder her teacher and her unborn child in front of Michaela and a few weeks later the children are forced to leave their orphanage, walking to safety in Guinea. The children, already promised to parents in America, hold on to their sliver of hope that they will soon leave. All except Michaela who is told that no one wants her. Her mat-mate, promises that she will ask her new mommy and daddy if they will take Michaela too. On the day that the children are to meet their new parents though, Michaela learns that she and her friend are going to be adopted together and they will be sisters forever. But Michaela and Mia's new mom doesn't know that Michaela wants to be a ballerina and she didn't bring any dancing shoes with her. There is a promise though, if Michaela wants to learn to dance, she will.

Thus begins Michaela's journey from war torn orphan to star ballerina. This book could hold a good deal of meaning and hope depending on where you come from and what part of this story really speaks to you. From the perspective of someone who wants to adopt an older child one day, this book was a very important reminder that these children come with a past. That their pasts can be extremely deep and dark. Some of these early memories seem so vivid for such a young child, but after watching an interview with her mom, Elaine DePrince, she explained that as Michaela told her about her past in jolts and snippets, she wrote them down and kept them for her. This book was being written from the day Michaela was picked up in an airport with her sister, and Elaine was simply keeping those stories until the day they would be needed. Michaela, as do many older adopted children (older meaning over the age of four) have so many triggers. So many fears. In that respect alone, this is a very important book for parents who are planning on adopting an older child, domestically or internationally.

More than that though, there is this added hope for Michaela. Through years of dedication and pursuing a dream that began at the gates of an orphanage, Michaela sought out a dancer's life. What she didn't know was that despite the drive, a dancer's body, and parents who supported her, breaking into the world of ballet when you are a black child (now a woman) was an even bigger challenge. Confronted with prejudice and dealing with her own feelings of otherness because of her Vitiligo, Michaela struggled with her role in the ballet world. But she never gave up or even considered another option.

Like many autobiographies of this kind, it isn't the most well-written, but Michaela is a dancer not a writer and I am perfectly okay with this. There are parts that seems to drag a bit, but then this is someone's life, not Hollywood. When it comes to autobiographies, what I want to understand is how a person thinks and feels and what motivates them. I expect authenticity, not Hemingway. More importantly, we should come away with a deeper understanding of someone else's life. A deeper appreciation for the things they have gone through and how they got to where they are today. Taking Flight was a beautiful presentation of a life that has seen both beauty and tragedy, from a girl who never quit dancing.




The Graveyard Book: Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman Book Review

The Graveyard Book: Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman
Adapted by P. Craig Russell
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: September 30, 2014

If you are at all familiar with the Newbury Award winning novel The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, then you already know this is an awesome book. For those who like a bit more artistic and graphic novel like flair to their books though, then this adapted version is right up your alley. For me, reading a graphic novelization of this book was like the P. Craig Russell got into my head and drew the pictures just how I imagined them. True, the original book did have some illustrations, but I am talking about every single detail, down to the graves and the Sleer. Rarely am I this impressed by a graphic novel adaptation, but considering the things that Neil Gaiman is known for, it is no surprise that it lends itself so well to this medium.


Hug Me by Simona Ciraola Book Review

Hug Me by Simona Ciraola
Publisher: Flying Eye Books
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Ever feel like you need a hug, a really big hug from someone? That's how Felipe the young cactus feels, but his family just isn't the touchy-feely kind. Cactuses can be quite prickly sometimes you know . . . and so can Felipe. But Felipe will not let this one pointy issue hold him back, so one day Felipe sets off on his own to find a friend and just maybe, that long awaited hug.

Okay, so it isn't the most original concept in the world, unhuggable thing (cactus, porcupine, echidna) desperately longs for the one thing no one wants to give them. There are some great moments, like when Felipe tries to make friends with a balloon, that will make the reader cringe with anticipation. It is also a nice way to remind children that even things and people that seem unlovable need a hug every now and then. I was especially impressed by the illustrations and (I know this is the publishing production specialist in me), but I loved the paper it was printed on, especially the cover. The tactile feel of the book reminded of the old books my mother used to read us from her youth. I have not actually heard of this publisher before, but I am interested in reading other books they have produced.

