This is a follow-on from my previous blog post about being asked by a review service to change my reviews to remove any critical opinion. I’m posting them anyway, because honest reviews are useful to readers and writers, and it will give readers an idea of the kind of information the “unacceptable” reviews included.
I’m happy to recommend the books here in any case. They are all 3-4*s.
Mr Frumble’s Hat by Kitty Boyes
Mr Frumble has two problems. He is terribly lazy and also so bad-tempered that he can’t keep any of his staff. When his gardeners, cleaners and cook high-tail it out of his house to look for better jobs, he’s left to cater for himself. As time goes by, Mr Frumble’s house becomes dirtier and dirtier. His kitchen is a cutlery catastrophe. His bedroom is a mess of unclean clothes. His garden is overgrown and his swimming pool (lucky man) is a sludgy green puddle filled with algae. Somehow, Mr Frumble puts up with this for ages, ignoring the mouldering mess of his home and sharing his breakfast with mice. Then, one day, a strange little man turns up wearing an even stranger hat. He offers to sort things out, confident that he and his hat are to the job. But his methods are not like anything Mr Frumble has encountered before…
Mr Frumble’s Hat by Kitty Boyes is a fun fable with a clever ending (although the title gives that away. It features colourful, characterful illustrations by Harry Aveira and a good core message about taking responsibility for your own mess.
It isn’t quite a five-star book for a couple of reasons. Firstly there are some grammar errors here and there. Every book should be as close to perfect as possible, but this is even more vital in children’s books. Young readers are only just starting to understand sentence structure and every story they read will feed into that. They deserve the best blueprint available.
Secondly, though the inside illustrations are great, the one on the front cover doesn’t really do them justice.
Boyes might have an uphill struggle marketing her Frumble books, as the very established children’s author Richard Scarry used the name first. But this is still worth searching for. I’d recommend reading both! Overall, this is an entertaining book.
(Can’t find a purchase link, but info available here)
Yuni by Stephanie DiCarlo
Yuni spends her life growing in a field. She’s an ear of corn, soaking in the sunlight and quite happy, at first, to remain rooted in place. Then she hears two birds twittering about a mythical animal, a magical beast with a long horn and a mane of sparkling hair. This sounds like nonsense to Yuni, but it sparks her curiosity.
With a mighty effort, she springs free of her husk and goes in search of something huge, strange and maybe dangerous. Because Yuni knows she’s ripe and good to eat – and what it the unicorn munches her up? Yuni, written and illustrated by Stephanie DiCarlo, is a tale of adventure and funny little homonyms. Yuni the corn is in search of a unicorn.
Told in rhyming couplets, the adventure is short and sweet (and fortunately – pardon the mild spoilers – it ends well. It’s a book for little kids, what would you expect?). The rhymes don’t always scan, and the rhythms don’t always match up, which is a bit of a shame. When they do work, they work well and have the potential to gently introduce new words into the reader’s vocabulary (I like shrewder/elude her).
The art is simple, almost naïve – but there are plenty of successful children’s books that take this route (example: everything by Lauren Child). I’d scale back on some of the blank pages, though. The copy I received had a few which were just white space or had only one small image in the corner. The story ends a bit abruptly, too.
Overall, a little rough around the edges but a unique (another hidden pun?) little story.
Buy it here.
The Strongest Boy by Renee Irving Lee
Max, a little boy has a funny idea of what it means to be strong. His pet parrot/imaginary friend, Bruce (who initially acts like the feathery green spirit of toxic masculinity) has the same view. Strength is nothing but brawn, stubbornness and a pure machismo.
When the little boy is invited to a party, this seems like the perfect opportunity to show off his “strength” – by smashing, crashing and crushing.
This doesn’t make him popular. The poor kid is left puzzled – understandably, given some of the ideas he (and Peter Power) have probably absorbed. Fortunately, Dad is around to offer some wise words and turn things around. Maybe he can win his friends back and perhaps even Bruce the musclebound parrot is capable of change, too…
The Strongest Boy by Renee Irving Lee is a lively, timely book with a good message. Far from undermining the idea of strength, it simply re-defines it in a positive way.
The illustrations are simple and vibrant. There’s nothing wrong with simple: it makes everything nice and clear. The artist, Goce Ilievski, has done a great job of bringing the story to life with bold, expressive characters and understated but warm backgrounds. I particularly like Bruce’s transformations. On the odd double-page spreads featuring a full illustration, the artist’s imagination is given space to unfold, with charming results.
This book would make a great talking point with children about tantrums and dealing with your problems constructively, all while maintaining a sense of fun and good humour. Some grown-ups could probably benefit from this lesson, too.
Buy it here.