Be Brave, Little Penguin by Giles Andreae


Be Brave, Little Penguin by Giles Andreae
Publisher: Orchard Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Little Penguin Pip-Pip would love to join in with all his friends swimming in the sea, but there’s just one problem . . . he’s scared of water. Can Pip-Pip overcome his fears and finally take the plunge? This irresistible story shows that sometimes all it takes is a little bit of encouragement — and a whole lot of heart — to finally make that leap and be BRAVE!

Be Brave, Little Penguin is the eagerly awaited new picture book from the creators of the bestselling Giraffes Can’t Dance. Written in true Giles Andreae style, this feel-good rhyming story portrays a positive message of confidence and self-esteem. Illustrations filled with humor and warmth by Guy Parker-Rees will help make this touching tale a family favorite.

 

Everyone gets scared sometimes.

This story was full of empathy. Not only was the audience given the chance to understand why Pip-Pip was so afraid of jumping into the water, the narrator also talked about the fact that everyone is frightened of something at some point in their lives. It was a brief message, but it was also an important one. Feeling alone can be one of the worst parts for someone who needs to admit that they’re afraid of something. The sooner kids realize how common this is, the better off they will be.

There was a scene early on where Pip-Pip was teased for being too frightened to jump into the ocean. While the taunts were mild and ended pretty quickly, I do wish the other penguins had been a little nicer to Pip-Pip. This was an incredibly minor complaint, but the inclusion of this scene would make me a little hesitant to recommend this book to kids whose anxiety includes thoughts about other kids making fun of them.

With that being said, I adored the way this character’s parents reacted to his fears. They were so warm and supportive of him while also encouraging him to find out if the things that made him worry were actually likely to happen. I also appreciated the way Pip-Pip’s mother taught him to imagine happy things happening to him instead of only focusing on what could go wrong.

Be Brave, Little Penguin is a must-read for anyone who has ever been worried about trying something new.

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis


A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length Short Story (44 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Edna the penguin only knows the three colors that surround her: white ice, black night, and blue sea. She is convinced there is something more out there. So she sets out on a quest—a quest for color. When she finally finds what she’s been looking for, it’s everything she hoped for and more. But that doesn’t mean she will ever stop looking.

A little exploration is a good thing for a curious penguin like Edna.

Edna was such a brave main character. I loved her adventurous personality, especially once she’d wandered far enough away from home that she began to see things that no one else in her flock had ever imagined might exist. She wasn’t about to stop until she’d figured out what she was seeing and how it all worked. This made me like her even more than I did when I first met her.

The ending was a bit of a letdown. The first scene gave a lot of hints about what Edna would find when she went on her quest to discover what colors existed in the world other than white, black, and blue. I was surprised by how the narrator interpreted those hints because of this. It wasn’t what I was expecting to find at all, and I would have appreciated a better explanation of why it all turned out the way it did.

There was a creative plot twist about halfway through this tale, however. I hoped for something exciting to happen, and the way this scene was written made me pretty happy. It fit it beautifully with what Edna had dreamed about in the very first scene, and it also include some humor as well. If the whole plot had been written this way, I would have given it a much higher rating.

I’d recommend A Penguin Story to anyone who is looking for something new to read at bedtime.

Thunder Horse by Eve Bunting


Thunder Horse by Eve Bunting
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When a girl receives a small horse from her aunt, she doesn’t quite know what to do with it. It turns out that this horse is a very special horse: it has wings.

As the horse grows and grows, so does the girl’s love for it, but as everyone knows, sometimes you have to let go of those you love so they can grow in their own way. But you can always hope they come back to you someday.

Eve Bunting’s Thunder Horse is a beautifully crafted tale that will work its way in to the hearts of readers, and the good thing is, they never have to let it go.

Sometimes loving someone can lead to painful decisions down the road.

What beautiful storytelling! I deeply enjoyed the way the author wove her lesson into the plot. She had an important message to share with the audience about allowing loved ones to make their own choices. The story was always more important than the message, though, and that made her point even clearer than it would have been if she’d paid less attention to creating a captivating and thought-provoking storyline before anything else.