Illustrator of the Week - Erin McGuire

It has been quite a while since I have featured an illustrator on this site, but sometimes you run across an illustrator who has such amazing artwork that you can't help but share them with the world, in hopes that others will fall in love with them in the same way you have. I have always had a bit of a fascination with cover artists, for they are sometimes the gateway into a good book. I know the cover design process and how careful an illustrator has to be and for me, one of the best cover artists out there is Erin McGuire. If you have been to a bookstore, you have seen her work. She has illustrated books like the new Nancy Drew Diaries, Anne Ursu's The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs, Vivian Vande Velde's Frogged, Susan Patron's Lucky series, and Cynthia Lord's new Shelter Pet Squad.

I share of few of her illustrations with you here, but you should really check out the rest of her stuff at www.emcguire.net as well as her blog which is a wealth of fantastic images.










Marlene, Marlene the Queen of Mean by Jane Lynch Book Review

Marlene, Marlene the Queen of Mean by Jane Lynch with Laura Embry, PhD & A.E. Mikesell
Illustrations by Tricia Tusa
Publisher: Random House for Young Readers
Release Date: September 23, 2014

Marlene is the self-appointed Queen of the playground. And everywhere else for that matter. Known for her cruel ways, Marlene has all the children afraid of her, that is until Freddy stands up to her. Soon, Marlene finds that her mean ways aren't making her friends or enemies.

I guess it was inevitable that Jane Lynch, who has made a living out of playing the bully, would write a book about bullying. Just like it was no surprise when Julianna Moore wrote about redheads. As with any celebrity children's book, I go into these things with a good deal of skepticism. It's not that I don't think these celebrities can't write for children, after all we creative types have a tendency to be good at many different creative things. It's that I imagine they don't hear a whole lot of no's. This is how I imagine these things go down:

Celebrity: (while doing an interview) And one day I hope to write a children's book because I love kids.
Editor/Publisher: OMG! Who is his/her publicist? Call them up. Tell them we will sign their book.
Random Logical Publishing Person: But what is the book about?
Editor/Publisher: Doesn't matter. We need that book. A conservative print run of 200,000 books should be good.
Random Logical Publishing Person: What if they can't write?
Editor/Publisher: We will hire a ghost writer or maybe some people with degrees and they can do most of the writing and vetting.
Random Logical Publishing Person: ummmm....
Editor/Publisher: Look. I hate it too, but this will sell. And if we keep publishing a few celebrity books every year, then we can afford to publish the really good books by authors no one knows...yet. It's a devil's bargain.
Random Logical Publishing Person: Sigh. Should I call them or you?

Now, I do work in publishing, but I work for an academic publisher which means it is a completely different ballgame over here. To be fair, I'm sure the conversation is much more nuanced than this.

Where's the review you ask? It is simply this, I am surprised that two psychologists helped write this book because Marlene, the Queen of Mean, very magically stops being mean, and simply because someone finally stood up to her. I stood up to my bully once. I got punched in the stomach and she continued to bully people. Another bully was brazen in his attempts to humiliate me, even in front of adults, and his parents seemed to encourage it. What did I get when I told the other kids that he was just a bully and a liar? Another punch to the gut. Literally. Some kids may grow out of their bullying ways, some only do it to one child and then learn their lesson, and some are psychotic sadists that will continue to bully people in oh so subtle ways for the rest of their lives.

There were some nice lines in the rhyming text and the illustrations are engaging, but the story just felt too neat and tidy. If only we could all deal with our bullies this way and then watch as they magically transform into nicer people. I like the message of not letting bullies steal your power, but felt like it could have been presented very differently.

I Know a Bear by Mariana Ruiz Johnson Book Review

I Know a Bear by Mariana Ruiz Johnson
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Release Date: September 9, 2014

A young girl befriends a bear in the zoo. He comes from far, far away from the Land of Bears, where the food is sweet and the land is cast. It is a beautiful place where the rivers are like bathtubs and naps last for months. And he can never return because his new home is the zoo. Since the little girl cannot return him to his home, she listens carefully and imagines a world of freedom.

This is one of the quietest simplest books I have read this year and it completely caught me off guard. The little girl imagines the life of a polar bear, imagining the trails he walked on, rivers he swam in, and breakfasts that are sweet.Then it is revealed that the bear is in a zoo and the little girl visits him. In the end, the little girl doesn't magically free this polar bear, but she does free her pet bird.

