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Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Let's Make Bread!

by Ken Forkish and Sarah Becan 2024 / 158 pages This is the comic I never knew I wanted: a how-to for baking all sorts of delicious breads. And while I'll admit to not trying out any of the recipes myself, this did get my oldest daughter experimenting. I liked the results of her labors, so this might have to move from just being a library lend to being something we really need to buy. The format is a friendly one: we get introduced to the two authors, and because this is a comic, there they are, speaking right to us with their word bubbles. The first thirty pages also introduces us to the basic tools and ingredients we'll need to get baking. Then we learn about everything from the first rise, to how best to spread our salt onto the dough. The pictures allow this how-to manual to show tips that would be really hard to just describe, like how the dough, at one stage, should have a gentle "webbing." What is bread webbing? I wouldn't have a clue if the picture hadn't shown me! Among the bread recipes, there is even a detailed procedure outlined for how you can get your own sourdough starter going. The various uses you can put it to include a really great pizza dough! There are no cautions to offer, other than that if you buy this for one of your children, you might have to also spring for some baking tools, if you don't already have them. This is a book that will inspire, so you best be ready for some flour on your counters then! Cookbooks aren't really supposed to be fun, but this one kind of pulls it off, so two thumbs up. Not a book for everyone, but certainly a great one for any young bakers in the house. The illustrator Sarah Becan teamed up with Hugh Amano for two prequels: Let's Make Ramen! (2019) and Let's Make Dumplings! (2021).  I could imagine making the dumplings, as long as I had a little help from someone more culinarily-inclined, but the ramen recipes weren't just beyond me, but astronomically so. That's why, while I'd recommend both Bread! and Dumplings for any kids who likes to bake or cook, I'd only suggest Ramen! to the expert cooks among us....

Drama, Movie Reviews

Run Silent, Run Deep

Drama 1958 / 93 minutes RATING: 8/10 After a Japanese destroyer, the Akrikaze, sinks his submarine, Commander P.J. Richardson is assigned desk duty, giving him plenty of time to think over how he could turn the tables, if ever given the chance. When the Akrikaze sinks three more US subs, Richardson gets his wish – he's given another submarine command, and told to patrol the same section the Akrikaze was last seen. But to get command again, Richardson had to step on the toes of the sub's executive officer, Jim Bledsoe, who was expecting to become captain himself. The crew isn't happy, particularly when Richardson starts drilling them hard. When he ignores Japanese transports sailing past the crew starts wondering, is their new captain a coward? Sometimes when my girls are playing with the neighbors I'll watch a movie I know they won't be interested in because I don't want to tempt them to join me and interrupt their fun. That was my intent this time around –  what kid wants to watch a black and white film about submarine warfare? Well, as it turns out, all of them. The attraction? This wasn't like anything they'd seen before, with about 90 percent taking place in the close quarters of the USS Nerka. It also helped that both stars – Burt Lancaster as second-in command Bledsoe, and Clark Gable as Captain Richardson – have quite the onscreen presence. And it helped that they had their dad along to explain some of the basics of World War II submarine warfare. Like how a submarine's best defense was to hide underwater, but to go on offense it had to surface to be able to see the ships it was shooting at. I had to explain what depth charges were and how, when a submarine dived, the enemy's destroyers would drop depth charges all around its last location, just hoping one would explode near enough to cause some damage. I had to explain who Tokyo Rose was – when the crew listens to the radio, every now and again the music is interrupted by a pleasant sounding woman who provides updates on the war, but with a very anti-American slant. The broadcast was coming from Japan, the music an enticement to stay around for the propaganda. And apparently US commanders didn't care if their troops tuned in, because everyone knew better than to believe anything Tokyo Rose said. Cautions While there's no warnings needed for adult viewing, if your kids are watching too then there are a couple of concerns. First, we see a young sailor who we've gotten to know die when a loose torpedo drops from its rack and lands on him. We see the torpedo dropping through his eyes, coming towards the camera and then everything cuts to black, so it isn't graphic. The other caution concerns a pin-up picture – the typical World War II sort, the woman clothed but wearing short shorts – hanging in the mess hall/ The crew gives her a pat on her butt as they run to their battle stations. The weirdness of this practice really comes out when you try explaining it to your kids. Conclusion I've rated this an 8, in large part because that was what my girls gave it. I'd give it an 8 myself, but often tone down my ratings, knowing that most folks don't appreciate a black and white film quite as much as I do. But if these three – aged 10 through 14 – think it's an 8 too, then I'm going to run with that. It is a classic for a reason, with a great running conflict between the captain and his passed-over second-in-command, but both of whom are eager to take down the Akrikaze. The crew has their own divided loyalties, even as they stay dedicated to their mission. And the biggest selling feature: loads of action! SPOILER ALERT: While I've included the trailer below, this is one of those old -fashioned trailers that sum up the whole movie and doesn't worry about giving things away. There's a whole whack of spoilers here, so I'm quite glad I didn't watch the trailer before I saw the movie. I'll also add, the film is quite a bit better than this makes it look, which is one more reason you might want to give the trailer a miss. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Secret Coders

by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes 2015-2018 / 92-110 pages each x 6 volumes Hopper is at a new school and gets off to a rocky start: her classes are boring, the other students are ignoring her, and when she does get their attention, it almost results in a fight. During lunch period she ends up sitting alone... until a bird comes flutter down to sit in front of her. A feathered friend is better than no friend at all, right? That's what Hopper figures, at least until it blinks one of its four eyes! Turns out the bird is robot, and it's blinking in binary. Another student, Eni, spots the odd bird and gives Hopper, and us, a lesson in how binary works. Then the two of them discover a turtle robot designed to aid the janitor, that seems programmable, if only you know how. The janitor turns out to be a super genius, and there is a whole secret subterranean system underneath the school, but accessible only to those who know how to program the turtle. That gets us to the goal of this book. This is a series that my kids read, just for fun, but it's actually educational fiction – the authors' goal is to teach kids some of the basic logic that's involved in computer programming. And as Hopper and Eni  get better at coding simple computer programs to make the turtle robot move and work, readers are learning too. Cautions In the first book we learn that the teacher that Hopper has the biggest difficulty with – and speaks disrespectfully to – is actually her mom. We also find out that Hopper's mom and dad had a big fight six months ago, her dad left, and they haven't seen him since. It seems like he walked out on his family, though we later learn that he was kidnapped and has been stuck in a two-dimensional system since then. Thankfully Hopper does realize she needs to apologize to her mom. But her initial rudeness, and a few conversations between Hopper and her mom about whose fault it is that dad is gone, mean this isn't one for under 12s. Language concerns would be limited to a few jerk-faces, a gosh and a geez. Conclusion There are points at which the story is sacrificed for the sake of the education – each time Eni and Hopper program a turtle we all have to think through it slowly and carefully. But a nefarious principal, his rugby team henchmen, a green-skinned villain and his army of toothy robot ducks, and a budding romance between Hopper and Eni, keep things interesting. The math and logic involved in programming mean this will be a bit much for kids under 12. They might still read it just for the story, but to read these for the fun and skip over the education is to miss the point of the series. Any teen with a bent towards math and logic will find these an entertaining introduction to some basic computer code thinking. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Foundations

