What Was I Scared of? by Dr Seuss Book Review

Scared of

All Hallows’ Eve is upon us once more and that can only mean that we are soon to be surrounded by all types of monsters, ghoulies and manifestations.  Fear not, as many of these unsettling creatures will actually be children dressed up on another adventure trick or treating.  But what about that pair of seemingly malevolent trousers that walk by themselves?  That is no child, but a pair of haunted kecks.  Run, run, run, but perhaps if you have them a friendly hello these pants may be nicer than you think?

On a dark night, as our hero travels along a long and lonesome road he passes the most oddest of all sights – a pair of disembodied trousers walking themselves.  Like any sane person, the hero runs off, but he keeps seeing the trousers.  There is only one solution for a situation like this, buck up the courage and go and say hello.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Dr Seuss always specialised in crazy flights of fancy, but the trousers in ‘‘What Was I Scared Off?’’ are actually amongst the most bizarre things he invented.  This is because this book is one of his most grounded pieces.  It is set in his usual Seussian world, with his usual Seussian prose, but the actual narrative is quite dark and spooky, with few twists.  This is certainly a Halloween type of book as our hero is a little terrified of what the trousers represent.  It is just very odd (and so like Dr Seuss) that the monster in his horror story should be phantom pants.

To reflect the darkness of the tale, this is one of Dr Seuss’ darkest illustrated books.  There are lots of greens and blacks; none of the bright colours you will be used to.  It has the effect of making this silly story a little bit unsettling.  Thankfully, the finale shows that you should not judge a pair of trousers by their coveralls.  What makes this particular special edition special is the glow in the dark technology.  Some of the white elements glow if you store some light into them.  To get the best of the effect you need to read the book in the dark though, which you can imagine if a challenge.  Therefore, the glow in the dark is a fun extra, but not that easy to use.

For fans of Dr Seuss, ‘‘What’’ is a curio.  The prose is as good as ever, but the story is a little too linear to be a real classic.  The narrative betrays the books roots as part of a collection.  As one of several spooky and short outings it would work brilliantly, on its own it feels a little like an anomaly.  But, what an anomaly.  Even when being a little too bizarre by his own odd standards, Dr Seuss books remain fantastic.

4 Stars

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Seconds Away by Harlan Coben Book Review – 2 Stars

Seconds Away

Selling books is not as lucrative a market as it once was, but one area that continues to do well is books for children.  This is possibly why authors known for their adult work have decided to try writing for tweens, with mixed success.  Harlan Coben has many a top selling crime thriller under his belt, even if they often might be the same book over and over again.  Surely he could take his tense time based fiction and adapt it for kids?

Micky Bolitar is the nephew of famed ex-basketball player turned agent/PI Myron, but even his uncle cannot help him when one of his friends at school dies.  The police seem to think that Micky may be in some way involved, so he must ask for the help of his pals Ema and Spoon to investigate once again.  Their investigation will lead to great dangers, but for some reason this bunch of random children still go back for more.

‘Seconds Away’ feels like a flashback to the days of the Hardy Boys, but with more danger.  Whilst the Hardy duo would find themselves in situations close to death, it always felt like mild peril and did not happen too often in one book.  Coben decides to go his own way and create a rather dark book that has his characters continuously close to dying.  At one point they even witness someone being shot in the head – this is not the teen fiction that I read as a youth.

With this in mind, it is a book aimed at the slightly older child who won’t mind a bit of action and a few scares.  The problem is that even they will find the characters a little jarring.  These are school children who don’t really need to get involved, but continue to do so.  On so many occasions they should just leave well alone, especially as the book starts with the death of one of their own.  Admittedly, a fiction novel about people not getting involved is not interesting, but Coben fails to make the scenarios believable enough that these kids would get involved.

‘Seconds’ is the type of book that feels like it is taking 12-14 year olds for granted – they don’t know better.  Personally, I think that the audience will be well aware that something is not right in this book.  Coben never earns the right to have so much violence and tension in the book.  It is just a set of empty headed children getting into empty headed situations.  The author should and can do better.

2 Stars

Oi Cat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field Book Review – 4.5 Stars @_JimField

Oi Cat

When did children’s books become so Meta?  Back in the day each Thomas the Tank Engine adventure was separate from the other as if they lived in their own episodic wildness, but not today.  In this world of Nintendo Switches and online platforms the average adult is too scared to venture onto, we have metaphysical children books.  Books that reflect back on previous outings in the series.  If you are going to get the most out of ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, you best know about your ‘‘Oi Frog!’’ and ‘‘Oi Dog!’’ too.

When we last left the creatures of ‘‘Oi Frog and Friends’’ world they perched precariously on a selection of odd items.  One unhappy customer of Frogs rhyming solution was Cat.  This feline found itself having to sit on gnats and that is not a comfortable place to be.  Therefore, Cat goes about looking for an alternative place to nestle, but Frog won’t let Cat off easily – you must follow the rules.

