Picture Book Review: “Circus is Fun for Everyone”

Author: Anetta Kotowicz
Illustrator: Nina Ezhik
Publisher: ArtsKindred (2019)
Age Range: 4 and up

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Circus Is Fun For Everyone, from the interdisciplinary A Day In The Life Of A Kid favorite children’s picture book collection, draws the readers into the magnificent world of children’s imagination and acrobatic performances.

Ellie, the elephant, invites you to his favorite show, where cirque’s performers mimic and are applauded by children’s favorite animals like squirrels, hedgehogs, parrots, snakes, giraffe, monkeys, bears, rhinoceros, etc.

But what happens when someone starts to be unkind to others? Join Ellie and his friend to find out, and to create the best of the best circus show!

My Review

So let me just start out by saying the illustrations in “Circus is Fun for Everyone” are spectacular! So bold and bright, dramatic and engaging, these pictures will reach out and grab you, they are absolutely perfect for the colorful world that is a circus!

I love the overall goal of the book. The storyline sends several good messages about encouraging each other, being a good friend, standing up to bullies and not accepting bullying behavior in general.  This imaginary circus portrays a friendly attitude toward the animals that delivers a positive message about being kind to animals, something that doesn’t ring true with a real circus.

I would like to have seen a tighter storyline. I do love picture books that rhyme but it’s so hard to get the meter just right. Parts of the story I had to read twice to get the rhythm right in my head. This doesn’t necessarily take away from the overall intention of the message, it’s a personal preference.

I easily give “Circus is Fun for Everyone” a four-star rating. It’s an interactive book full of fun things to learn about, there are songs to sing and “no-bullying” signs to make. It’s quite simply a stunning presentation kids will want to revisit often.

About the Author and Illustrator

Learn more about the author – Anetta Kotowicz and illustrator – Nina Ezhik here: https://www.artskindred.com/contributors

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from the author in exchange for an honest review. I’m reading my way through 500 picture books. Need a picture book review? Contact me!

Picture Book Review: “Sweety”

Sweety is the sweetest naked mole rat who knows who she is and what she likes. The only problem is, everyone, including her grandma thinks she’s a square peg. Even though Sweety isn’t quite sure what that means, she’s starting to understand it’s because she’s different.

Picture Book Review: “Summer Song: A Day in the Life of a Kid”

“Summer Song” packs a ton of non-stop entertainment into a delightful interactive adventure. The joyful story takes readers through a day of summertime fun, encouraging kids to get outside and explore all the wonderful sights and sounds of summer.

Picture Book Review – “P is for Pterodactyl”

P is for Pterodactyl picture book cover.

P is for Pterodactyl
Author: Raj Haldar & Chris Carpenter
Illustrator: Maria Tina Beddia
Publisher: Sourcebook Jabberwocky (2018)
Age Range: 4-8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3

Amazon Synopsis:
P is for Pterodactyl. This whimsical, funky book from Raj Haldar (aka rapper Lushlife) turns the traditional idea of an alphabet book on its head, poking fun at the most mischievous words in the English language and demonstrating how to pronounce them. Fun and informative for word nerds of all ages!

My Review: Alphabet books from “back in the day.”

I remember writing an alphabet book in the first grade.  My favorite teacher, Ms. Cinella, hosted an after-school activities class for those interested in writing their own book. I can picture it clearly in my mind.  Bound with staples and cardboard, decorated with our own handiwork, to us first-graders, these were products of beauty.  My book was an alphabet book, back when the concept was simple – name things beginning with each letter.  And so it goes: A is for Apple, B is for Banana, C is for Cat, D is for Dog, etc.

While the basic A is for Apple books are still in demand for toddlers, these days you have to tell a story along the way. And there are some amazing alphabet book “stories” out there. 

Love the concept

I fell in love with the concept of this book as soon as I saw it and purchased it immediately! The subtitles hooked it for me: “The WORST Alphabet Book Ever.  All the letters that misbehave and make words nearly impossible to pronounce.” Seriously, I first thought, “Why hasn’t someone come up with this sooner?” Followed immediately by my second thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

I mean, it’s a number one bestseller by a celebrity (rap star), and rappers are generally good with words and rhyme and clever text so I feel like this book will do well because of WHO wrote it. 

But, does it hold up to the hype?

As to the actual story, it feels a bit flat to me and I have to admit I am a bit disappointed. Now, don’t get me wrong – parts of it are “spot-on,” as shown in the title, “P is for Pterodactyl.” A couple of other good examples include “T is for Tsunami,” and “K is for Knight.”

Then there are the letters that inevitably do not cooperate, and the author really has to get creative.  Take the letter F for example – he states, “F is not for photo, phlegm, phooey or phone.” This is confusing for readers – are we talking about the letter F or the letter P? There are a few other instances like this, and it put me off as a reader.

An alphabet book for kids or adults?