The main character’s name was never revealed, and I found that odd and distracting. The audience knew the names of everyone from her teacher to her aunt to the small horse she was given in the first scene. It would have been easier for me to connect with this character if I knew what her family called her, even if she was only ever referred to by a nickname.

With that being said, I still liked the main character quite a bit. She was a clever, sensitive girl who clearly loved her magical horse quite a bit. Knowing from the very beginning that she’d have to say goodbye to him at some point only made me more eager to find out how she’d learn to adjust to life without him and if there was any way for her to figure out how to have a happier ending than the one her aunt warned her about.

Thunder Horse was a unique modern fable that I’d recommend to adults and children alike.

Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young


Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Historical
Length: Short Story ( 32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by Astilbe

Outside Beijing, China, in the year 1572, nine-year-old Hu-Wan tends the vegetable garden with his grandfather. Their specialty is growing gourds that are made into ladles and bowls and sold in the marketplace. Each year, one special gourd is made into a cricket cage. This year, it is Hu-Wan’s turn to grow and carve the special gourd. He decides it should be carved into the shape of a sleeping dragon. When Hu-Wan learns that the emperor has died and his nine-year-old son is named Emperor of China, he decides to give the dragon cricket cage to the young emperor to offer comfort and cheer.

A gift doesn’t have to cost money in order to be valuable.

Hu Wan was a very likeable main character. He wasn’t afraid to work hard, he had a gentle personality, and he had a lot of empathy for people near him who were struggling with physical or emotional health problems. With every scene I became even more fond of him. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to him next.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the ending. It happened so suddenly that I was surprised by the fact it was over. Had it been given as much attention as the beginning and middle of this tale, I would have chosen a much higher rating for this book as I really enjoyed the storytelling overall.

The relationship between Hu Wan and his grandfather was so kind and supportive. What I found most interesting about their family was how much time they spent showing each other how they felt instead of talking about it. The audience had to read between the lines in order to see how much these characters really did care for each other. Finding the small gestures that showed just how close their family was to each other was one of my favorite parts of the plot.

Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon was a captivating story that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something that will make them feel as though they’ve just been transported hundreds of years in the past.

Seer’s Fate: Faylands by Annalisa Ely


Seer’s Fate: Faylands by Annalisa Ely
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (46 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Journey through strange lands with stranger companions in this fast-paced fantasy short story, the first of the Seer’s Fate series.

Some adventurer’s guiding force is greed; for others it’s excitement or necessity. Collin Damion just goes where his visions tell him. But now they’re sending him farther than he’s ever gone, into hostile territory where the land itself doesn’t want him. He’ll have to hide every step along the way while trying to help the very people who mustn’t discover him, negotiate unfamiliar terrain, and make nice with magical creatures he’s never heard of before. And this is only the start of a quest that will take him across a continent and into ever greater danger.

But his mission isn’t solo anymore. Each of his companions will have their own motivations, and only together will they reach their goals.

Collin was born different. He’s about to find out what it means to have his special powers and why he isn’t like anyone else in his family.

The plot itself was exciting. I enjoyed the quick pace of it, especially once the individuals who would become Collin’s companions were introduced and their quest really started to get rolling. They sounded like fascinating folks, so I couldn’t wait to see how they’d react to all of the dangerous things they were about to face.

This story would have benefitted from more detail. The narrator spent so little time describing the settings and characters that I had a hard time visualizing what was happening and who it was happening to. It was something I especially noticed when the characters were first being introduced and the narrator spent such a brief amount of time describing who they were and what they looked like.

I liked the way the author included so many different intelligent and human-like races in this universe. Humans weren’t the only ones who lived there by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, humans weren’t even the most interesting group of people either! The more I learned about the other races, the more curious I became to find out what they were like and how they were different from the average homo sapian.

While I understand that this is the first instalment of a series, I would have preferred to see more care taken with how the last scene was written. I was expecting to have plenty of loose ends left to be resolved later on in this series, but I was surprised by how abruptly the storytelling stopped in the last paragraph. There wasn’t a sense of closure for any of the conflicts that the characters had been wrestling with. Having even one of them wrapped up in some way would have gone a long way in keeping this reader satisfied.

