Book Review: King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth

Kayla

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

This was a nice book but nothing special.  I like that it’s trying to get kids into mysteries, using their problem solving, critical thinking, and powers of deduction/process of elimination skills.  I also liked that it showed that if you want to solve a mystery, you have to “write stuff down”; Kayla and her friend Mason not only write down what they know but what they don’t know (an interesting concept).  However, if the solve had been more interesting than simply a case of overlooking something, I would’ve liked it a bit better.  

The story was told from the dog’s point-of-view, which was a good call; a children’s book should rarely be told from the parent’s point-of-view.  

But the idea of a communal/classroom tooth pillow seems rather unsanitary–is this a thing now?  

I didn’t like that this was divided into chapters because this is the kind of story that needs to be read in one sitting.  Use a bookmark if you want a stopping point. Teaching a child to use a bookmark (rather than folding down the corner of a page or turning the book over so that it puts pressure on the spine) is a good habit to instill early on.  Whenever I’m reviewing an adult book, I have multiple bookmarks handy, so I can refer back to certain passages.

The Case of the Lost Tooth is a paint-by-the-numbers book where the dots all look the same.  Kayla needed a more interesting personality, though King is all dog.  Captain Cat Obvious needed a bigger role, for he could’ve added a bit of spice to this overly sweet book.  The tooth fairy could’ve also joined in the search but maybe kids–just like with Santa Claus–aren’t supposed to see the tooth fairy.  However, the note under Kayla’s pillow was a nice touch.  

Using the dog’s best sleuthing tool–his nose–King and Kayla solved this non-mystery.  The moral of the story? Dig a little deeper–literally.

The illustrations were somewhat eighties (i.e. reminiscent of my childhood).  The lack of background/negative space made it very readable, though ultimately, the visuals fell flat, and the story wasn’t compelling enough to make me want to read the other installments.  This was too long for a read-aloud, but short and simple enough for early readers–a book my child would have to choose on her own for me to pick it up again.

Suggested activity:  There are lots of children’s books that talk about the tooth fairy.  However, if your child is old enough, you can also talk about how dogs help humans solve mysteries (e.g. find missing children–I would not get into finding corpses), help the blind navigate a seeing world, etc.   Here is a good listicle outlining all the ways dogs improve the lives of humans. https://www.petfriendly.ca/articles/how-dogs-help-people.php

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36928748-king-kayla-and-the-case-of-the-lost-tooth

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Book Review: Night Job

Night Job

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

Night Job is the touching story of a little boy who accompanies his dad to work the third shift, cleaning up a middle school on Friday nights.  The idea of “take your child to work day” is a cool concept–it’s good for children to see how hard their parents work to provide for them, though I was surprised that the dad was able to bring his son because of liability issues, but that’s another lesson for another age.

Books that highlight the special relationship between fathers and sons touch my heart, for it is from dads that boys learn how to be men, including how to treat women.  No mother is shown in this, so I assumed the dad was single. I also inferred that this little family is impoverished–from the dad’s vocation as a custodian, eating egg salad sandwiches, and living in what looked like an extended stay facility–but the author does a splendid job of showing that their poverty is only limited to material things, not in adventure or love.  

However, this book was much too short; we see the gymnasium, the cafeteria, and the library, but not the classrooms and not enough of the exhilarating ride on the motorcycle, capturing the city when it’s sleeping.  There weren’t enough background details in the book–I couldn’t make out the name of the middle school or the particulars of the newspaper they were reading (much more detail was given with the baseball game). Details such as these would’ve added interest to the pages; a few more sensory details (touch, taste, smell) would’ve made it shine like a full moon.

I didn’t care for the building sighing and the chair whispering, Come–it didn’t fit in with the rest of the story, which is very Point A to Point B in its storytelling style.  This was realism, not escapism. There is also some odd wording, such as “a ring of keys as big as the rising moon” (moons don’t rise) and “from stem to stern,” which is nautical terminology.  

On recursive readings, I realized there was no dialogue–just the little boy telling a story–but it worked.  There is no conversation between the dad and his son when they’re having lunch; though the fact that there was conversation is probably understood (i.e. they didn’t just sit in the courtyard eating in complete silence), it would’ve been nice to mention what they talked about (e.g. baseball, cafeteria food, etc.) 

Though the dad is often busy working, the boy is always with him, not wandering off by himself–shooting baskets in the gym, listening to the radio in the cafeteria (rather than half-watching a television), reading his dad a story before falling asleep in the library, and even pitching in by helping clean the hallway floors.  

I also liked that it showed them doing lots of reading–the boy with the books, the dad with the newspaper, and not vegging out in front of a TV after a long night’s work.  (It was also nice to see an apple core instead of a snack cake wrapper in the lunch box.) It doesn’t show the dad playing with his son but just being there for him and with him, which is what a lot of parenthood is actually like.  Kids like to entertain themselves more than adults realize.  