Docudrama 24 minutes / 2020 Rating: 7/10 Foundations is the story of Parker, or rather the story of 3 different Parkers. All three stories start the same way. The little boy Parker is watching a TV show about evolution with his parents. When the commentator starts talking about how humans evolved over millions of years, Parker turns to his dad and asks, "Is that true... did we use to be fish?" This is the fork in the road. In the first story, Parker's parents tell him that yes, it is true. And then we get to see how an evolutionary agnostic worldview works itself out. We get to see how Parker, believing himself to be the product of nothing but chance, grow up, and what sort of decisions he makes. And, finally we get to see him on his deathbed, alone and full of regrets. Then we rewind, and this time Parker's parents give a different, but only slightly better, answer. In all, three different worldviews are featured, one after another. 1) Evolutionary agnostic 2) Theistic evolutionist 3) Bible-believing creationist As you have probably guessed, Parker has a nicer life, and a far nicer death when he lives out the truths his parents teach him in Scenario #3. But, as the producers point out, they aren't trying to say that following God always means you'll have a better life – as the Bible warns, God's people will face trials. But as God also teaches through Solomon, following God's wisdom will save you from many troubles, like the adulterous woman. This wouldn't be one you'd want to spring on your kids for your family movie night. If they were expecting Toy Story 6, they aren't going to be impressed by Foundations. But while it isn't pure entertainment, it is compelling. Yes, you are going to watch this for its educational value, but it is worthy of a watch, and even more so, a discussion. At just 24 minutes, it doesn't demand all that much from viewers, so you might be able to show this to even young teens. It could be great for a one-class session in a Science, Bible, or English class. Or it could be a great conversation-starter for a Young Peoples' free topic. Watch the entire short film for free below. For something similar, but a bit more demanding, these are also the folks behind the 1-hour Genesis Impact. It's another docudrama, but this time with a Christian college student debating an evolutionist lecturer. A must-see before your teen heads off to college. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Bluffton

My summer with Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan 2013 / 240 pages Before there were silent films, there was vaudeville. Pay your nickel and you could sit in on a dozen acts: jugglers, comedians, contortionists, animal trainers, tightrope actors, and more. In 1908, vaudeville came to Bluffton, Michigan, a troop of actors looking to take their summer break by the lake. And Henry can't get enough of hanging out with the whole lot of them, especially a boy his own age, Buster Keaton. Henry wants to learn how Buster can take a licking in his on-stage slapstick act and bounce right up again, but all Buster wants to do is play baseball. While Henry is fictional, Buster Keaton is not. He was one of the silent film era's biggest comedic stars, maybe not quite as well known as Charlie Chaplin, but twice as funny. This account of his early years is maybe as much supposition as fact, accurate in the broad overview if not in any of the details. Bluffton is an intriguing read for the slice of life it presents from more than 100 years past. Back then entertainment wasn't available at the ready in a person's back pocket, so when it came to your town, that was an event. The Keaton family act was physical, like the films Buster made later. He always knew how to pratfall with the best of them, and without getting hurt. And that the ol' "Stone Face Keaton" never cracks a smile makes it all the funnier. The story is told over the course of three summers – Henry and Buster become the best of friends, a girl comes between them, at least for a bit, and then, finally, life takes them in very different directions. Cautions The language concerns are limited to "Jumping Jehoshaphat," "Holy smokes," and "Holy cow." Also worth a note is that the physical nature of the Keaton family act had an early version of Child Protective Services investigating the family for child abuse. While no charges were laid, it is a sober subject – child abuse – even if it is only touched on in passing. That's why this isn't for young readers, though the size, and quiet pacing, means they aren't likely to pick it up anyways. Conclusion For the right person this will be a quick read. It's 240 pages but not too many words on each, and so much is shown rather than told. It is for the history buff, especially if anyone who likes older films. Keaton was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1920s and 30s,  and we get to see what shaped him early on. While Bluffton is a beautifully done book, it is not one with universal appeal – I think it fascinating, but I know what only a select few will agree....

Book Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution, Teen fiction

The Farm at the Center of the Universe

by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jonathan Witt 2024 / 167 pages An astrobiologist has written a young adult novel with an Intelligent Design agenda, so the obvious questions are: Can he tell a good story? Does he honor God? The answer to question #1 is yes, definitely, and to #2, no, or at least not nearly enough. While the story doesn't quite stand on its own, it'll grab anyone who has even the least bit of interest in learning about atheistic evolution's shortcomings. That's why every Christian teen should read this before they finish high school – undirected evolution is one of our culture's big lies (with fruit like euthanasia, abortion, homosexuality, etc.) so our students need to be ready to contend with it before they head to university or the workforce. And this novel format transforms what could have been a dry, dusty, academic debate into a much easier read. As the opening chapter begins, Isaac and his older cousin Charlie are driving to visit their grandparents' farm for a week. Isaac is a teen who wants to know why God let his dad die from cancer. Charlie is in his twenties, and is also Isaac's science teacher (that's what can happen in a small town) and he's a tough love type, heavy on the tough. As a Darwin devotee, he tells Isaac that his dad's death is proof there is no God, just an uncaring universe. But it turns out Grandpa is not only a more sympathetic listener, he's also a retired chemistry professor who has his own thoughts about how the universe came to be. He introduces Isaac to the "book of nature," which gives all sorts of hints as to what happened in the distant past. And he also highlights how brilliant design gives evidence of a Designer. This is both the book's strongest point and its weakest: it absolutely blows up evolution, but doesn't offer the true, biblical, six-day alternative. Still, it is a very helpful read, and fun too, especially when Grandpa debates Charlie. But Isaac isn't sure exactly who he is rooting for. "Part of him wanted Grandpa to be right about a Creator and Charlie to be wrong. Isaac didn't want his dad's death to just be random. If it were random, then there wouldn't even be a God for Isaac to be angry at for letting it happen. But another part of him saw the attraction of his cousin Charlie's view. The idea of a God so powerful He could create things like these microscopic machines that filled his body, but Who hadn't even intervened to help his dad, was oddly frightening. It was almost easier to just ignore a God like that – insist He isn't out there. The silent treatment. Punish Him for letting good people die. And, after all, maybe just maybe, there really wasn't a God and he could just forget about all the hard questions." That highlights some of the book's depth in raising the "problem of evil." Though it is a theological, rather than scientific objection, it is one evolutionists will frequently raise: if a good God exists, why does He let bad things happen? But this also highlights why this isn't a book teens should read alone, because the objection goes largely unanswered. Isaac rightly notes that his feelings have no impact on whether or not God exists. That'd be a scientific answer to this objection, and a good one to have in hand. But teens should know the biblical answer too, as God gave it to Job, or as Paul teaches in Romans 9:20-21: "Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?" And this answer needs to be understood in the context of this same God sending His Son to humble Himself and die for us. He has shown He is loving, so while we don't understand all He does, we do know we can trust Him. That's an important point, but one parents will need to provide. (Greg Koukl approaches the problem of evil from another direction with his helpful "problem of good.") As Grandpa and Charlie continue with their back-and-forths, it gives them both a chance to pitch the arguments for and against Intelligent Design. I've followed this debate for decades, and I think this fiction format allows for one of the most concise, clear, and devastating evolutionary takedowns I've read. One of my favorite bits is when Isaac is worried his Grandpa might be exaggerating a bit, when he says the cell is like a miniature factory, because, after all, factories "were massive, complex buildings filled with machinery and workers who built things like cars and trucks and Grandpa's tractor." Grandpa's response? "...you're half right. Calling a cell a factory isn't quite accurate.... It's not quite a good comparison because I'm giving too much credit to man-made factories. A cell is more like, how can I put this? A factory that builds factories that builds factories. Or a robot that builds robots thats build robots. Do you know any man-made factories that do that?" Despite Charlie's best efforts, the legs are kicked out from under his Darwin idol. Caution But what's left standing in its place? Grandpa briefly gives a nod to the Bible, reading from the opening four verses of Psalm 19 about how "the heavens declare the glory of God." But he never addresses the opening chapters of Genesis. Grandpa doesn't believe in unguided evolution, but it becomes clear he also doesn't believe that God created in just six days. The problem here is akin to the situation we have with a Jordan Peterson or even a Pierre Poilievre. In our blind land, these one-eyed men see so much better than most. But they are still seeing only half as well as they could. The book of nature that Grandpa appeals to offers him only hints and clues as to the reality and nature of God, but God has revealed Himself much more clearly in another book, His Word. If only Grandpa was willing to rely on the clearest of the two books, instead of leaning on his own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6). Conclusion While every Christian teen should read this, none of them should read it alone. They should read The Farm at the Center of the Universe because of how it makes quick work of atheistic evolution. It'll prepare them for many of the attacks a university prof might muster. But while evolution-toppling accounts for about 99 percent of the novel's contents, there is also 1 percent that misdirects by leaving open the possibility that God could have created over billions of years. Are the authors proposing some sort of theistic evolution? That's never clearly stated, but it needs to have been ruled out. And since Farm is targeted to teens that 1 percent of misdirection shouldn't be overlooked. Teens should read it, but with a teacher or parent alongside....