The idea of zoos and the capturing of animals has been debated for decades and this book definitely has an opinion, but it not heavy handed. No one is blamed, no one thing is a cause, the author is simply asking her young readers to imagine where these animals are from. In this day and age, where so many animals are endangered it is hard not to argue that some of these animals are safer in their simulated environments, but others would disagree. This story reminds me of our local zoo where the polar bear exhibit just reopened. Although the exhibit is nice enough, I always imagined how miserable those polar bears are in our North Carolina summer. Do they miss the cold and snow? I know I do.

This is the NC Zoo's polar bear, Patches:

Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light Book Review

Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: September 9, 2014

Meet Louise. She loves art more than anything. And she is determined to create a masterpiece—her pièce de résistance!

I will admit, when I picked up this book, I thought the illustrator was the one who did the Bink & Golly books. This is definitely a compliment, because I love this style of illustration. When creating a book about wanna-be artists, it helps when the art within the book is really well-done. Louise and her little brother are adorable and I love that this is so kid-focused. The masterpiece is the masterpiece of a child and the art gallery, the refrigerator. There's a lot going on within each page so I consider this more of a one-on-one lap book, and especially poignant for those with younger siblings.



The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak Book Review

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: September 30, 2014

This is the book that makes grownups say silly things.

I admit it, I heard about this book and I was highly skeptical. For one, it was being touted as this highly original idea. Picture book with no pictures? How extraordinary. Also, celebrity author. Top that off with comedian celebrity author. My radar was on high alert for yet another terrible book by an author who thinks writing for kids is simple and the publisher knows they can make money off of it, good or not.

I am pleased to report that this was very well done, although I hesitate to call this a "picture book". It is a book in a picture book format, but without the pictures can it truly be called that? However, since there is no other category for it to go into, we shall let it stand. Along the same vein as Elephant and Piggie's We Are In A Book and There's A Monster At the End of this Book, this story relies on audience participation and lots of silly words. And as we know, if a book engages its young readers and says lots of goofy things, kids will love it. And so do I.


Telephone by Mac Barnett Book Review

Telephone by Mac Barnett
Illustrations by Jen Corace
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: September 9, 2014

It's time to fly home for dinner. In a classic game of Telephone a mother bird gives the bird next to her the message that it is time for little Pete to come home. As the message travels down the telephone wire, the message becomes terribly garbled.

I think I have become a total Mac Barnett fangirl. President Taft in the Bath, Oh No!Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World, Chloe and the Lion, Extra Yarn. Imaginative, clever, fun, and always accompanied by the best illustrations, these are the kinds of books that kids can laugh at and read over and over without parents getting too tired of it. It is also the perfect entry into playing your own game of Telephone with kids. Any book that has practical applications and activities gets a gold star in my book.

 

Remy & Lulu by Kevin Hawkes Book Review

Remy & Lulu by Kevin Hawkes
with miniatures by Hannah E. Harrison
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 9, 2014

Lulu and her master, Remy are passionate painters. Remy can't always find paying customers though, but not many people seem to appreciate his abstract style. That is until Lulu begins to secretly lend her paw to Remy's work, adding tiny paintings of her own in the corner of Remy's work. Soon, the pair are the most celebrated artists in France, but Remy can't figure out why. When Remy is finally given a pair of glasses, he sees that their popularity is because of Lulu's pet portraits. Upset, Remy refuses to paint with Lulu until he is commissioned for a portrait where the old woman loves his artwork because she herself cannot see.

Because the artists story seems to be universal, this is yet another story of a struggling artist. I found myself feeling rather melancholy about the whole thing though. Here is this wonderful abstract artist who is being shown as a half-blind fool with a dog who paints beautiful mini-portraits and is the only reason why he is finally gaining any acclaim. No wonder he is angry and hurt when he finally figures it out. Can you imagine? Then again, that is what the author is asking his audience to do and although it is a cute idea that this dog can paint things that eclipse his master's art, it made me sad for Remy. Getting out-painted by a dog would be the epitomy of failure in my mind. And this is the problem with an adult reading picture books sometimes.

This is a story, at its core, about painting from the heart and being true to yourself. It is about a cute dog that helps its master by painting beautiful miniature portraits and I think kids will gobble it up because if I know anything about kids I know this--kids like dogs.

I love the illustrations and thought that the addition of Hannah E. Harrisons little masterpieces adding a nice visual element to the story, but for all the bright colors, I couldn't let go of my empathetic melancholy.

