Book Review: Islandborn


As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

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.


Book Review: Jerome by Heart


As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

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.

Book Review: Hello Lighthouse


As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

Hello, Lighthouse has been my favorite ALA pick thus far, even though the lighthouse is the main character; if the author would’ve developed the unnamed characters a little more, Hello would’ve been a superb book.  The illustrations were so lovely (I love that the book was tall–like a lighthouse) and the details about a lighthouse keeper’s life so interesting, the lack of character development didn’t matter (too much).  

The idea of lighthouse keeping jobs being done away with through automation could’ve been stressed a little more–even going so far as to show how much safer life is with dangerous jobs being automated.

Showing what it was like growing up in a lighthouse would’ve been something children would’ve related to more; I was curious as there was nowhere for the child to play outside–the island that the lighthouse stood on was just a pile of rocks.  

I was impressed that the author conducted so much research for a fictionalized book (much less for children) on lighthouses; it shows in the pictures especially.  However, there was so much more information in the “About Lighthouses” section printed on the back cover–delightful details that many children will miss because they’re only going to know what was included in the story itself, such as lighthouse keepers needing assistants to play checkers with to help share the night watch and what kind of information was recorded in the logbook.  

Details like the lighthouse keeper sending handwritten messages in a bottle was a nice touch–a little more of that and less of the “Hello, hello, hello,” refrains would’ve been great.  The book reads much better without those the latter as they disrupted the flow of the narrative.

The “circle of life” when the wife was expecting was cute (even though I had to turn the book around to read it); other details like certain scenes being viewed inside the lens of the telescope added interest (but not busyness).  However, the page that was folded into the book was extraneous.

Being a dollhouse lover, I loved the cross-section of the lighthouse, being able to see all the rooms; intricacies such as that, as well as the sense of time passing with the changing of the seasons and the little girl growing up, brought this book to life.

This book and the author’s passion for lighthouses made me want to visit one; I even googled what old logbooks looked like (which, by the way, are boring).

This one’s a keeper!

Suggested activity:  If there’s a lighthouse in your area, visit it.  If there isn’t (and even if there is), you can buy a “logbook” (i.e. journal) and show your child how to keep a record of things that are of interest to them.  Make it as simple or as complex (depending on your child’s age) as you wish. Depending on your child’s age, write for them or use this form of journaling to practice their writing (or drawing) but always include the time and date (this is a great way to teach them how to read and understand a clock and calendar) with each entry.  This activity is to just get them writing, documenting, and learning how to remember things by doing so.

Book Review: The Day You Begin

The Day You Begin

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

I liked the message this book was trying to convey–that we can be friends with those who are different and find common ground (regardless of what ground we were born in) and build on that.

However, the stronger (but subtler) message was that reading takes you places that you can’t afford to go to “…reading books and telling stories–even though we were right on our block–it was like we got to go everywhere” (I added punctuation for clarification).

The other lesson was that it was the gift of oral storytelling, of connecting with others, that helped Angelina connect with her classmates so that they would listen long enough to hear that she shared commonalities (though it is intimated that one has to first find common ground before being able to establish any sort of connection rather than just appreciating one another at the onset, despite their differences).  

Ultimately, it seemed that Angelina only connected (at least on a one-on-one basis) with the child whose ethnic heritage most closely mirrored her own.  What if she was the only Hispanic child in the class?

The constant shift in point-of-view didn’t connect me with any of the children who were more representations of different ethnic groups than unique characters who happened to be Hispanic, Asian, et cetera.  The author was trying to fit too many ethnicities into the first-person slot, and it just didn’t work. It’s all the difference between a hard news article and a human interest story.

That said, the illustrations were colorful, the faces expressive, and the surroundings downright whimsical–like double exposures of portraits and landscapes.  More imagery could’ve been built into the illustrations but they were well done and interesting with sharp lines, bold colors, and a profusion of patterns. I liked a ruler being used for a table and wished the author would have done more with pre-existing patterns (e.g. sheet music, chalkboards, etc).  

The Day You Begin is definitely worth a second look!

Suggested activity:  Grab a children’s book that has a unique setting (showing that books can take you to places you’ve never been and to those you can only imagine) and draw a map of that setting.  Even this book would work; just draw a map of the school with the cafeteria and the playground surrounding it. There are many ways you can go with this geographical activity: mind maps, treasure maps, even Google maps!