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen

by Cyntia Rylant 1998 / 56 pages Three nine-year-old cousins are staying with their Aunt Lucy, and wondering what sort of fun they can cook up. When Lily comes up with the idea of a cookie company, Rosie and Tess are quickly on board. And all it takes to convince their Aunt is the promise of some free Cinamon Crinkles, her favorite. It's this enthusiasm, right from the start, that most appeals in this "Cobble Street Cousins" series. All 6 books are low on the drama – no fights or conflict – but high on the creativity, with the three girls always eager to build on each other's ideas. Lily is the writer, so she composes a poem to help them advertise their cookies: Cookies to your door, Who could ask for more, Aunt Lucy's girls will bake for you Cinnamon Crinkles, sweet and true Call us for a Baker's dozen We'll bring them over with no fussin! This is just the first of Lily's works, and while not her best (one of the others prompted my youngest to blurt out, "That was a really good poem!") it gets the word out. And then the orders start a'coming! Their first delivery is to a young man stuck on his couch with his leg in a cast. The outgoing Tess just has to know how it happened, and before long the girls have learned the man's name (Michael) and his occupation (he studies plants), and they find out that he has visited their aunt's flower shop but been too shy to really talk with her. That, of course, gets the girls thinking, and before long they've figured out a way to have the two of them meet: the girls will have a performance and invite the neighborhood! There are 5 others in this Cobble Street Cousins series, all just as sweet. They are, in order: In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen A Little Shopping Special Gifts Some Good News Summer Party Wedding Flowers In #4, the girls start their own newspaper, which got my middlest doing so as well. She described the whole series as "inspiring." Cautions The one caution concerns the cousins' parents, or more specifically, their absence. Whether it is Peter Pan, Frozen, or The Green Ember, a common theme in kids' stories is for the parents to be conveniently out of the way. That's because it will be harder for children to have big adventures if their big folk are still around to keep them safe. Sometimes the absence is because the parents are dead (Pollyanna) or desperate times have required desperate measures (WWII bombings in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). But in the Cobble Street Cousins series, the three girls are with their aunt because their parents are professional dancers doing a year-long tour. My kids didn't notice that this was a lame reason to leave your kids behind for a year... but I wanted them to notice because this is the "career over kids" misplaced priority that the world is so often pitching. To disarm it, we need to be able to recognize it. In addition, Tess only has a mom, and her dad's complete absence – no explanation is offered as to whether her dad is dead, or her parents are divorced – is odd. Conclusion While these will only appeal to girls (girls read boy books, but a boy wouldn't dare be caught reading a book about three girl cousins!), they most certainly will appeal. And at between 56 and 72 pages long, these are a nice digestible size for Grades 2 through 4. I'll also note that our family really enjoyed them as a bedtime read – the Cobble Street cousins are gentle, happy girls, who will inspire pleasant dreams! Cyntia Rylant has also authored the absolutely wonderful "Mr. Putter and Tabby" series, which, if you haven't checked it out already, you really should. Find my review here....

Articles, Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Comics on cartooning

