Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting


Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (28 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Finn McCool is the largest giant in all of Ireland. He’s a fierce warrior, even beating the giant Culcullan and saving Ireland from the Scots. Helpful and kind, he helps the farmers bring in the hay. And everyone in the village of Drumnahoon admires him. “He’s the best-hearted man that ever walked on Ireland’s green grass.” But for all his strength, courage, and goodness, there’s one thing that Finn lacks. He’s just not smart. And he knows it. When a wise man living in a nearby village tells Finn about a magical red salmon with the wisdom of the world, Finn sets out to catch the fish. And he learns a thing or two about himself in the process.

Having a good reputation is important for everyone, including giants and other magical folks.

I’d never heard of his legend before, so I was excited to get to know him better and find out what his connection was to the fish that was mentioned in the title. Learning about who Finn was only made me like him even more than I already did. He was such a kind and helpful giant, and he really seemed to care about all of the people who lived in Ireland.

The ending was abrupt. I didn’t see it coming at all, and I was surprised by how many parts of the plot were left unexplored by the final scene. The story just suddenly stopped for reasons I was never able to figure out. Given how much I enjoyed the beginning and the middle, I was pretty surprised by how much I disliked the end. I was honestly expecting to be thrilled with the whole thing.

One of the things I liked the most about this book were all of the friendships between the characters. Everyone looked out for each other in small and big ways. They did everything from bake a fresh loaf of bread for a neighbor to help each other bring in the hay before a thunderstorm ruined that crop. I really enjoyed seeing this community work together to accomplish their goals and make life a little easier for everyone. It set such a positive example for the kids who will read this.

Finn McCool and the Great Fish should be read by anyone who enjoys classic legends and fairy tales.

My Family Four Floors Up by Caroline Stutson


My Family Four Floors Up by Caroline Stutson
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This friendly, rhyming story follows a child and her father–as well as their cute pets, a puppy and a cat–through the day. From morning ritual to bedtime story (and all the fun in between!), life in the fourth floor walk up and on the city streets and parks below is sweet and filled with tender moments between parent and child.

 

There are beautiful colors to see everywhere you look in this world.

Kindness was woven into every scene of this tale. I really liked seeing the main character and her dad navigate their way through such a busy but also gentle city. There aren’t enough children’s stories out there about life in urban areas. This is even more true when it comes to preschoolers in particular, so I was pretty happy to stumble across something that’s perfect for this age group.

There was a part of the plot that didn’t seem right to me. It had to do with how the characters traveled to and from their fourth-story apartment. All of the apartment buildings I’ve ever lived in have had both elevators and stairs, so I was shocked to see that these characters only had one way to get outside. Given that they appeared to live in a pretty large and busy building, it would have been nice to know why it hadn’t been modernized yet.

I enjoyed the way the author included so many different colors in her descriptions of this neighborhood. Some of the items she picked out were pretty creative! For example, there aren’t a lot of pink things in the average city, so the example she came up with for this color made me smile. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it worked perfectly for the plot.

My Family Four Floors Up should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a book that creatively teaches children about colors and where they can be found.

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.

A Christmas Spider’s Miracle by Trinka Hakes Nobel


A Christmas Spider’s Miracle by Trinka Hakes Nobel
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Long ago in a faraway place there lived two mothers. One, a humble peasant woman who struggled daily to provide for her children. And the other, a mother spider who also worked hard to care for her family. And although it would appear they were as different as night and day, these two mothers had more in common than would first seem. As the only holiday gift she can give her children, one cold Christmas Eve the peasant woman goes to the forest to get a tree, never noticing that someone has made a home among its branches. During the night, the mother spider spins webs decorating the tree, resulting in a Christmas that neither mother will ever forget. Based on an old Ukrainian story, Trinka Hakes Noble (The Orange Shoes) crafts an original heartwarming tale of the grace that can be found in the true spirit of Christmas.

Kindness can repay itself in all sorts of lovely ways.

Nothing on Earth can compare to the love of a parent for their children. I enjoyed seeing how the spider and the peasant woman did everything they possibly could to keep their babies safe, warm, fed, and happy. They were both dedicated mothers who took wonderful care of their families. The scenes that showed just how far they went to do that were the best ones in this tale.

There were pacing issues. The plot sped up and then slowed down again at various points of the story. Due to this, the quieter sections didn’t have enough going on in them while the busier scenes were a little overwhelming because so many different things were happening in them at once. It would have been nice to have one consistent speed from the beginning to the end.

The fantasy elements of this book didn’t show up right away, but they were definitely worth the wait once they did appear. I was curious to see how a spider could be connected to the fantasy genre and what either of them would have to do with the Christmas season since I don’t automatically think of spiders when I think of either one of these topics. Finding out what that connection was only made me want to know more. It was all tied together quite nicely.

A Christmas Spider’s Miracle should be read by anyone who is in the mood for new twist to a classic legend.