The recommended age group in Amazon is 4-8 years old but I would recommend ages 8 and up.  I really don’t think the younger crowd is going to identify with words the concept that some words don’t sound like they are spelled.

About the Author

Raj Haldar is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestselling picture book, ‘P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever.’ But, for close to a decade, the Philadelphia based rapper, producer, and multi-instrumentalist has been better known for his critically-praised music under the moniker Lushlife.

His work has been featured by The Washington Post, Interview Magazine, VICE, Pitchfork, Village Voice, Mental Floss, BBC, SPIN and more.

Review Copy

I purchased this book from Amazon.com.

Becoming a Picture Book Scholar

Lately, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about the craft of writing picture books in the hopes of becoming a picture book scholar! There is so much information available to new authors.  While I have to thank those that take the time to share their experiences with newbies, like me, it can get overwhelming.  What are your favorite craft books about writing picture books?

Learning from those who’ve gone before us.

I’m currently reading “Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul and I’m about 1/3 of the way through. It’s REALLY good – an actual step-by-step process for writing your picture book.  The author recommends following the steps through the book in real time, as you are writing your book. Of course, never one to completely follow directions, I’m reading it cover to cover and will then go back and work my way through the steps.  I like to see the big picture first.

The first chapter is titled, “Becoming a Picture Book Scholar,” hence the subject of this week’s blog post. The very first sentence in the chapter sets the tone of the author’s matter-of-fact, straightforward manner.  She says, “Having had your appendix out doesn’t qualify you to perform an appendectomy, so why should having seen picture books as a child qualify you to write one?” Touché.  I love it!

Photo by Wokandapix from Canva

So how do we become a picture book scholar?

Of course the author recommends, reading, reading, and more reading, and I am more than happy to comply.  This advice also inspired me to start this blog so I could write picture book reviews while learning the craft. As I study each new book, I am amazed at the creativity and in awe of the number of wonderful stories there are available in picture book format. It is so inspiring!

Following are a few of my takeaways on some of the topics covered in the first chapter of “Writing Picture Books.”

Everything is a New Adventure

Children create an adventure out of anything and everything. They are curious, full of wonder, open to trying new things. They see things from a different perspective. Imagine for a day that everything is new. If you have a hard time imagining something as new, seek out something that IS new to you. Research a topic you’ve always wanted to learn about or a place you’ve always wanted to visit. How do you feel when tackling something new? Do you treat it like a new adventure or are you more reserved and cautious? Try to look through a different lens and return to the natural wonder and curiosity of a child.  It will change your whole attitude.

It IS a big deal.

As a child, everything matters.  Everything is important.  Children care deeply about everything. Your little guy may have a t-shirt he wants to wear every single day.  It’s his favorite. It matters. As an adult, we know it needs to be washed, but this will come at no small price to him.  He feels strongly about wearing that t-shirt. Think about something that matters deeply to you.  Multiply that times “everything matters” and write with those emotions.

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies.

Ann Whitford Paul recommends printing a sign or writing a sticky note and putting it where you work and will see it while you are writing that says, “CHILDHOOD IS NOT ALL SILLY AND JOYFUL.” As parents, we sometimes like to shield our children from all things unhappy, but that is doing them a disservice. I do love a good happy story, who doesn’t? But, the reality is we learn about life through our challenges. What we can do as responsible adults is to be thoughtful while remaining realistic when introducing tough topics to our kids by teaching through compassion and empathy.

Becoming a Picture Book Scholar

There’s a lot to learn on the road to becoming a picture book scholar.  I think the biggest takeaway I have from reading the first chapter of “Writing Picture Books” is to call on your inner child.  Treat everything like a new adventure, imagine it IS a big deal and everything matters and is important. Tapping into the essence of your child-likeness could very well inspire your next picture book.

For more information

NOTE: I purchased my copy of this book from Amazon. This is not a book review, though I do highly recommend it for whatever stage you are at on your writing journey. You can purchase “Writing Picture Books” on Amazon and through the links on the pictures below. I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small compensation for purchases made through the links on my website. Full disclosure notice here.

I am reading the first edition, located here.

There is also a revised, expanded version, available here.

Picture Book Review: Fall Ball

Author: Peter McCarty
Illustrator: Peter McCarty
ISBN: 9780805092530
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Age Range: 4-8
Grade Level: Preschool – 3

Amazon Synopsis

In “Fall Ball” Bobby and his friends wait all day for school to end and for their chance to play outdoors in the fall weather. Flying leaves, swirling colors, and crisp air make the perfect setting for a game of football with Sparky the dog.

The kids are surprised by how quickly it gets dark, and even more surprised when it begins to snow. But there’s no need to worry―the chilly nights ahead will mean watching football on the couch with family, tucked under a cozy blanket.