If you have a young artist in the house, or if you're looking to inspire someone to try their hand at art, here's a collection to catch their attention. These are "how to cartoon" books that have been done as comics themselves – they both tell and show! There are plenty of cartooning books available, but most should be avoided. Parents might be under the impression that anything comic-related is just kid stuff, remembering the old Asterix and Obelix, Donald Duck, or Archie Andrews comics they used to read. The reality is that the vast majority of comics today are targeted at adults. Even old-school Archie wasn't as good-natured as we misremember him (always taking Betty for granted, and oggling every girl) and his newest iteration is now pushing homosexuality. There is a lot of twisted stuff in the comics, whether it’s the way women are depicted as impossibly buxom and skinny, or the heroic witches, ghosts, and demons that feature in more and more stories, or the queer agenda that’s inserted in comics for even the youngest ages. So comics as a genre aren't safe. But comics can be kid's stuff, and the ones below are awesome! I'm listing them by the age of their target audience, from youngest to oldest. (I've reviewed a couple of these elsewhere too, so you can click on their titles for more details). Adventures in Cartooning: How to turn your doodles into comics by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost 2009 / 112 pages This series has been called "the first books you should read if you want to cartoon." That's a pretty accurate descriptor. What sets these apart from the ones that follow is that the artwork is the easiest to copy, and the adventures are the goofiest! In the first story, a princess wants to make a comic but thinks she needs to know how to draw first. Appearing in a dramatic poof of smoke, a "Magic Cartooning Elf" arrives to tell her "THAT'S NOT TRUE!!!" He shows how a few simple lines here and then can create towers, mountains, swords, trees and so much more. Together they start crafting the princess's first comic adventure. It's about a princess who gets abducted by a dragon, and a brave knight (and his not-so-brave horse Edward) who set off to rescue her. Kids will get lessons in the importance of panels, perspective, how to show motion, and how dialogue can be used to helpfully tell what something is (when your artwork isn't quite up to showing it clearly enough). They'll learn how to draw the knight, Edward, and the Magic Cartooning Elf too. This is a book any kid will absolutely love! Cautions would include a few uses of "gosh" and "geez," as well as a "girl power" twist at the end when the young adventurous knight turns out to be the princess instead. It's not a huge thing, and I mention it only because we are in a world that is so confused about gender, it may have to be pointed out to kids that women have never been suited to wearing suits of armor.  I'll also note that as a wide floppy book, this could get pretty beat up in a school library, but I think it would still be a fantastic purchase. Maybe get two copies right away. There are all sorts of character tropes, and some of these are less admirable than a knight and princess – witches, monsters, superheroes, aliens, robots – but these are all minor elements to the story and I don't think are troublesome at all. Two sequels are every bit as instructive. Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action! and Adventures in Cartooning: Create a World take the knight on further adventures, imparting many more cartooning lessons along the way. There are also a few smaller spin-offs. I've read three – Ogres Awake!, Gryphons Aren't So Great and Sleepless Knight – and while they all include instructions on the insides of the front and back covers on how to draw some of the key characters, that's the extent of the instruction. These are more comic-book than comic education. I suspect another of these, Hocus, Focus!, might be a bit too witch-focused, and not educational-enough to bother with, but I'll let you know after I track it down. Maker Comics: Draw a Comic by J.P. Coovert 2019 / 124 pages Our guides, Maggie and her dog Rex, are trying to fulfill her grandfather’s dream of having a comic library. Maggie must buy the building before a villain turns it into a parking lot, and a discovered treasure map might lead to the money they need. Alongside their treasure quest, readers are given 6 projects to complete. We move from making a comic strip, to ending up with a one-sheet, 8-page comic book. My daughter loved learning how to fold and cut a single piece of paper to make this small comic booklet. Draw A Comic doesn't really cover much drawing. It's more about giving kids the basic tools – teaching them about panels, pacing, etc – to produce something pretty impressive, even if they can only make stickmen at this point. Two cautions: a passing mention is made about dinosaurs living 65 million years ago, and I'll also note that other books in this Maker Comics series (not this one) push the LGBT agenda. The Comic Book Lesson A graphic novel that shows you how to make comics by Mark Crilley 2022 / 156 pages Emily has a story to tell, and has settled on comic books as the way she'll tell it. But how can she begin? We get to follow along as Emily learns the ropes with three different talented ladies who are all willing to teach her. Step by step, instructor by instructor, Emily learns how pacing can increase drama, and the direction of an eyebrow can change a character's whole mood. I'm going to list two cautions here, the first for sensitive younger readers. Near the end of the story we learn why Emily so badly wanted to make a comic. In it, her hero rescues pets... and in real life, Emily wasn't able to rescue her own dog. Her loss is poignantly told, and made my eight-year-old sad enough that she stopped reading. I suspect though, that she might pick it up again. I think the 12-and-ups this is targeted to will be better able to deal with this bit of drama. The other caution concerns how The Comic Book Lesson briefly “bumps” into some of the weirdness of the comic world. One mentor mentions the “Electric Angel Nurse Mizuki” comic she’s authored, and we’re shown the cover depicting a nurse with wings. Another mentions she is writing a comic book about assassins for hire. And the 12-or-so-year-old Emily is depicted at a comic store and convention without her parents, which are weirder places than we’d want our 12-year-old to go without us. That’s it – nothing too big. This is another “how-to-decide-what-to-draw” book. It’s about learning how to plan out panels and pages like cartoonists do. For the art lessons, turn to this same author’s The Drawing Lesson which also uses a comic book format to teach, this time about shading, negative space, and more, with the only caution being one use of the word “Jeez.” Draw Stronger Self-care for cartoonists and visual artists by Kriota Willberg 2020 / 136 pages A key skill for an artist to learn is how to draw without hurting yourself. And how to recover after hurting your have done yourself an overuse injury. Even kids, if they are really into cartooning, can draw to the point of damaging themselves, whether that's coming from doodling with bad posture hour after hour, or the result of overuse of the tendons in their wrist as they color and shade. This could be a very important book for some, but it is not one a kid is going to pick up on their own. Young folk all seem to think themselves invulnerable... until they aren't. So this would be something a parent would have to read along with their teen, or read first to make the case for how it could be really helpful. In addition to a diagnostic function – putting a name to the pain – it also features exercises for hands and wrists, neck, chest, shoulders, and back, to help strengthen muscles to hopefully aid healing or prevent injury. This is a book I think many an artistic kid could benefit from, particularly if they keep pursuing their craft. There are no warnings needed for teens and up, and I can't imagine younger kids want to pick it up (it is simple black and white drawings - no bright colors to invite them in). However, for their sakes I will note that there are a couple of comic depictions of artists in pain – a guy holding his own, detached hand, for example – that you might not want to share with your toddler....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Lost & Found

Based on a True Story by Mei Yu 2024 / 124 pages Cartoonist and Chinese-Canadian Mei Yu shares the mostly true story of her own immigration experience as a young girl. On arriving in Canada, she is sent to school to sink or swim and there is a lot of floundering early on. Her classmates' dialogue, spoken in English which she doesn't yet understand, is shown in a green font, while her Chinese conversations, with her parents and with her stuffed animal, Kitty Paws, are shown in the typical black font. The large amounts of green in the first half of the book gives readers a good idea as to just how confusing it all is for Mei Yu. This could actually have been a pretty brutal book, what with how scary it is for Mei Yu to be in a country where she doesn't understand anything. But for comic relief we have her stuffie, Kitty Paws, coming to life to provide her companionship, and to narrate parts of the story. The brightly colored artwork, in its vaguely Manga, far-from-realistic-style, also helps ease the tension. There's also some comic confusion that lightens things, such as when Mei Yu eats her very first sandwich with chopsticks, instead of holding it with her hands! We do have to wait quite a while for our hero to finally start feeling comfortable – it takes all the way to page 100 before she begins to be able to communicate with her classmates. But there is a very happy ending, with Mei Yu's artistic skills helping to bridge the gap between the two languages. Cautions There is a very little bit of potty humor, but not done simply to be naughty. In one early miscue, Mei Yu's "pee levels" as her stuffie Kitty Paws puts it, are nearing the emergency mark, so she's desperate to go to the washroom. But in her hurry she ends up in the boy's bathroom, and then, when a boy comes in, she thinks he's made the mistake, so she can't figure out why her classmates are laughing at her. Conclusion This is a book every school library should get for how effectively it shows what it is like to be an outsider – this is a book that can help build some empathy. The target audience is elementary, but this would be an interesting read for anyone Grade 2 on into high school. For older kids, Shaun Tan's The Arrival offers a very different comic book immigration account....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Peter and Ernesto: A tale of two sloths

by Graham Annable 2018 / 128 pages As this tale begins, two sloth friends are "cloud picturing" looking up in the sky for whatever shapes they can find: "Rabbit," "Bear," "Ooh that one looks a little bit like a weasel." It's a fun game, but it unsettles the bigger sloth, Ernesto. "I like this piece of sky," he tells his friend Peter, "But I must go... this is only one piece of sky, Peter. I want to see ALL of the sky! I must take a trip." Now, if you know a little bit about sloths, you'll understand why Peter is shocked. Sloths don't get out much, and what about the bears and lions? Peter is sure it must be dangerous!. But the Ernesto is determined to go. And with hardly a glance backward he is off. And his adventure starts almost immediately, as he ends up crossing the ocean on the back of a friendly blue whale named Louie. Peter is happy to stay behind... except that he is worried about his friend. So, some time later, he slowly, cautiously, and loyally sets out, determined to rescue Ernesto from whatever dangers are out there. He gets help too, from a friendly and encouraging parrot. More animals are encountered, and with exception of one slightly scary polar bear, all of them become new friends to the adventuring sloths. That makes this a gentle tale that kids in Grade One through Four will really enjoy, especially because at more than 100 pages, it is long enough to really savor.  There are two more in the series so far. In Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths the friends’ tree gets taken out by a hurricane so they brave the forest to find a new home. And in Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night the sloths set out to find a dragon. That might sound a little scary, but rest assured, this is another fun, gentle tale!...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Beak & Ally: unlikely friends

