Category Archives: childrens

Children’s Book: Princess Annalise and The Fat Dragon – (2/5)

As usual I didn’t pay for this book but instead received it free in exchange for a review, this time from LibraryThing. Also as usual I leave my scrupulously honest opinions below.

So, I’ll take a chance and just go all-out spoilers on this one because if you’re reading this review you’re probably not in a whole lot of suspense anyway. Long story short, princess finds a dragon who’s fat and can’t breath fire so he’s an outcast. So the nice princess puts the dragon on a work-out routine to shed all that unwanted “blubber” and get into shape so that the other dragons will like him.

I really appreciate what the author is trying to get at here, but the moral of this story really comes across to me as: “Change who you are so that people will like you.” That is really not the message that you want to send to children who might be a bit on the heavy side (or any other side for that matter). Beyond that, the text is rather disjointed and the art work is OK but suffers from poor layout on the Kindle.

In summary, I’m not letting any child of mine read this. Yikes.

— UPDATE —

I received a request from the author via email:

Thanks for reviewing my book: Princess Annalise and The Fat Dragon. I am sorry if you are thinking the moral of the story is: “Change who you are so that people will like you.” When I wrote the book I never thought comparing the fat dragon with the fat kid. I just thought the fat dragon getting skinny is funny but I never ever thought about comparing to a fat kid. So I really appreciate if you would like to change your review about my book.

My response:

Hi Olivia,

Firstly, I understand your concern and I don’t think that it was your intent to compare the fat dragon with fat children. The problem is that it’s not really about your intent in this case so much as the message that other people will receive when reading your book. Kids at a young age don’t make that distinction between talking animals or dragons and themselves.

If you show this book to a child with a weight problem, they’re probably going to feel bad and think that in order to be liked by anyone else, they too have to lose the “blubber” as you put it in the book. Similarly, if you show it to a child without a weight problem, they’re going to see every overweight person as someone who needs to lose weight. I’m not debating obesity but I would not want such a message put in front of my child because it’s OK for people to be who they are and they don’t need to change themselves so they will be liked.

Other reviewers may disagree and I welcome the discussion but I’m not going to change my review because of what you intended to write. I can’t review your book based on your intent. I have to review it based on the words on the page and how I think they may strike a reader. In this case, I don’t think this is a positive message so I cannot give it a positive review as a book to be read to young children.

I’m sure that must be a disappointment but I have to be honest with the people who shop on Amazon and give my honest opinion.


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SNAKES: Fun Facts and Amazing Photos – A very basic introduction for the youngest readers (3/5)

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As usual I received this book for free for the purposes of review; this time from the author directly. Despite this kindness I give my scrupulously honest opinion below.

In a nutshell and quite obviously, this is a very brief and very simple book about snakes. The content is appropriate for any age but only the very youngest readers will find this worthwhile. Book formatting runs along pretty simple lines with a picture at the top of each page and a paragraph of text under it.

On the positive side, the book is completely accessible. Even if your child has never seen a snake before in their lives this book will make sense. It assumes nothing about the potential reader and begins at the very beginning.

To the negative side, the pictures in this book are pretty tiny. Even on an larger HD Kindle they’re hardly more than thumbnails. They look pretty high def but the way they’re laid out in the book you practically have to put your nose on the screen before you can see much. Lastly, the writing is reasonably professional though it does have a tendency to interrupt itself in the middle of a sentence “wait, what?!” which might be confusing to newer readers.

In summary, this is a good little book to have around but it does have a few foibles. Despite that, you can’t beat the price this week while it’s free on Amazon. It’ll certainly keep at least one child entertained for a few minutes while you cook dinner.


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Secrets Underground: North America’s Buried Past – Varied topics but too much clip art (4/5)

As usual, I paid nothing for this book but instead received a copy for review from NetGalley. Despite that kind consideration I give my candid thoughts below.

“Secrets Underground” is a very accessible yet detailed story of six different locations on the continent that have something buried underground. In some cases it’s actual open passages or rooms and in others it’s just remnants of some bygone era. The average section is about 15 pages long and features 12 photographs from half a page in size to thumbnails so this is about 70% text and 30% color photos. It’s primarily textual and probably appropriate for 10-12 year-olds.

On the positive side, the author has chosen some very intriguing locales and it makes me want to travel more just reading a bit about them. Also, as I said the text is detailed enough to keep a young reader’s interest but very careful to define words that kids probably wouldn’t know.

To the negative, many of the photos are rather small and some pages are decorated with abominable clip art of digging implements. The graphical layout seems rather unprofessional and at times distracting.

In summary, the book lives up to its name and offers widely varied information on those mysterious bits lurking underground. It could use a bit more polish but it’s sufficient to keep kids interest.