Other goodreads reviewers mentioned that the language was too advanced for the boy’s age, such as “dusky highway” and “rising swell of dreams”; I agree.  I love the imagery these words evoke, but it must fit the character. To make such language more believable, the author would’ve had to tell the story in the third-person, and it would’ve lost so much.

The illustrations aren’t beautiful, but they tell the story beautifully.  The fact that most of them are gray-hued to fit the nocturnal atmosphere makes them perfect.

Overall, Night Job is a sweet book about a simple life–a life a lot of kids could probably relate to.

Suggested activity:  If your job offers a “Take your Child to Work Day,” take them up on it.  If this isn’t a possibility, find books about your profession or trade.  Even if your job is considered an “unskilled job,” reiterate to your child that all jobs are important and detail their purposes.  This will teach them to respect all those who put in an honest day’s work.  In relation to this book, tell them what the school would look like without someone to clean it.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38256476-night-job

Book Review: The Girl Before

28016509._UY1330_SS1330_

This book was absolutely unputdownable.  It also had a strange effect on me:  It put me into decluttering mode, bigtime, and I’m already a minimalist (which is not about having nothing but about having just the right amount).  The Girl Before made me think of all the clutter in my life, including the clutter inside my head as well as virtual clutter.  

The questionnaire scattered throughout was a novel idea (no pun intended)–a nice change from opening a chapter with a quote that someone else said.

Here is just a glimpse of the great writing in The Girl Before (p. 170):  Sometimes I have a sense that this house–our relationship in it, with it, with each other–is like a palimpsest or a pentimento, that however much we try to overpaint Emma Matthews, she keeps tiptoeing back; a faint image, an enigmatic smile, stealing its way into the corner of the frame.

Any book that gets me to learn a new word must have something going for it.  

I found it interesting that there were no quotation marks in Emma’s story, and even more surprising that it look me halfway through the book to notice this.  Is this a UK thing? I remember reading Harlequin Presents (a long time ago, so don’t judge) when apostrophes were used instead of quotations.  I am curious what the symbolism was concerning this.

Edward Monkford (what a pretentious name) evokes an image of Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead; other goodreads reviewers have said Christian Grey (I’ve seen the movies but never read the books and don’t care to).  His crazy house rules were fascinating–like the technology that controlled the house was fascinating. The concept that a house can change the way you live–actually help you live a better life–was fascinating, but Monkford himself was not.  He was a pig–just a well-spoken, better-dressed, affluent pig. (I guess you really can put lipstick on a pig, if you got enough to smear it with.)  

The women, Emma (THEN) and Jane (NOW), are both incredibly stupid because they think with their sex and not their brains.  Emma seemed like a closet hoarder who called her paramour “Daddy” (ew) and liked angry sex (even when the anger was directed at her).  She was a freak (yet we are told that she has charm). 

Compared to her, Jane was milquetoast.

Even though the women were not portrayed positively, it’s fairly realistic as a lot of women choose to have babies with losers (because they don’t need a man and think their sons and daughters don’t need a father).  Sometimes, they even marry these losers and put them above their children. It’s incredible how many male inmates (who are in prison for murdering women) get fan letters from women–women they’ve never even met.  

I never knew whether Emma’s last story was for real but it doesn’t matter.  THEN & NOW were both enjoyable.

But, back to Monkford:  A lot of women like egotistical, controlling men because they see it as take-charge masculinity.  Monkford is one of those ruthless corporate types who is also a temperamental artist (an explosive combination) who would blow up a perfectly decent development that would provide affordable housing to families if it had his name on it, but there was something about the aesthetics (just like the idealistic, anti-hero Roark) that didn’t align with his vision.  Furthermore, Monkford uses women until he uses them up (after all, he finds them so easily). He is incapable of love, for he can’t even love his own, imperfect kin. He likes his women damaged (and in the beginning anew stage), so he can turn them into blank canvases he can manipulate. His structures may be beautiful, but I didn’t get the impression they were very green.  All that extra, empty space has to be heated and cooled.

Monkford was such a commanding presence in the book that the other male characters barely registered.

The ending was weak, but the journey was so intriguing, the destination didn’t matter (it just knocked off a star).  It had the mysterious feel of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which I appreciated, but the nightshades of Gone Girl came out of the blue, for there was a turn in one of the character’s motives that wasn’t led up to or hinted at in any way.  I understand the author doesn’t want the reader to figure out everything too soon–in case the reader loses interest, but if the writing’s good, your reader won’t; a well-written story always trumps a twist ending.  What’s more, when the true villain is revealed, it’s anticlimactic, for it seemed I found out at the same time the author did.  