by Norm Feuti 2021 / 64 pages If you're like me and can't get enough of comic duos, here's another odd couple pairing you'll want to get to know. Ally is an alligator that appreciates his alone time, and Beak is a Yellow-Bellied Fee Boo bird, new to the swamp, and eager to make friends. She's also blissfully unaware that predators and prey don't usually spend quality time together, so she makes her introductions by way of landing on Ally's snout. Ally isn't the most receptive, and is even quite annoyed by Beak's "Fee Boo" song. But when a Long-Bill Party Pooper kicks Beak out of her new nest, it's Ally to the rescue. This is light-hearted fun, and not really meant as anything more. That said, it could be used by a parent to talk about what it means to be open to friendship with folks who don't share exactly the same interests. There are three more in the series so far. In Bedtime Jitters Beak has trouble sleeping, because of all the weird sounds that happen in the swamp at night. Thankfully, Ally is there to explain that the Zump Zump Monster was just a bullfrog, and the Chatter Ghosts are just cicadas, and so on. They do get a little excitement when their night-time excursion leads them to some humans about to dump a load of trash in the swamp, but Beak and Ally make their own scary sounds and scare them away. In The Big Storm Beak senses a storm is coming and gets her nest ready. Ally is a little skeptical, but as the winds pick up, he starts helping smaller animals make it to cover, and when he later discovers his own home ruined, these neighbors pitch in to help – this is a sweet feel-good story. Finally, in Snow Birds, vacationing birds take advantage of Beak's good nature, and it is up to Ally to set some ground rules, and clear up the misunderstanding. The only caution for the series would a language concern in The Big Storm, where Beak says, "Oh my gosh." This would be a wonderful series for Grades 2 though 4....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Ant Story

by Jay Hosler 2024 / 158 pages This is as fascinating and creepy a comic about ants as you're likely to read. Ant Story is narrated by Rubi, an ant different from all the others in the colony in that she can talk. She also differs in that she is drawn rather "cartoony" while they are all quite realistic. It makes for a lonely existence, but being a talking ant means that Rubi can give us quite the inside look at her ant colony. As Rubi gives us the tour, we learn that there are about a "gajillion" ways for an ant to die, and we're shown one right off – an ant that Rubi was having a one-sided conversation with is suddenly slurped up by a "death tongue." Or, as we might describe it, a chameleon ate it. There is a bit of grim humor throughout, which will likely appeal to boys, with the main example involving Rubi and a friend. When Rubi meets what seems to be another talking ant – the first she's ever encountered! – she eventually discovers it isn't actually a talking ant, but is instead a talking parasitic phorid flea (named Miranda) that is growing and developing in the brain of this, now mostly "zombified," ant! That's grim, but realistically grim – these critters do exist, and do lay their eggs in ants, for them to grow and eventually burst out of. But I skipped ahead. Before we discover that Miranda is a phorid, and not just another talking ant, Rubi explains all sorts of ant basics, and we get to learn right along with Miranda. That makes this quite the educational journey. Cautions While the science, entertainingly told, is the reason to get this comic, it is that grim reality that makes for some cautions too. The parasitic phorid, and the predators Rubi and Miranda both evade, will raise questions which many younger readers may not know how to deal with, like: "If God created everything good at the start, why are so many predators so seemingly well designed to kill?" This secular book doesn't offer any answer, but we know it's due to Man's Fall into Sin. But to some, particularly this book's younger target audience, that general answer might not seem to adequately account for the impressive design behind these killing machines. Death via something uncontrolled like a volcanic explosion seems easier to understand. That fits with the brokenness that came with sin – the volcano has broken loose! But precision engineering in murderous parasites is the very opposite of brokenness, so... what's with that? Thus this might not be a book for a tween or early teen reader, though it is one that a student in Grade 11 and 12 should certainly be able to contend with before leaving the protective environment of our school. Some answers on this front can be found here: Why did God make viruses? Did God create parasites? If your school library doesn't have any resources addressing the problem of parasites, then it should get something like Answers in Genesis's The New Answer Book (Vol. 1, 2, and 3). Another caution concerns Jay Hosler's previous book about bees, which pushes evolution, and is not worth getting. Conclusion This is an absolutely fascinating read that will appeal to many a science-minded student. But the sometimes grim topic matter, and the complex theological issues that are tangentially touched on, mean this is one for high school and up....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Maker Comics: Survive in the Outdoors

by Mike Lawrence 2021  / 123 pages When mom and dad go off on a trip on their ownsome, Sophia and Alonso are driven to their grandpa's to spend the weekend fishing with him. Neither of them is wild about it, but thankfully they aren't bratty about it either: they do love their Grandpa, or Abuelito as they call him. When the kids get to their grandpa's house, it turns out the old man has a few tricks up his sleeve to build up enthusiasm for their outdoor expedition the next day: he gets them both doing a couple of fun projects. The first project has Sophia and Alonso building their own "buddy burner" – a candle of sorts that can be used as a handy fire starter, or even as a small camp stove in a pinch. To make it they have to melt wax and pour it around a cardboard spiral they cut out of a box. There are 8 projects in total, all described in detail so readers, with some parental supervision, can try them too. Some can only be done when you are actually out in the woods, but others can be practiced closer to home. Build a buddy burner Create your own compass Learn how to fish Start a campfire Cook a fish Learn some first aid basics Learn water purification basics Build a shelter After they get out in the great outdoors, their Abuelito twists his ankle, and they are forced to stay in the woods for the night and put these last three lessons to use. This is a survival 101 text disguised as a comic book, and author Mike Lawrence has done a good job of it – boys will be intrigued. Boys will also like a required bit of potty humor. To survive in the woods, you do need to learn how to do a #2 without a potty. Thankfully grandpa is up to the task of teaching how to do this right. I never knew there were so many different ways you can squat! The topic could have gotten distasteful easily enough, but this was done well. Cautions Cautions are limited to the other entries in this Maker Comics series. We liked Draw a Comic but there is definitely a woke edge to some of these others. So these two get two thumbs up, but the series does not. Conclusion Buy this one for your 10 to 12-year-old son, but only if you plan to put the lessons to use. Otherwise, it would be too much of a tease. All in all, a very fun, and very instructive introduction to surviving in the outdoors....

