Multiple reviews

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)

4*

Yuni by Stephanie DiCarlo

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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.

4*

The Strongest Boy by Renee Irving Lee9780648467212_p0_v1_s550x406.jpg

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.

4*

Buy it here.

 

2 comments

  1. Hi, as the author of Mr. Frumble’s Hat, I want to sincerely thank you for your detailed descriptive and above all, honest review.

    An honest review is to me, the most important review I can get. Your review did this for me. Thank you. I have already gone over the manuscript and found a few grammatical errors that are now corrected thanks to you.
    I entirely agree about the cover and I am going to commission the artist to make me a new one. In fact it has been on my mind to do this for several weeks. I also plan to commission a couple of extra illustrations for this book.
    The reason you couldn’t find the book on the market is because I have taken it down until I complete everything about it. I need it as good as I can possibly get it. A good review up front is what I wanted to help progress my plan for when I am ready to upload it.
    I actually first wrote this book in 1995|1996, my first rejection letter came from Scholastic on 18 September 1997. With no pictures (who can afford a talented artist) and a cover I made up with extremely limited resources, talent and an eye for what I envisioned back then, I can tell you it was awful! I first put iMr Frumle’s Hat on amazon in 2012 as an ebook. So I now know another person has use the name Mr. Frumble, I believe this is merely one of those coincidences that occur from time to time.

    Question time.

    Am I allowed to put your review, or an excerpt on my webpage, please?
    I have another children’s story (three actually, but I can only work on two at a time) and wonder if you might be prepared to review it for me as well?
    Thanks again and kind regards, Kitty Boyes.

    Like

    1. Hi Kitty, first of all, sorry for the very late reply. For some reason, WordPress shoved this into the spam folder, but I caught it.

      Secondly, thank you for your response to the review. 🙂 Of course you can pop part or all of the review on your webpage. Be my guest.

      I have a bit of a review backlog right now, but if you give me a shout through the Literature Obscura page (contact details are on there) I can add them to the pile.

      Re: Richard Scarry. He’s been around a long, long time. I read his Busytown books when I was a kid. Coincidences do happen (God, do they ever – I wrote a novella about a genetically modified humanoid designed to allow people to download their personalities into it to survive in an alien world. It was called “Avatar”. No joke. It was written years before the movie came out, but I’ve indefinitely shelved it, because of the obvious issues involved).

      I’d recommend checking his work out anyway, because one of the best things about writing children’s books is having the excuse to read more of them for “research”. It’s a bit dated now, in some ways (his Mr Frumble popped up in 1971!), but still vivid.

      Like

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