Both original outings by Kes Gray and Jim Field were examples of daft excellence.  ‘‘Frog’’ and ‘‘Dog’’ are basically books about rhyming animals with silly things.  The fun is in seeing Field’s illustrations as he shows a pony having to sit in macaroni etc.  Things are little different in ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, but there is a twist.  The rules that Frog makes everyone live by come to the fore. In this dictatorial landscape we find our hero, Cat.  The book plays a little on gentle questioning of authority, but really it is still an excuse to have a load of animals doing silly things.

The combination of Gray’s writing and Field’s illustrations work wonderfully once again, no matter what Gray fires at Field, he can draw it.  Fans of the series will love this outing as it is essentially more of the same, but delve a little deeper and it is playing with the lore of the world.  Not many children’s books create a universe in which the characters inhabit, but Gray has achieved it.  New readers to the books would be best tackling them in order as you will otherwise lose out on some of the in jokes and the bigger picture.  Fans should grab this with abandon, they will especially love the ending.

4.5 Stars

Knock Knock Pirate by Caryl Hart and Nick East Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Knock Knock Pirate

There are certain subject matters that seem to resonate well with the toddler demographic; dinosaurs, animals, pirates.  ‘Knock Knock Pirate’ by Caryl Hart and Nick East takes one of these big hitters and brings the pirates to the child.  When a child is visited by some pirates she is in for more than she bargained for as they confiscate her house and sail it away to look for treasure.  Can the child help the salty crew before they make her walk the plank?

‘Knock’ is a charming book that really plays up a child’s love of pirates.  If you know a child like this, then this book will have instant appeal.  It hits many a cliché and East’s illustrations really give the book a sense of fun and movement.  The pirates bring with them a sense of anarchy and many a mischievous kid will enjoy their antics.  There are so many things to look at on each page that a lot of entertainment is just had talking about what is going on and not really focussing on the narrative.

It is some of Hart’s choices that bring the book down from being a must have.  Within the book is a counting element, but it feels a little sporadic.  One minute you are counting up, then next the story is progressing.  It gives the story a slightly stilted feel and this is also seen in some of the rhymes.  They don’t all scan perfectly, so you find yourself stumbling over some of the words as the timing is slightly out.

There is enough contained within the illustrations and daft nature of the tale to entertain most children, but especially those that love the high seas.  With a little more finessing on the wordage front, it would have been one for all, as it is, stick to pirate loving children.

3.5 Stars

The Turkey That Voted For Christmas by Madeleine Cook and Samara Hardy Book Review – 2 Stars

Turkey Vote

Most right minded people have had enough of politics in recent years so the last thing that you want to read to your child is a book all about an election.  At least this election is set on a farm, but anyone familiar with a certain George Orwell novel will know that this does not always turn out for the best.  Surely a kid’s book is not going to reflect modern politics?  I mean, when have we recently seen turkeys voting for Christmas?

Every year Christmas comes and goes on Pear Tree Farm with nary a celebration because it is put to a vote.  With a sizable turkey population they always block vote against it, but this time a pugnacious turkey called Timmy has taken it upon himself to get the vote passed.  What can possible go wrong for a turkey at Christmas?  It is not like they are the mainstay of many a Christmas lunch.

‘‘The Turkey That Voted For Christmas’’ by Madeleine Cook and Samara Hardy is a book with a strong idea at its centre, but confusingly executed.  The premise requires the reader to know from the offset what the phrase turkey voting for Christmas means.  To most adults this is not a problem, but to a child could easily be confused.  On a basic level it means that the turkeys are voting to get themselves eaten.  At a deeper level it is whether the animals are aware of what they are voting for or not.  The book also lacks any real Christmas spirit, politics does not often instil a sense of goodwill to all men.

It appears that most turkeys are aware, but why did no one bothers to tell Timmy?  Ten seconds explaining what giblets are and the wonders of sage stuffing would soon have got him back on track.  However, for the book to work Cook had to ignore this obvious solution and instead have an ambivalent Timmy carrying on regardless.  To add tension to the book it appears that the farmer is ready to take Timmy to the chopping block.  Therefore, the reader assumes that things will turn out badly for the animal population, but there is a twist.  It is safe to say that nobody dies, but the turnaround in the book comes from nowhere.  I was left confused as to why a farmer would bother to raise these animals except for slaughter.

‘‘Turkey’’ is meant to come across as a cutesy look at politics, but it really just highlights some of the worst pig-headed elements of it and then when the party you want comes to power they don’t deliver what they promised anyway.  Thankfully Hardy’s illustrations are bright and colourful giving you some of the Christmas cheer back stolen from you by the story.  I can forgive a book for children being about politics, but children will just be confused with the concepts and the fact that the conclusion is a little jumbled.  Hidden within this book is a good idea, it just got lost – remind you of politics at all?