Animated, Movie Reviews

Animal Farm (1954)

Animated / Drama 1954 / 72 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is George Orwell's classic dystopian tale brought to the big screen. A farm setting is used to highlight a conflict between the "working class" – chickens, geese, cows, and pigs – and the wealthy, represented here by the farmer who owns everything. Orwell was anti-communist, but not blind to the problems of the arrogant elite who abused the poor, so his Farmer Jones here is a piece of work, shown whipping the animals in a drunken stupor. When Old Major, the most revered pig on the farm, calls a meeting, all attend. He gives a rousing speech, calling for solidarity against the oppressive farmer, and equality for all animals. But Old Major doesn't live to see the revolution he has called for – he punctuates his speech by collapsing at the end. But he has inspired action. The animals drive out Farmer Jones, and take over the farm for themselves. However, the animals soon learn the same lessons the poor Russians peasants learned when they overthrew the Tsar: being free of one tyrant isn't the same as being free. The pigs soon take the place of the farmer, because, after all, someone has to show some leadership. The pigs are soon eating the farmer's food, and sleeping in his bed too, even as the rest of the animals remain in the barn. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. Caution The cautions are of two kinds. Parents could see the trailer and think this could make for a good family night flick. While the simple 1950s animation does mute some of the violence, there are still creature killed both onscreen and off. At one point it is a full out war between a dozen armed humans and all the animals. Not a lot of blood is shown, but way too much for children. That's okay though, because this really isn't intended for an audience too young to understand the moral to the story. The other concern is that teens, and even some adults, might miss some of the nuance here, in part because of changes to the film that aren't in the book. This is a more hopeful version of the tale that ends with the dictator pig, Napoleon, getting overthrown, trampled to death by the other animals. In the book, it ends with the pigs still in charge, now making deals with the humans, and it is getting hard to tell the humans from the pigs and the pigs from the humans. The film's more hopeful ending was likely made because the film was, in fact, produced by the CIA. They may have wanted it to end on a more "democratic" note, the people rising up against their communist dictator. But Orwell's unresolved ending was likely meant to highlight the growing communist encroachment even in the West. And viewers will not get that from the film. But both book and film do critique the abuses that can happen under the arrogant. Orwell wasn't saying that the West was perfect and that only communism was a problem; he was highlighting that communism wasn't a solution to the problems happening in the West, and would only make things worse. Conclusion This is not a film to watch for entertainment; it rates only middling on that scale. But it is a great presentation of one of the more important novels of our time. At a time when "equity" is thought to be the ultimate goal, it's important to teach the next generation where that road really takes us. So, this would be a great one for 12 to 112. You may also be interested in Animal Farm: the Graphic Novel. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Stealing Home

by J. Torres and David Namisato 2021 / 112 pages During World War II, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Canada rounded up Japanese Canadians living on the coast and shipped them away to abandoned mining towns further in the interior. To add to the horror, this "temporary measure" came with devastating permanent consequences: their homes and most of their goods were sold, and the money was used to build and maintain their internment camps. So when the war ended and they were released, these families couldn't go home. They had to start from nothing. So how could such a sad chapter of Canadian history get a gentle enough treatment to be suitable for this Grade-4-and-up graphic novel? By focusing on how at least some of these Japanese Canadians managed to overcome their mistreatment. For Sandy Saito, baseball was a big help. Even before the war, anyone of Asian descent didn't exactly fit in with the predominantly white population of Canada. But on the baseball diamond, it didn't matter what others thought; all that mattered was how you played. As we're introduced to Sandy we find out this young boy is a huge fan of the Vancouver Asahi, a local baseball team made up of Japanese Canadians. Because Asahi players were smaller than their opponents, they couldn't play bash ball; their game wasn't about hitting more home runs than the opposition. They, instead, played "brain ball" with steals and bunts. And it worked so well they won the league championship 11 of the previous 24 years. When Sandy and his family were sent away, he took his baseball glove, as did others. They had no insulation in their cabins, and families had to share space. There were outhouses instead of bathrooms. And they couldn't leave. But they could play baseball. I don't have any cautions to offer. The only critique I can think of is that in making this gentle enough for elementary students, the authors might have made a little too little of the horrible abuse that happened. My own fourth grader read this, and thought it was quite good, but it didn't disturb her like it did me. That's probably because I was reading between the lines, and she was just taking it as it was told on the page. As to audience, she didn't know if it would grab a fourth-grade boy's attention. I think she might be on to something. Even though baseball is central to the story, this isn't a sports book. We don't see any great plays, or tight games, so it doesn't have that sort of boyish pull. But for elementary-and-up kids with any interest in history, this will be a very intriguing read. And for adults like me, who never knew about these events, this is a must-read. If we want our government to act with restraint in the future, we need to remember the times when it didn't do so in the past. We need to know, and we need to share that history, lest in forgetting it, we have to live through it again. For a more brutal account of how the US treated Japanese Americans during the war, you'll want to read We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Keiko Kasza: All about cartoon critters

