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

Advertisements

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

All I Want For Christmas by Rachel Bright Book Review – 4.5 Stars @Rachel_Bright2

All I Want

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, filed down to a normal size.  We all want different things on the 25th December; some ask for world peace, whilst others ask for something more achievable like a Tamagotchi.  Whatever you want, is it really the true meaning of the season?  ‘‘All I Want For Christmas’’ by Rachel Bright is a nice reminder that the real reason for Chrimbo is not gift giving, but the opportunity to spend time with loved ones.

There is a lot that needs to be done before Christmas Day.  There are gifts to be bought, decorations to set, baking to do.  In fact, the run up needs a lot of work.  Two penguins decide to do the preparations together and learn that just spending some time together is the best gift of all.

Children’s books will often try and pluck the heartstrings.  Not of the child, but the adult.  When done cynically, these books are often appealing to the parent, but the child is left bored.  The best type of tearjerker is one that entertains both parties and ‘‘All I Want’’ is certainly one of these.  The book is deceptively simple.  A parent penguin and a child penguin getting ready for Christmas.  A lot of the activities they undertake may be in the penguin world, but will be instantly recognisable to any parent.

It is here that Bright makes the book such a triumph; the activities are recognisable, but also fun.  Children love to help put up the Christmas Tree or help wrap the presents.  Behind all these activities is the hidden message that being together is what is important.  Bright brings to the book her usual art style that is great fun.  The penguins are cute, but certainly funny looking.  There is also a nice double spread towards the end that is packed with loads of different things that the penguins get up to.  This page is not only nice to look at, but also a good way of giving you ideas.

Throughout the book there is a slow build up to Christmas Day, but also the final pages that give you the true meaning of Christmas.  Kids will love the excitement of seeing the penguins getting ready and the adults will get a lot out of the story’s finale.  You get the warm feeling of sharing a book that is all about sharing experiences with your child, but with the colourful characters and fun of Christmas throughout, this is a book that will also appeal to children.  A win-win book.    Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

4.5 Stars

The Woolies: Follow the Footprints and Pirate’s Ahoy by Jon Stuart and Kelly McKain Book Review – 3 Stars

Woollies

If you go down to the park today, you are sure for a big surprise, not because there Wombles are there; a new troop are in town and they happen to be made of wool.  The Woollies are a quartet of woollen pals who appear to sleep rough in a park.  Here they partake in adventures, usually when Baby Woolly happens to come across something.  In the case of ‘Pirate’s Ahoy’, Baby decides it would be a great idea to just wander from the group and start a pirate adventure.  Once the others wake they discover Baby gone and like any thoughtful unit, panic.  This results in their own misadventure, only for Captain Baby Woolly to save the day.

The Woollies books have a lot going for them and this is mostly down to Jon Stuart’s art style.  He blends realistic backgrounds with Woollen characters at the fore.  The characters have a slight CGI look to them, but are clearly made from wool.  The bright colours and use of the wider park environment means that there is plenty on offer to excite a youngster.

Where this book falls flat is in the story itself.  Like in ‘Follow the Footsteps’, ‘Pirates’ is a linear narrative that just feels like something happening to some characters.  There is little innovation or humour.  A child may not mind this, but it does make the book a little like a chore for an adult helping to read the book.  Kelly McKain would have been better adding more lines like her ‘imagi-knit!’ catchphrase.  This is amusing and sparks some excitement, until we plod back onto the same linear path.  The Woollies appears to be a series that is going to look great, but read averagely.

3 Stars

In the case of ‘Follow the Footprints’, Baby and Zip find some footprints and decide to investigate, but not before knitting their own novelty footwear so that they can leave prints.  This later startles Puzzle and Bling, have their friends been kidnapped by monsters?

‘Footprints’ is a fun book for 3-5 year olds that blends realistic backgrounds with woollen characters.  The premise of following steps proved very popular with my toddler and the book was asked for several times in a row.  As an adult, the book does not have that much to capture the attention.  The story as it is proves to be very linear and feels more like some stuff happening to some people.  The best children’s books are able to do more than this.

Whilst Kelly McKain’s writing may prove a little lacking, Jon Stuart’s art style saves the book.  This is a very colourful outing with bold imagery, it really captures the imagination.  There is enough in the visuals to draw a child back, just don’t be surprised if you are a little reluctant yourself to have to help read it again.

3 Stars