The dialogue was nicely written. This wasn’t the kind of tale that had a lot of room to spare for long, drawn-out conversations, so I appreciated the fact that everyone kept their chats short and to the point. That was a good choice for something this fast-paced and full of action.

If you’re in the mood for an adventure, go read Seer’s Fate: Faylands.

I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark


I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark
Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You

Publisher: Be Heard Publishing LLC
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

What does your child Dream To Be?
Meet Jersey – a young girl who loves to dream and imagines that she can be anything….

I Dream To Be

A book that encourages readers to use imagination by dreaming of different occupations.
She encourages her friends to dream with her. She imagines she is an Astronaut, an Engineer, a Veterinarian and much more.

The book ends by asking her friends what do they dream to be.
A fun story that will encourage any reader that possibilities are endless.

It’s never too early to start setting goals in life and thinking about how they could be accomplished.

I loved the fact that Jersey wrote down all of the different types of jobs she could have when she grew up. She even made lists of the kinds of subjects she’d need to do well in if she wanted to work in a certain area. This was such an organized way to approach this topic, and it also fit Jersey’s personality perfectly. She was exactly the sort of kid who would want to put everything down on paper before she could even begin to make a decision.

After sharing a few sentences about every occupation this character dreamed of having one day, each page ended with a short pun or other play-on-words that made me chuckle. It was a beautiful flourish and such an entertaining way to end each section. I wish that this tale had been a little longer so I could have read more of these twists! If the author ever writes a sequel, I will be eager to see where her creativity takes her next.

My favorite section happened at the end when Jersey listed many other jobs and encouraged her readers to brainstorm what their lives would be like if they worked in those areas when they grew up. I was glad to see such a wide variety of possibilities being offered to young readers. There were so many different types of work that kids who have many different types of skills and interests would have a lot of ideas to choose from.

Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You “I Dream To Be” is an excellent resource for any child who is beginning to wonder what he or she might be when they grow up.

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Snobbity Snowman has everything a snowman could possibly want: a shiny hat, freshly-picked noses and enough pride to last a lifetime. In fact, he is so egocentric that he can’t even see when his life starts falling apart.

What disasters must take place to open his charcoal eyes? To help him see that pride and possessions cannot bring true happiness? Will he defrost his chilly ego and embrace the warmth of friendship? Only Snobbity can tell.

Depicting winter in rich and whimsical tones, Snobbity Snowman’s quirky characters and unexpected twists promise to leave a lasting impression on all its snobbulous readers.

Nobody likes a snob, even if that snob is a snowman!

The vocabulary in this story was very advanced for this age range. There were several words that the average 6-year-old won’t know, but I liked the fact that the authors provided so many context clues about what those terms mean. I’d recommend reading this aloud as a group so that those terms can be explained if the clues don’t give enough hints. With that being said, it was a pleasant surprise and it’s definitely something that will work well for young readers who would like to be challenged a little bit.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how Snobbity behaved before his makers moved away. He had such a terrible reputation in his neighborhood that I was expecting to see him spend more time looking down on the people who lived nearby before his circumstances began to change and he got a taste of his own medicine. While there were examples of his bad attitude, having more of them would have made the final scene much more meaningful.

The conclusion was well written and completely satisfying. Some of the earlier scenes involved people treating Snobbity very poorly, so I was curious to see how his life would turn out after they were finished mistreating him and he was left alone with nothing. The lessons he learned in life only became clearer once I saw how his tale ended. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to it.

Snobbity Snowman was a heartwarming book that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something kindhearted.

Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell


Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Genre: Childrens, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

They say there’s a girl
Who lives by the woods
In a crooked old house
With no garden but gloom.

She doesn’t have parents.
No one knows her name.

But the people in town
Call her Wee Sister Strange.

Like Emily Winfield Martin’s bestselling Dream Animals, here is a bedtime read-aloud sure to entrance young listeners. Each evening, as the shadows grow long, Wee Sister Strange climbs from her window and runs into the woods. She talks to the owls and rides on a bear. She clambers up trees and dives into the bog. She is searching for something…. She looks far and wide, over forest and marsh. What is it she seeks? Why, it’s a wee bedtime story to help her fall asleep!