Jane could’ve used a little more to wrap up her story but then we’re introduced to Astrid, and the story stops (and, I’m sure, begins again there).  I did, however, like the tie-in to the title in the last part of her story. Nicely done!  

Besides being unputdownable, The Girl Before has immense readability.  

One gripe that has nothing to do with the book:  I don’t like authors going by different names.  What is the point of this? Are they not allowed to cross genres with the same name?  There is another author who does this, and I find it irritating.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28016509-the-girl-before

Book Review: Lena’s Shoes are Nervous

Lena

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

I did not have strong feelings about this book either way, but once was enough, as I was a bit confused by the premise–Lena wasn’t nervous about school but her shoes were, though only because the author tells us this; her dad cements the idea of “nervous shoes” by putting it in his daughter’s head.  Suddenly, all her clothes start taking on personalities of their own.  

Had the shoes been animated (they had as much personality as a sponge), this could’ve been a cute little coming-of-kindergarten-age story.

That business about her shoes not getting along with her dress–because her shoes splashed into a puddle and got it all muddy–didn’t make sense either.  Wouldn’t it be the dress who was pissed at the shoes rather than the other way around? And why is the headband such good friends with the shoes? Or better yet, why doesn’t she just wear a different dress–one that her shoes like? 

What’s more, how did Lena know the shoes were willing to be brave?  Did the shoes tell her this? Such is never shown/explained. I know I’m overthinking this, but I don’t think kids who are the target age for this book are going to get the idea of first-day kindergarten jitters projected onto inanimate objects.  Kids like stories that make them laugh or stories they can relate to. This story should’ve focused on Lena’s feelings, not imaginary shoe feelings.    

There was no mother in the picture, but a nuclear family doesn’t always have to be portrayed as this was as much about a father’s relationship with his daughter as it was about a child being nervous about her first day of kindergarten.  That said, I thought the dad was the mom at first because he said, “Oh, dear.” (That doesn’t sound like a phrase a man would say–I’ve, in fact, never heard a man say that.)

However, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea was showing Lena being afraid of the big dog only for the dog to lick her face; this book should’ve shown Lena being wary around strange dogs and avoiding letting any dog lick her face.  After all, they lick their butts.  

The illustrations were reminiscent of Syd Hoff’s style (e.g. Danny and the Dinosaur, Sammy the Seal, etc), but his drawings were livelier and more consistent.  In Shoes, we bounce around from close-ups to zoom outs (i.e. multiple scenes on a page) to what I would call standard; we also go from black-and-white with spot color to full color.  What I loved, however, was the fact that Lena’s bedroom had a little library (in a bookcase shaped like a dollhouse) as well as a telescope (but no TV); the fresh fruits and flowers in the kitchen were also a nice touch.  Little details like that show (rather than tell) that Lena’s home is a healthy, nurturing one.  

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous was not the best but certainly not the worst.

Suggested activity:  There are many activities you can do that have something to do with shoes, whether it’s reading The Wizard of Oz (it really was all about the shoes), play horseshoes, match certain shoes with certain activities (bowling shoes, ballet shoes, etc; I’ve done the same thing with different types of balls).  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36495841-lena-s-shoes-are-nervous

Book Review: Fox the Tiger

Foxy tiger

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019
 

Fox the Tiger is a collection of sweet, colored-pencil drawings accompanied with a simple message:  Admire traits in others while remembering that you have traits others admire.   

This book used four of my favorite animals in children’s literature:  foxes, turtles, rabbits, and squirrels, as well as two things my daughter loves:  race cars (she actually likes monster trucks but close enough) and robots.  

The squirrel at the end was sweet, though I would’ve liked a tiger (what the fox wished/pretended to be) to make an appearance and show his appreciation for one of the fox’s traits. However, it’s pretty cool that the squirrel saw the exact same qualities in the fox as the fox did in the tiger.

The repetition may seem tedious (and less fun than Dr. Seuss), but this is necessary for an “I Can Read” book; if there are different words on every page, such would make memorization difficult.  

My daughter enjoyed this one, and so did I, which is the Holy Grail of children’s books.  It’s like “The Dating Game” when a woman’s looks choice and personality choice belong to the same man.

A great choice for early readers!

Suggested activity:  My daughter loves robots, and you can build robots out of practically anything:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/154318724707880806.  There is a lot you can do with old cereal boxes, aluminum foil, and baby food jar lids.  Although it would be fun to build the real thing, if you’re on a budget, this is a great way to get your children interested in robotics, which blend technology and creativity.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36590352-fox-the-tiger

Book Review: Islandborn

Islandborn

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019

I wish these illustrations would’ve told a better story as they were as pretty as a, well, you know. More specificity would’ve improved this story–like instead of Lola telling us that her grandmother loved puzzles if she would’ve told us that she loved 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles of nuns and calico cats.