My Review of Fall Ball

The Illustrations

Initially, the illustrations on the cover of Fall Ball first called me to this book, with the color scheme being the deciding factor. The dominant sepia theme sprinkled with subdued reds, blues and grayish tones create a crisp autumnesque environment. Then the kids faces took hold of me. The caricatures make for a delightful group of kids like none I’ve ever seen before. With simple facial features and hair that seems to stand as if permanently blown by the wind, these kids often made me laugh out loud. Happy, surprised, excited – the faces remain the same and yet you somehow just know what they are thinking.

The Story

As Fall Ball unfolds, young listeners and early readers experience the joys of getting out of school and going home to play with friends before it gets too dark outside.  This reminded me of a simpler time, when kids had a bit more freedom to roam around the neighborhood without worry.  I’m not sure today’s kids will “get” that part, but I enjoyed the recall. When a feisty dog steals the football and heads towards a great pile of leaves, you can imagine and almost hear the kids squeals as they chase after their coveted ball and the laughs when everyone lands in the leaves.

Overall, Fall Ball is a charming story with captivating illustrations that will create a lot of excitement for a young audience.

About the Author

PETER MCCARTY is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including Fabian Escapes, Moon Plane, and T Is for Terrible, as well as Hondo & Fabian, a Caldecott Honor Book. He lives with his family in upstate New York.

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

Picture Book Review: “Meeow and the Blue Table”

Meeow and the Blue Table
Author: Sebastien Braun
ISBN: 9781907152153
Publisher: Boxer Books
Age Range: 2-4
Grade Level: Preschool
Amazon Synopsis: Meeow, the irresistibly clever cat created by bestselling author-illustrator Sebastien Braun, is back and ready to play! Like every young child, Meeow loves to make things. So what will he do with a blue table, a red blanket, and lots of wooden blocks? Why, turn them into an amazing castle, of course! Meeow’s friends Quack, Moo, Baa, and Woof are delighted–and young readers will be enchanted, too. What will Meeow inspire THEM to do?

My thoughts

Meeow and the Blue Table encourages creativity and imagination, as opposed to spending a rainy day in front of the television and/or on electronic tablets! With just a few arts and crafts materials, the friends are all set for a fun day – rain or not! The emphasis on free-play and using your imagination is so important at this young age.

This is a perfect book for toddlers who will enjoy the brightly colored illustrations, and the storyline encourages participation. I loved how every animal has his/her own part – duck makes a paper hat and a bow, Lamb makes a shield and a dragon, Dog makes a helmet and a sword, and Cow makes a hat and cape.  Using toys and comfort items from around the house (blankies and building blocks) the friends create their very own castle and kingdom.

Meeow and the Blue Table is a simple, creative tale that will inspire many playtime adventures for kids – adults will recall fond playtime memories of their own. Perfect left-brain motivation!

About the Author:

Sebastien Braun studied fine arts in Strasbourg, France. His first two books, I Love My Mummy and I Love My Daddy (Boxer Books, 2005), have been hugely successful all over the world. Since then, Sebastien has gone on to create many more books for children. He lives in Gloucestershire with his wife and two young sons.

Note: I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

Next Gen Authors – Encouraging Kids to Write!

If I had to choose one thing I enjoy most about my day job, it would be reading the book reviews written by the kids reviewing our children’s books at Reader Views Kids. Kids see and absorb everything, noticing details using all of the five senses.  Things that, as adults we have learned to tune out or take for granted.  Seriously, who does ‘show versus tell’ better than kids? And what better way of encouraging kids to write than by starting with writing about books?

Fresh perspectives.

Not only that, but there is a fresh, honest tone in the writing – if there is something in a book that doesn’t appeal to a young reader, it will be voiced! I get a bit reflective when I read things written by children, first looking back to my own childhood and my love for books, and later, passing it down to my son.   When he was younger he loved to write poems and short stories and we even submitted some of his work, at least a couple articles of which were published. He’s now a high school English teacher, sharing his own wisdom and passion for words with the youth of today. Perhaps there’s even a Great American Novel in his future!

Today, with publishing being more accessible than ever, there are many kids developing their craft, becoming illustrators, authors and co-authors with their parents!  Does your child have curiosity for everything around them?  Does she have a love for books? Is he a natural story teller? Here are some things you can do right now to support and encourage that passion:

Support and encouragement

  • Read to your children every day! It not only cultivates a good habit, it enriches and stimulates young minds. While reading, be sure to let them ask questions, and also ask them what they think – about the story, characters, pictures, etc. This helps develop the ability to express opinions and with self-discovery as they learn more about their likes and dislikes.
  • Find book clubs, reading circles and publications, either online or locally, where kids can network to find other kids involved in reading and writing. The local library is a great place to start!
  • Look for publishing opportunities. There are plenty of companies that publish kid’s works, such as Highlights, StoneSoup and Cricket Magazine.  Be sure to also check out writing contests, online sources and even the school newsletter.

There are so many benefits to encouraging kids to write. And, writing and reading go hand in hand so keep your children reading, encourage their creativity, and submit some of their work. 

Note: This article was originally published on www.readerviews.com.

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