Author and illustrator Keiko Kasza was born in Japan and moved to the US for college only to meet and marry an American and then become American herself. On her website she shares the fun factoid that while her last name sounds Japanese, it actually comes from her husband, whose family has Hungarian roots. Kasza loves to people her stories with adorable furry and feathered friends, and illustrates in a somewhat cartoonish style, coloring characters in bright colors and surrounding them with plenty of bright white space. There's often a gentle moral shared, and of the sort that'd we'd appreciate, like: adoption is good, try to be brave, grandparents have lessons to share, and sometimes two disagreeing friends may discover they have both been a little wrong and a little right. There's a sense of playfulness to her work, perhaps because some of her books come off a little like a joke, the build-up leading to a satisfying punchline. And, at 32 pages each (and shorter for the board book), they are all pretty quick reads, which means you can share two or three at a time with your little ones. Sadly, some of her titles aren't readily available, so I've noted the ones that are easier to get by including a cover picture. But all twelve of the recommendations are worth putting in some effort to track down. RECOMMENDED (12) Silly Goose's Big Story (2012) Goose is so good at making up stories, his friends always ask him for more. But when the roles get handed out, his friends start noticing that Goose always gets the hero role. And they want a turn too. Goose isn't about to do that. Then a wolf interrupts things, swoops up Goose, and tells him, "So you're the hero, huh? More like a hero sandwich to me!" Goose can't get away. But he can tell a story. So Goose tells the most outlandish story about a wolf-eating monster that lives in the area. And who should be coming through the woods right then, but the monster himself! Wolf runs off, and we discover the monster is nothing more than Goose's three friends stacked atop each other. Goose gives them thanks, and notes that they are the real heroes! It's a sweet story, where friends fight, but figure it out... with some help from a wolf. :) Ready for Anything! (2009) Duck wants to go on a picnic, but Raccoon wonders, what if killer bees, or a terrible storm, or even a ferocious dragon make an appearance? In contrast, Duck is a glass-half-full kind of guy, and has his own what ifs to share: what if butterflies pass by, and what if the weather is warm and the breeze just strong enough to blow a kite? Raccoon agrees to go, but brings loads of gear – he’s ready for anything! – and actually saves the day when Duck forgets to bring their food. I loved that both friends learn a lesson: Raccoon learns not to obsess about the bad, and Duck learns that it’s not crazy to prepare for bad stuff, because it does sometimes happen. The Dog Who Cried Wolf (2005) When Moka's owner reads a book about wolves, Moka starts getting jealous. He wishes he could be a wolf. So the next day he takes off for the mountains. The only caution for the book concerns his celebration: "He ran. He jumped. He danced. And he peed where he wanted." That is, however, the only bit of potty humor. And soon after celebrating his freedom Moka realizes it isn't all that it is cracked up to be. He is soon very hungry, and he can't catch his dinner. Then, when he meets a pack of real wolves, Moka realizes that he never understood how good he had it back home. When he runs back, he's met at the gate by his master, her arms wide open to hug him – this could have been titled "The Prodigal Dog"! The Mightiest (2003) A lion, bear, and elephant happen upon a crown with an inscription that says it is for the mightiest. To figure out how should get it, they take turns trying to scare an old lady. Each, in turn, manages to "scare the daylights out of" the old lady. But then the three of them get scared themselves when a giant comes along and scoops them all up. "Help!" they all cry, and who should rescue them but the little old lady. She is the giant's mama, and since he's sure scared to disobey her, isn't she the mightiest of this whole lot? My Lucky Day (2003) A hungry wolf thinks it must be his lucky day when a delicious piglet, looking for his friend rabbit, knocks on the door. But as the wolf’s dinner prep begins, the piglet notes “I’m filthy. Shouldn’t you wash me first?” And so the wolf sets out to collect wood, start a fire, draw the water and give the piglet a wonderful scrub. As they head back to the kitchen the piglet notes, he’s quite small, and wouldn’t he be more delicious if the wolf fattened him up. Yes, the wolf agrees, and he picks tomatoes, cooks spaghetti, bakes cookies, etc. Piglet ends up having such a wonderful time that he thinks it must be his lucky day. And the wolf gets so tuckered, the piglet easily makes his escape. There is a sequel, My Lucky Birthday (2013), that's almost its match, marred by one use of “gosh.” Don’t Laugh, Joe! (1997) Joe is a young possum who can’t help but giggle. That’s fun for all his friends, but his mom is worried that it might give him away when danger comes – after all, possums evade danger by playing dead, and no predator is going to believe a laughing possum is dead. But with a little help from a grumpy bear, he figures it out… and helps the grumpy bear see the funny side of things too. A Mother for Choco (1996) A little bird looking for a mother finds a giraffe that’s the right color… but she doesn’t have wings. A penguin mother has wings, but doesn’t have Choco’s round cheeks. And so the hunt goes on. Finally she meets mother bear, who looks nothing like Choco, but wants to hug and kiss her like a mom would. And they decide that’s what matters. Choco heads home with the bear, and discovers she has other children that also don’t look like her: a pig, a crocodile, and a hippo. I think the point of this is to celebrate adoption, and it does a good job (though I would have liked it more if dad bear had shown up). Grandpa Toad’s Secrets (1995) On a walk in the forest, Grandpa toad shares with his little grandson three secrets to dealing with danger. The first is to be brave, and when a snake jumps out to eat them, Grandpa puts his advice into action. He puffs himself up, until he’s twice his normal size and shoos the snake away. His second piece of advice? Be smart! When a huge snapping turtle tries to eat them, Grandpa tells the turtle about an even tastier snack that just slithered by only moments before. Before he can give his third piece of advice, a monster grabs him. Thankfully, little grandson has been listening, and uses the first two tips to mount a very brave and very smart rescue of his dear ol’ grandpappy. A very fun story! When the Elephant Walks (1990) A scared elephant scares a bear, who in turn scares a crocodile, and so on, until we have a running raccoon accidentally scaring a mouse. Will it all stop with the mouse? Who would be scared by a mouse? Well... an elephant of course! So round we go once more. This board book is clever, but it is very short, taking just a minute to read. The Pig’s Picnic (1988) Mr. Pig wants to ask Miss Pig out for a picnic, and on the way to her house, he meets three friends, who all want to help him look his very best. Fox loans the pig his bushy tail, while Lion gives his hair, and Zebra shares his stripes. But with Mr. Pig now looking so very different, Miss Pig slams the door on him. And when he comes back looking like himself, she is happy to go on a picnic with him, and eager to tell him about the ugly monster that had visited that morning. The moral of the story is to be yourself, not someone else. The Wolf’s Chicken Stew (1987) A wolf anticipates eating a wonderful chicken stew. But before pouncing on the chicken, he leaves gifts of 100 pancakes, followed by 100 doughnuts, then a 100-pound cake, all in an effort to fatten the chicken up. When he finally thinks it’s time to pounce, he goes to her house only to discover a grateful brood of 100 chicks who have been enjoying his cooking. The newly minted “Uncle Wolf” gratefully receives their 100 kisses. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT (1) Badger’s Fancy Meal (2007) Badger has plenty to eat in his hole, but wants something fancy. So he goes after a mole, rat, and rabbit, all of them escaping in turn by diving into the hole he just left…where they find what, in their eyes at least, is a fancy feast just waiting for them. When the Badger finally returns to his den he finds his food gone. All that’s left is a note, signed by three critters: “Sorry for dropping by uninvited. A nasty badger was chasing us and we had nowhere else to hide. The apples, worms and roots were delicious.” The bad guy gets what he deserves, which is good. But the reason I didn’t rate this higher is because as parents we also need to teach our children that we should be thankful that God is not giving us what we deserve. DON’T BOTHER (3) Finders, Keepers! (2015) A little squirrel in a bright red hat finds a big acorn and celebrates with a shout of “Finders Keepers.” He buries it for later, marking the spot with his hat, which is later found by a bird, who thinks it would make for a great nest and takes his turn at declaring “Finders Keepers.” And on it goes. This is a light-hearted tale but only because it completely ignores that finders keeping leads to losers weeping. We don't want our kids living out the moral of this story: instead of being keepers, finders should try to be returners. Dorothy and Mikey (2000) Two hippopotamus best friends share three stories here, all three of which center around fights. In the second, Dorothy pulls a trick on Mikey because he's being all braggadocios about how much better he is at their contests. She challenges him to a contest of standing on one leg with eyes closed to see who can do it longer. But once they start, she goes home and enjoys a nice cool lemonade while Mike continues standing on one leg in the hot sun for hours, thinking she is there too. This is just returning evil for evil, which God doesn't want us to do (1 Pet. 3:9). The Rat and the Tiger (1993) A little rat is best friends with a big tiger who isn’t always looking out for his little friend. For example, when they play cowboys, Tiger always gets to be the good guy, and Rat has to be the bad guy. After a lot of this, Rat gets fed up and won’t be friends with Tiger until Tiger gets a taste of his own treatment. But while Tiger was thoughtless, Rat treats Tiger badly on purpose. This is one to give a miss because as much as the world preaches it, we don’t want our kids to ever believe two wrongs make a right.  ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

by Nick Bertozzi 2014 / 125 pages Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was obsessed with reaching the South Pole. He tried to be the first to get there, setting out on two expeditions that fell short when harsh conditions drove them back. Ultimately he was beaten to the Pole by a Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, who made it there in December of 1911. But if Shackleton couldn't be the first to the Pole, then he was determined to be the first to traverse the Antarctic from one side to the other. With this ambitious goal in mind, he set out with his crew on August 1, 1914. Shackleton would fail this time too, but in such a spectacular and heroic manner that the tale of his failure has been retold again and again in countless books and several documentaries. His ship sunk, his sled dogs were killed to be eaten for food, and his crew was stranded on an icepack that was constantly breaking up, the only solid ground being an island 100 miles away across the open water. Yet, somehow, Shackleton and his crew all made it home alive, more than 2 years after they left. Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel is one of the latest and certainly one of the greatest additions to the Shackleton canon. At times humorous – it includes a toga party and a stowaway who readily accepts that should food be in short supply he will be the first eaten – and gripping throughout. Bertozzi presents Shackleton as a man who would risk much, but who wouldn't throw away his men's lives to complete this goal. As obsessed as he was with the Pole, Shackleton was more obsessed about his men's well-being and he was determined to do whatever it took to get them back home. Cautions This does have some language concerns, but doesn't take God's Name in vain. "Damn" or "damned" occurs about a half dozen times, and also notable is the use of the word "bloody" which I understand is quite offensive among the British (but doesn't seem so bad to me) – it is used more than a dozen times. Conclusion I'd recommend this for any teens who might have a history project to do. They might not find it as gripping as the latest Marvel movie, but this is a pretty rollicking tale, and especially if they keep in mind that this is true, it really could grip them. Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey will also appeal to any adults who aren't embarrassed at the thought of being seen reading a comic....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Little Robot