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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum [1900]

Baum’s Wizard of Oz, now over a century old, varies from its popular representation in a fashion very similar to the manner in which all works of stage and screen vary from their literary counterparts.  The book features much the same cast, complete with scarecrow and tin man and lion, but offers a bit more depth and back story than the movie classic.  I will not attempt to summarize the work entirely but will point out a few key points and differences that struck me as interesting during my brief perusal.  No warranty is expressed or implied as to my own reader’s interest in anything I may commit to paper.

Firstly, I found it interesting how Baum’s stress on the dull gray landscape of Kansas translated into the movie’s depiction off the text.  This was a natural and wonderful coincidence given that at the time movies themselves were undergoing a transition from black and white to color.  Baum notes:
The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.”
 
Everything truly is most painfully drab until Dorothy finds herself in the most radiant land of Oz.  Baum’s words of introduction could not be more perfectly reproduced than by the movie almost 40 years later.
“The little girl gave a cry of amazement and looked about her, her eyes growing bigger and bigger at the wonderful sights she saw. The cyclone had set the house down very gently — for a cyclone — in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty. There were lovely patches of greensward all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and birds with rare and brilliant plumage sang and fluttered in the trees and bushes. A little way off was a small brook, rushing and sparkling along between green banks, and murmuring in a voice very grateful to a little girl who had lived so long on the dry, gray prairies.”
From here the text and my analysis of it settle down a bit.  The good witch of the North who visits Dorothy in the opening of the text is, in fact, old rather than young and radiant as depicted in the movie.  She is not Glinda, as Glinda lives in the south and has become powerful enough to defy the passage of time.  Dorothy’s new-found shoes, lately belonging to the wicked witch of the east, are in fact silver, not red.  As the movie folk-lore tells it, they were to originally be of silver in the movie, but were changed to red so they would contrast more spectacularly with the yellow road of such pivotal importance.  I will not burden the reader with the myriad of differences in evidence.
As with all of Baum’s works though, there are a few points of keen wisdom to be acquired for the assiduous reader.  Of particular interest is the evolution of the principle characters during the series.  Our friend the scarecrow entreats:
Brains are the only things worth having in this world, no matter whether one is a crow or a man.”

A constant conflict boils just under the surface as to whether wisdom or compassion or selflessness are most important attributes in humanity.

The man of tin is given a sad and macabre back story in the book that would terrify children if it were reenacted.  He retells the story briefly in chapter five in which he was the victim of love and the wicked witch of the east.
“She thought of a new way to kill my love for the beautiful Munchkin maiden, and made my axe slip again, so that it cut right through my body, splitting me into two halves. Once more the tinsmith came to my help and made me a body of tin, fastening my tin arms and legs and head to it, by means of joints, so that I could move around as well as ever. But, alas! I had now no heart, so that I lost all my love for the Munchkin girl, and did not care whether I married her or not.”

The tin man’s history makes him a much more complicated personage as we realize that unlike the scarecrow, he has firsthand knowledge of what he has lost.  He was once a man in love, but fell victim to the heartlessness of another.

In the textual version we also learn what is suspected of the magical city of Oz in the movie.  Indeed, it is merely a façade, a hollow rendering of a greater place.  We see this laid out for us in chapter 12.  Dorothy and the others are forced to don green goggles before they enter the Emerald City.  Upon their exit, an examination of their clothing reveals the true nature of the city:
“but now, to her surprise, she found it was no longer green, but pure white. The ribbon around Toto’s neck had also lost its green color and was as white as Dorothy’s dress.”

Oz isn’t so much a reality as it is an enforced state of mind, an illusion perpetuated by Oz himself.  If one were in a more cynical mood, one might extend this analogy to all of government.  But since one is not of such a mood, one will merely leave such concepts as an exercise for the reader, and perhaps refer them to some Orwell.

Most interesting to me, we also learn the reason why the flying monkeys find themselves in the service of the wicked witch of the west.  To shorten an otherwise interesting story, let it merely be said that they were a free and independent people under the influence of an enchantment which required them to serve the witch a prescribed number of times in a manner of her choosing.  Later they find themselves in the service of both Dorothy and Glinda, but like all points of real interest, this is left as incentive to the reader.

One of the things that is most keenly lost in the visual rendition of Baum’s work is his word play.  While the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is not the best example of Baum’s love of Pun, it does display itself.  Most prominently it appears in his gifts to the three non-human heroes.  To the scarecrow he endows a head full of bran and needles.  The “bran-new brains” include the needles to prove just how “sharp” the scarecrow has become.  While Baum’s puns are many, no promise is made as to their quality.  To the tin man he endows a simple heart made of cloth and stuffing and to the lion he gifts a stiff belt of whiskey to endow courage.  One finds it difficult to imagine how this last gift was lost from the movie version.

All in all, the book was as entertaining as the previous three times I’d bothered to peruse it.  No grand discoveries were to be made but it is a quick and simple read for those that find themselves in environments where distractions made more detailed reading impossible.  While it is written for a child, the age of the work makes it at least somewhat amusing for the more sophisticated reader.  Children of the current era will find little in it to amuse them.

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