Just because the sun has set doesn’t mean it’s time to go to sleep quite yet.

The descriptions in this book were vivid and beautiful. One of my favorite parts of it had to do with the main character’s origins and how the people who live nearby reacted to her unusual habits for a girl of this age. There were just enough details to explain what was going on without making her life seem any less whimsical than it was. I also liked the fact that the author left plenty of room for a possible sequel here. While I don’t know if she’s planning to write it, I’d sure like to read it if she ever does.

All of Wee Sister Strange’s adventures made me smile. I was intrigued by the idea of a young child wandering around in the dark, especially since she was so confident in every corner of the woods. The forest was her playground in so many different ways. This wasn’t necessarily something I was expecting to find, so I was thrilled to see how much she loved doing everything from talking to the animals to going on a late-night swim.

After spending so much time hinting at what the main character was searching for when she ran through the woods alone at night, I couldn’t wait to get an answer to this question. The ending not only satisfied my curiosity, it fit in perfectly with the general tone of this tale. While the blurb does give away part of it, I also appreciated the fact that it left some of the final scene a mystery. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised once I reached that part of the storyline.

Wee Sister Strange was one of the most creative bedtime stories I read this year. It’s a must-read for children and adults alike.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she?

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

The only thing scarier than being the new kid in class is feeling rejected.

All of the adults in Unhei’s life were supportive and kind. They listened to her when she talked about the anxiety she felt over having a name that was so different from the American names of her classmates. I especially liked the fact that they took her seriously and worked hard to help her feel better about having a name that other kids didn’t know how to pronounce. They couldn’t have been more encouraging of her when she began to wish she could pick a new name for herself.

The friendship the main character developed with Joey, one of her classmates, made me smile. He barely even knew her, but he still tried his best to make her feel included and understand why she felt the way she did from the beginning of their friendship. His kindness made a huge difference in her life, and I enjoyed seeing how much work he put welcoming her to her new country.

Unhei experienced some mild teasing in the beginning because none of her new classmates knew how to pronounce her name. What I liked most about that scene was how much care the author took in showing why the other kids reacted that way. It was definitely a painful experience for the main character, but digging into the reasons why her classmates weren’t being very nice to her helped to set the stage for everything that happened later on.

The Name Jar was a beautiful tale about acceptance and diversity that I can’t recommend highly enough. I loved every single moment of it.

In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson


In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Sophie lives with Mama and Daddy and Grandpa, who spends his days by the window. Every day after school, it’s Grandpa whom Sophie runs to.

“Here I am, Grandpa!”
“Ah, Sophie, how was your day?”

As Sophie and her grandpa talk, he asks her to find items he’s “lost” throughout the day, guiding Sophie on a tour through his daily life and connecting their generations in this sweet, playful picture book from Richard Jackson, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist and Laura Ingalls Wilder Award winner Jerry Pinkney.

The best part of every day happened right after Sophie arrived home from school.

Sophie had such a warm and kind family. I enjoyed seeing how they interacted with each other during the average day. They all loved each other a lot, and it showed. It was especially interesting to see how this character’s parents balanced taking care of their young daughter with also looking after the grandfather. They did a wonderful job of showing how a multi-generational household can nurture everyone who is part of it.

The conversations between Sophie and her grandfather were pretty repetitive. While I’d certainly expect some repetition in a children’s book, it would have been nice for their conversations to vary more from one day to the next, especially when it came to how they started the next round of this game. Reading almost the exact same conversation between them in every scene makes me hesitant to read this story again.

With that being said, I really liked the guessing game itself that Sophie and her grandfather played every day after school. He found some creative ways to hide common objects in places that I’d never think to look for them. Watching her try to find his “lost” possession was as entertaining as it was heartwarming. I found it interesting to attempt to figure out where those items were before flipping the page to see if I was right.

In Plain Sight should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a gentle tale about the fun games a grandparent can play with his grandchild.