by Ben Hatke 136 pages / 2015 This is one of those little-girl-meets-little-robot, little-girl-loses-little-robot, little-girl-kicks-some-big-robot-tushy-to-save-little-robot stories. What sets it apart from all the others is that the first 26 pages are entirely wordless, and there isn't much talking the rest of the way either. The little girl, it turns out, is quite the amateur mechanic, so when she comes across an abandoned box and discovers a robot inside, she sets out to get it running. And she gets a little frightened when it does come to "life." This little girl is also quite lonely, so once she overcomes her fear, she becomes convinced this is going to be her new friend. However (insert ominious music here) she isn't the only one interested in the little robot! His manufacturer has noticed he's missing, and has sent a big bad robot on a search and recover mission. And this thing is massive – a semi-truck-sized beast that looks like it could eat trees! When it swallows the little robot, it's up to the girl, and some other new-found robot friends, to outwit the big robot bully and free her little buddy. Cautions At one point the big bad robot also swallows a poor defenceless kitty, but never fear, the fuzzball isn't chewed up – it's just inside, waiting to be rescued. The only other caution would be the notion of robots as people. Kids' stories have all sorts of anthropomorphism – cats can have hats, rabbits have swords, and trees might even walk – so is it a big deal if robots get this treatment too? No, unless kids get too much of it. No one believes cats, rabbits, or trees could actually become people, but they are saying that about robots today. The world misunderstands mankind as simply "meat robots," and from there, it isn't much of a leap to think robots could one day become "metal people." But we are more than our meat - we are body and soul, and no amount of hardware or software will ever engraft a soul into a robot. And that's a point that might be worth sharing with our kids. Conclusion The protagonist of the story usually gives you a good gauge of the target audience, and as this one is a little girl, girls would certainly be among those interested. But it's also got robots, and robots hunting robots, which will appeal to the boys. And as a mostly wordless comic, it will also have some appeal for early readers. It has a bit of tension, which could be a bit much for some in Grade 1, but for most in Grades 1 through 5, this will be a real treat....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Fern and Otto

by Stephanie Graegin 40 pages / 2020 Fern is a bear, an author, an illustrator, and a best friend to Otto, the adventurous cat who shares her treehouse abode. Fern has authored a book, and naturally, it is about her best friend and the activities they get up to together, like eating lunch and napping in the sun. Otto likes napping, but he isn't wild about being immortalized in a book as a napper. He wants the story to be about something more adventurous. And that means Fern and Otto need to head outside and find excitement. So off they head into the woods, two friends looking for some sort of heart-pumping happenings. This already delightful book amps up the delight when Fern and Otto come across all sorts of fairytale events – they bump into the Tortoise and the Hare right as their race is about to start – only to have Otto insist they keep walking so they can find something more interesting. Kids will enjoy spotting familiar fairytale critters (like the Three Little Pigs shuttling their supplies) who show up in the background a few pages before Fern and Otto eventually bump into them. Fern and Otto are both clueless as they just miss one adventure after another, meeting Goldilocks, but leaving before the Three Bears show up, and walking with Little Red Riding Hood, but heading their own way just before she reaches Grandma's house. The Gingerbread Man, Hansel and Gretel, Chicken Little, and many more make quick appearances. It's only when the two best friends stumble across a witch that they realize that excitement isn't all it's cracked up to be, and home sounds pretty good right about then. The fractured fairytales are great fun, and I also appreciated this for the kid-level look it provides of the creative process – we get to see Fern write her book, work with feedback, and then rewrite it. Two thumbs way up!...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Mooses with Bazookas

by S.D. Smith 2023 / 160 pages I liked this book so much that right after I finished it, I read it again, this time to my kids for bedtime. Like C.S. Lewis before him, S.D. Smith is a popular Christian author who had some curious correspondence land in his lap. In Lewis's case, it was serious stuff – he somehow got his hands on notes from a senior devil to a junior devil, instructing him on how best to tempt and devour people. Lewis later published this correspondence as The Screwtape Letters.  Smith got sillier stuff, but how he got his hands on these letters is every bit as mysterious. Eleven "jug notes" from one Wally Warmbottom, author, expert, and solitary shipwrecked resident of the deserted island of Peachpitistan, somehow floated across the ocean to Smith, who lives in the land-locked state of Virginia. Smith doesn't understand it, but he collected and has now published the notes. As Wally Warmbottom recounts it, his small island is full of peach pits and beach pits, both of which are tripping hazards. It also has a "story cave" with tales preserved there in jugs, written by, well, who knows? The stories didn't interest Wally, but he thought Smith could take a look, so the book includes, in addition to 11 letters from Wally, four of these short stories. What Wally missed, you will most certainly enjoy, as "Binsley Bustbocket burns the buns" and "Rocket and Elsie and Rocket" are a hoot! This is wonderfully stupid throughout, but I think I might have most enjoyed one running gag that pops up in a couple of Wally's letters, and also in the title story. Barry the Moose has been having quite the day: Fort Moosefort has been overrun by flame-thrower-wielding bears, Barry's lucky stick has been burnt to ash, and a bear bullet broke off a favorite bit of his antler. So now he's on the run, and who can this silliest of all creatures turn to when he's in desperate need? Well, Science of course. But when Barry invokes his god, it's always to no effect. "The bears started firing rocket launchers at the cabin. 'Trust in Science!' I screamed..." "I swiveled and saw a pack of wolves rushing at us with fully loaded shotguns. Were they locked as well? I couldn't tell. I didn't know if you could lock one or if you would even want to in a fight, because if it's locked, can you still shoot it? ...'Help me, Science!' I cried as I dove behind a skinny tree." "The wolves had abandoned the chase – or at least the chase of me. Maybe that was bad news for J. J. whathisname or whathisinitials, but for me, no loaded or locked gun would be fired or shot at me for a while. May Science guide you, I thought towards J.D., finally remembering his intials..." It's a joke that will breeze right over the kiddos' heads, but is there for mom and dad to appreciate. So, a silly goofy story, with some political subtext – what more could you want? Maybe the only critique I would have is that, other than this being both hilarious and clean, I wouldn't have had reason to suspect the author was Christian. That said, it might be hard to include God – Who appreciates silly, but is not at all silly – in such a deliberately insubstantial book. I'll rate this as a great one for everyone eight and up, so long as they can appreciate Dad-joke humor. For a good taste of the silly, check out the book trailer below. And if you like this, S.D. Smith has written a less silly but more adventurous series on "rabbits with swords." Check out our review of the first book: The Green Ember. ...

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