Generalities don’t make a story sparkle.

The metaphors on the first page about where the other kids came from were not done well–they were strangely written and evoked no imagery. For example, “…lived in a desert too hot even the cactus fainted” and “stony village at the tippy top of the world.” If you’re going to use language like “tippy top,” at least be consistent and use that kind of language in the other descriptions. Another oddity was Jhonathan being spelled as such–it looked like a typo. There was also the use of asides in parentheses, which I would try to avoid as they take one out of a story, only to throw you back in all discombobulated (and this is coming from someone who loves asides).

When the Superintendent, Mr. Mir, tells Lola that the island people found the monster’s weakness, I turned the page to find out what that weakness was, only for it to never be mentioned; this was a glaring omission. I figured the monster (that lorded it over Lola’s ancestors) was symbolic of some dictator, so it would make more sense that the monster would be in the form of a scary-looking dictator rather than a giant bat. What’s more, the island in Mr. Mir’s apartment isn’t quite shaped like the Dominican Republic (which many goodreads reviewers said was Lola’s birthplace)–a pretty significant detail.

There was an interesting bit of symbolism with Mr. Mir, referring to Lola’s grandmother as her grandma and not the Spanish form, abuela–indicating complete assimilation as he was vocal in saying that life was better in America; he saw the island for what it was while the others waxed romantically about it (except for one, who said, of all things, that it was as hot as “five bullies”), speaking more of the lingo and omitting any mention of the monster.

I loved that Lola recognized that she could learn from her elders (rather than just her teacher)–actively listening to them tell their stories rather than just googling for information (which she could’ve easily done).

She was an emotionally intelligent little girl.

A great question put forth by other goodreads readers was: If the people were able to defeat the monster, why did they still leave? I didn’t get the impression that Lola’s family or the people in her neighborhood ever went back and visited.

I also found it surprising that all the children in the class of nine were born outside the United States.

The author and illustrator using their childhood headshots was genius. I think kids would get a kick out of that because when you’re little, it’s hard to imagine any adult as having been a child at one time, much less your parents. I believe this made the creators (if kids even pay attention to that page) instantly relatable.

Islandborn was wordy for a picture book; if the story had flowed better and was more fun to read, I wouldn’t have minded the length. However, the author really needs to learn the FANBOYS rules as the lack of commas drove me bonkers. What’s more, the conclusion was very cliche with Lola’s story basically “leaping off the page.”

So, although the drawings/graphics were pretty, the story, ultimately, didn’t captivate me.

Suggested activity: Even if your child has lived where they’ve lived their whole lives, explore your local community. Whenever I’m snapping shots for a Shutterfly book, I often take my daughter with me and explain what I am taking pictures of–even if it’s just a new park that has something unusual. If your child was born elsewhere, have your friends, relatives, or neighbors (who came from the same city/country) tell them their origin stories. Even though I was an apt listener, I wish I remembered more of my grandparents’ stories. You can even help your child come up with a list of questions; asking great questions (i.e. interviewing) is a great skill to have, and they will learn a lot from doing it. If the subject is willing, audio record the interview.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35631757-islandborn

Book Review: Jerome by Heart

Jerome

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019

When I saw the cover, I was not excited to see what was inside because the illustration was terrible. Why is the city all coated in an orange dust like the post-apocalyptic world of WALL-E?

Though I know boys often hero-worship other boys who happen to be charismatic (not merely polite to their parents), it just came across as creepy.

Then there were these quotes:

“Dad’s voice is like sharp fish bones in my hot chocolate.”

“I forget my mom and dad.
I think only about Jerome.”

“From now on, every day is for Jerome.”

“…feel protected by Jerome’s two eyes.”

And how does Jerome hide his eyes in his shoelaces?

Raphael talks about how Jerome doesn’t play rough. Isn’t it normal for boys to roughhouse rather than hold hands? Girls hold hands, boys roughhouse.

His mom concedes that Jerome is charming, but that’s not good enough for Raphael; he’s upset that she doesn’t seem to notice how warm his smile is.

Raphael’s parents sounded like they were sick of hearing about Jerome (other goodreads reviewers mentioned that Jerome may have been imaginary, which I don’t doubt), probably because they believed their son was obsessed with him. Their son comes across as the kind of boy who, when he gets older, will kill his parents so he can be with Jerome.

This book was not a sweet story of friendship but of one boy consumed with another. Jerome has other friends but Raphael doesn’t seem to. A lot of children have best friends, but this took it to a whole new level.

I generally come up with a suggested, coordinating activity, but I never want to see this book again. I’ve tried finding an appropriate book on friendship between boys but so many of the books on friendship are about animals or use inanimate objects as the main characters, so I am open to suggestions.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36283196-jerome-by-heart