Book Review: Good Rosie!

Good rosie

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

When I opened this book and saw that it was it in comic strip form, I had my reservations; what’s more, the book is separated into chapters which was unnecessary–especially since each page is already broken up into panels.

Good Rosie! is about dogs meeting in the park.  That’s it.  

The illustrations were better than I could do, but I’ll stick to the Clifford the Big Red Dog series; even without a speaking part, Clifford has way more personality.  With the exception of the number of words on the page, Rosie reads like a Dick and Jane reader–text not necessarily meant to be interesting but to teach children to learn to read.

The author tries to be cute with Fifi (what I call a little “frou-frou” dog), but the humor falls flat–none of the dogs are interesting, especially the main one, Rosie, and that’s the smooch of death.  It’s all very Point A to Point B, checklist-type writing, with Maurice being the big dog with the deep voice, Fifi, the little dog with the high voice, and milquetoast Rosie being the happy/moderate/boring happy mid-sized dog.

This book tries to be about dogs making friends with other dogs, which, according to Rosie, if you want to make a friend, all you have to do is ask.  That’s it. Nothing about how to actually be a friend. 

I generally read children’s books more than once, but this was such a chore to get through, I didn’t wish to revisit it; likewise, my daughter showed no interest.  In fact, I disliked the illustrations so much, I had a tough time coming up with a suggested activity (for once, I will not be using an ALA book in conjunction with an activity).  

On that note, I suggest reading Clifford Goes to Kindergarten by Malcolm Bridwell. 

Suggested activity:  In Clifford, the schoolchildren do several activities during the course of the day–such as answering questions using a yes or no board (I use flashcards).  You can blend this with a show-and-tell activity by asking your child yes or no questions pertaining to the toy, book, or object they’ve picked out (sort of an early version of true and false).  If you’ve ever seen the classic game show, “What’s My Line?” (e.g. “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”), that will give you a better idea on how to conduct this activity.


#Fiction Friday: #Novelines from the Book


Ethics came from man,
morals from God.
One set of rules changed as humans progressed,
but the other had been written in stone by the finger of the Lord.

The only 2 lovers I would ever have
would become my husbands;
the other 2 men in my life
would be lifelong friends–
the former, my brother,
the latter,
my confessor.

The Mormons liked to lay claim
to any celebrity as being one of them–
as if they were a piece of uranium.
They wore the cloak of victimhood,
of perceived persecution,
like the robe of royalty.
They saw themselves as “The Other”.
They wanted the world to liken them to the Jews,
the Irish,
the Africans,
but they were no more persecuted than any other Christian;
they may have been told to “Go to hell,”
but no one in the Deep South had ever threatened to send them there.
It wasn’t persecution to have been driven out of a territory
when you were breaking the laws of the land
by marrying numerous women.
That’s what affairs were for.

My virginity would make me worthy
of a returned missionary,
my motherhood, of eternal life.
Sainthood would be mine.

David loved the natural world,
just as Mother & Caitlin loved the spiritual,
except that Caitlin’s was through the prism of Catholicism
& Mother’s, Mormonism.
I was caught somewhere between the 2,
for I could not imagine a world more beautiful than the one we lived in.
The only reason our world wasn’t so was because of man,
who’d been given dominion over all earthly creations,
unlike God,
who had dominion over the heavenly ones.

Book Review: Black Bird, Yellow Sun

Black bird

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

Black Bird, Yellow Sun, is like a poor-man’s Eric Carle. This is down there with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which is one of the worst kids books ever–in words and pictures. I try to keep in mind that I can’t expect (nor should I expect) a striking narrative for an early board book. However, the words are large and contain repetitions of blends (e.g. bl for black, sn for snake, etc)–great for early readers. That said, the illustrations are quite bad–the rocks don’t even look like rocks but gray blobs. The bird isn’t a character but rather, just some random bird who coexists with a worm (also random). If you don’t like this (and even if you do), I highly recommend Little Owl’s Day and Little Owl’s Night ( The Owl books are the charming, narrative versions of the stark bullet points of Black Bird.

BBYS is one of those books you’d give to your child to play with and look at but not add to your library where they might actually last for the grandchildren.

Suggested activity: Use this book as a scavenger hunt guide (i.e. have your child look for pink flowers, gray rocks, et cetera).