2 Stars

Star Trek: Honor Bound by Dina G Gallagher Book Review – 3 Stars

Honor Bound

Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through the Star Trek: Day of Honor books.  I have visited the original series, Voyager, Generations and DS9, but none took me to the place that ‘Honor Bound’ by Dina G Gallagher did; the Tween novel.  After every other book in the series was an ‘adult’ book, this one is set in a high school and even has images.

Puberty is hitting Alexander hard, he has all the usual worries of a teenager, but no one told him about the rage that comes with being a Klingon.  With the Federation and Klingon Empire back at war, he is not the most popular student in school.  When he is targeted by bullies, Alex finds it hard not to tear their arms out.  Enter Worf, can he teach his son to rise above petty issues and use his honour to stay calm?

As a novel for the 8-10 year old market I have no real reason to enjoy ‘Honor Bound’, but it works because it is one of the few books in the ‘Day of Honor’ series that actually remembers to be about honour.  Alexander is getting heavily bullied and rather than rising to it, he walks away.  This does not stop him being persecuted by the school and it is only the intervention of Worf that can save the day.  The solid centre of the book works; be honourable and things will work out.

This simplifies view of matters permeate the rest of the book and it does not work quite as well.  The relationships are very teeny; glances and crushes.  For the correct audience this should speak to them, but after five adult Honor books, it does feel a little odd.  Also, the gymnastics part of the book is just odd!

The important thing is though that the book works for an emerging reader.  The characters and plot is pedestrian, but simple enough to follow.  I found the images a little embarrassing, but they do break up the text if your attention span is a little light.  Despite the book being aimed at a younger audience and having a weird gymnastics subplot, I still found it entertaining enough as an adult.  It was pacy and importantly remembered the central message of honour throughout.

3 Stars

The First Egg Hunt by Adam Guillain,‎ Charlotte Guillain and Pippa Curnick Book Review – 3 Stars

First Egg Hunt

Many holiday seasons have more than one hero that tries to get attention.  Lots of people love Father Christmas, but what about the chap the holiday is named after?  At Easter who do you think of?  Christ again, or perhaps the Easter Bunny who I assume goes around handing out eggs?  We never really bothered with the chocolates in my house.  We should not forget the Easter Chick.  According to Adam Guillain,‎ Charlotte Guillain and Pippa Curnick the Bunny and the Chick work together to make Easter extra special for all the other animals, but only one appears to get the credit.

Throughout the year the Easter Bunny and Easter Chick spend countless hours manufacturing chocolate treats and planning their distribution.  However, when the big days comes, only Bunny gets the praise, the cars and the film deals. Poor old Chick is left with no congratulations, but if you think about it, what have eggs got to do with a rabbit?  Chick has had enough and he sets out to make a name for himself, but his endeavours may just lead to disaster, or perhaps a new tradition.

If you have a toddler you will be aware that their emotions run the gamut from joy to horror.  You really want to try and keep them in the happy spot as much as possible, not only for their wellbeing, but your own.  Therefore, many children’s books will be sunny and funny.  Some deal with emotions and can go a little dark, but will end on a high.  ‘The First Egg Hunt’ touches on selfishness and secrecy, but does not really acknowledge what they are, instead tries to keep it light.

In essence this is a tale of two pals that don’t communicate.  Bunny takes all the plaudits without acknowledging the hard work of his colleague, whilst Chick is probably even worse by duplicity trying to cut Bunny out of the Easter shenanigans without telling him.  You have two flawed creatures that are ultimately still rewarded at the end of the book, with little consequence for their selfishness or Machiavellian tactics.  In an adult book, this would be fine, but I would prefer both Bunny and Chick to have been taught a slightly harsher lesson, before getting success.

Perhaps this is looking a little deeply into what is a children’s picture book, but this genre is often made up of mini morality plays teaching our youth how to act.  You could leave ‘First Egg Hunt’ imagining that doing things for yourself will work out well for all.  As well as the Guillains’ story having a slightly iffy moral centre, the writing is also a little long.  The rhyming couplets work really well and the tempo bobs along, but the book feels stretched.  The amount of words are too much for the target audience.

The biggest success in the book is Curnick’s illustrations.  The forest and animals are colourful and vibrant.  As this is a book about hunting for eggs, there is a lot of fun to be had finding them in the picture.  The game of hide and seek in the pictures makes up for the stodgy story.  Overall, as a tale about Easter and as an alternative gift to a chocolate egg, this book works; I would just have liked the moral to be more pronounced so that it chimes with the 2-5 year olds more clearly.

3 Stars