5 Reason Why I Will Put A Book Down

Photo by David Whittle

5 Reasons Why I Will Put Down a Book


I read a lot of books. However, for every ten or so books I read, there is at least one book that I either couldn't finish or thought was terrible. Those are, as it should be, not reviewed. The guilt of giving up on a book remains though. Would it have gotten better if I had finished it? Did I really give it a chance? As it inevitably does with book people, this topic comes up often. How long do you give a book? Do you go by page count? Would you stop reading after the first chapter? What about the first page? For me, there is no set standard for when I "give up", but there are some definable reasons.

1. Not as Advertised
Nothing is worse than picking up a book that says one thing in the blurb or jacket flap and then feeling like you were lied to. Yes, perhaps I should have read some reviews online or looked at who the publisher was, but I didn't and now I am thirty pages in and I want to stop. Case in point, a few months ago I started reading a book that proclaimed itself as young adult dystopian sci-fi. Great! Any kind of sci-fi is right up my alley...or so I thought. What this book actually was, is a diatribe against science & scientists who are portrayed as godless, feckless, power hungry barbarians. This wasn't science, this was anti-science. I have no idea what the author has against science or scientists, but if you are going to write a novel in the sci-fi genre, perhaps you shouldn't alienate the fan base. Just saying. I stopped somewhere around page fifty.

2. Slow Pacing
There is no set rule for pacing. Sometimes a book needs a hundred pages to get going, although this tends to happen more in adult books than in kids. Perhaps the author has to do a lot of crazy world building that requires fifty pages before the story starts rolling. Maybe the book is character driven rather than plot driven. Whatever the case may be, nothing will lose my interest faster than a story that meanders in the beginning. Starting a book with a long journey or promising to reveal something that doesn't happen until page 75 is a problem. It's okay to world build, in many cases completely necessary, but you better have some awesome characters to hold my interest until you finally get around to a plot.


3. Don't Care About the Character
The previous reason leads me to this one. Nothing kills a book, television show, or movie faster than when I simply dislike the characters, particularly the protagonist. Oftentimes the reason why I cannot get into a particular show, like Lost, Walking Dead or Once Upon a Time is because I just don't like anyone in the cast. For the die hard fans, I know this is hard to believe, but I am sure we can all name shows, books, and movies that we didn't like because we just couldn't connect with the main characters. For example, I am not an anthropomorphized animal person. I have always disliked books in which the main character is furry. I loathe the ones where they talk. There are rarely exceptions, but if I like the story it is despite the talking animals and I am prone to not pick up books in which there are animals with the power of speech. The insertion of talking animals in the middle of a book may cause me to put it down. I also don't like rooting for the bad guy. He/She can be mysterious, jealous, passive, frustrating, and altogether too human, but I really don't enjoy being in the head of a serial killer or a sadist. I don't like to be torn about whether or not to like a character. I want to love them. That's why I am reading. If you create a really good character I am willing to read book after book about them.

4. Slogging Through the Book
Sometimes a book is neither good nor bad. It is just taking me forever to get through. I am not excited about reading it. Nothing about the book is beckoning me to return. It comes with me to work and then I end up reading news articles on my phone rather than reading the book I brought with me. Eventually, I end up stopping or skipping. Yes, you read that right, something akin to a fast-forward button for a book. I'll skip ahead and see if anything really interesting happens and go from there. I have been known to read the end of a book just to see how it ends and then be done with it, having skipped most of the middle. I will reiterate that I never review these books because this would be entirely unfair to the author. I am reading a book now that I am 2/3 of the way through and nothing about it makes me want to keep reading, so I am at the point where I am tempted to just skip to the end and be done with it.

5. Badly Written
I know people who say that they get free e-books from Amazon or wherever and even though some of them are terribly written, they read it anyway. I cannot do this. This could be the result of having a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing as well as an MFA in Children's Writing, but I just can't read a badly written book. That's like sitting for hours while someone runs their nails on a chalkboard. I cannot read an entire novel where the author doesn't know the difference between passive and active voice, or the tense keeps shifting, or all the characters sound exactly the same, to the point where you wouldn't actually know who is speaking if there weren't dialogue tags. How some of you do it, I don't know. What I do know is this, there are so many extraordinary books out there, by authors who are both talented and have honed their craft, that anything less is a waste of my very precious time. There are so many books out there that I want to read, so many that I will never get to. Those are the ones that are worth my time.