Book review: Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas, by Nora Surojegin, illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin

Surojegin, Nora. Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas. Illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin. Floris Books, 2016. English Version 2016. 101 pgs. $24.95. ISBN 9781782503231. Ages 5-10. P8Q8

Otto the elf goes on a quest through the dark forests of Finland looking for the Light of Christmas to brighten the dismal winter on the coast. This is a beautiful Christmas tale that is rich in references to Finnish folklore and culture, and the soft, intricate, glowing illustrations added so much to my appreciation of the story. I enjoyed the richness of the language. The descriptions of the forest, scenery, and characters are absolutely magical, and new vocabulary is used. I can imagine parents and children cuddled up, drinking hot chocolate and reading this book together over the Christmas holidays. The kindness and generosity that Otto encounters throughout the story are a nice reminder of how people should behave. The format of the book is pleasing too- it’s a large size with a sturdy cover. Every spread has an illustration, and the text is divided into short chapters that will help young readers keep pace with the story, and will make the book a good bed time story to read over the course of several nights. The author and illustrator are mother and daughter.  Originally published Finland in 2010.

VERDICT: I think this book will become a holiday favorite at my library in the years to come.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.


Book review: Grumpy Cat & Pokey in the Grumpus!, edited by Rich Young and Anthony Arques

Grumpy Cat & Pokey in the Grumpus! (Grumpy Cat series, book 3) Ed. by Rich Young & Anthony Arques. Dynamite Entertainment, 2017. $12.99. 104p. ISBN 978-1-5241-0246-3. Ages 6-9. P8Q7

Five authors and six illustrators produce nine graphic short stories in the lives of a cranky cat and her cheerful brother. Plots include their being lost in the woods, offered a job at the circus, caught up in witch’s scheme, coping with the disappearance of all humans, and dealing with visitors who bring their dog.

Verdict: The collection is uneven because of different illustrators, but all the stories reveal the catness of the characters. Each story in the third of this series is brief enough for easy reading. The stickers in the back of the book may make the book more suitable for individual purchase.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: The Bad Guys in The Furball Strikes Back, by Aaron Blabey

Blabey, Aaron. The Bad Guys in The Furball Strikes Back. (Bad Guys series, book 3) Scholastic, 2017. $5.99. 140p. ISBN 978-1-338-08749-9. Ages 6-10. P9Q9

After rescuing 10,000 chickens in Mission Unpluckable, the motley crew of “bad” guys turned into “The Good Guys Club” led by Mr. Wolf face more danger from Dr. Marmalade, the evil mad scientist guinea pig, was wants revenge for the chicken rescue. Mr. Wolf is captured along with the snake and the shark, leaving the piranha and tarantula to save the day. Fortunately, the ninja-like Special Agent Fox steps in to help, but Mr. Wolf’s crush on her may cause more problems. The simple illustrations on large, sometimes full-page panels, are full of shouting in bold, all caps type that contribute to the excitement.

Verdict: Well laid out and simple, the drawings clearly show the different creatures, and the crazy humor, including the group’s in-fighting dialog, is non-stop. Although the graphic novel can be read without the first two books in the series, reading those two books first would enhance the enjoyment. A wonderful sequel by the Australian author with a short taste of the crew’s fourth adventure against an army of zittens—zombie kittens.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Ada Lace, on the Case, Emily Calandrelli, with Tamson Weston ; illustrated by Renée Kurilla

Calandrelli, Emily, with Tamson Weston. Ada Lace, on the Case. Illustrated by Renee Kurilla. Simon & Schuster, 2017. $6.99. ISBN 9781481485982. 124 Pages. Ages 6-10. P7 Q7

Full of friendship, detective work, and intrigue, Ada Lace, on the Case, will captivate young readers. Ada moves to San Francisco and does not have any friends yet. With her leg in a cast and her mother leaving for a few days, Ada feels lonely. Before her mom leaves, she arranges for Nina, a girl Ada’s age to come over. Ada makes a field guide of her new neighborhood. In the process, she meets a Nina and they discover their neighbors dog is missing. I enjoyed the field guide of the neighborhood and how Ada took notes on what was going on around her. This book is in the chapter book series, Ada Lace Adventure book 1. It is set up for a sequel, but it can also stand alone.

Verdict: This chapter book would be a good addition to any children’s library. The short chapters make it easy to read and the mystery about a missing dog will keep the reader wondering who took the dog and why.

December 2017 review by Tami Harris

Book review: Peg + Cat: The Big Dog Problem, by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson

Oxley, Jennifer and Billy Aronson. Peg + Cat: The Big Dog Problem. (Level 2 Reader)  Candlewick Entertainment, 2017. $4.99. ISBN 9780763697907. 42 Pages. Ages 5-8. P7 Q8

Follow Peg and Cat as they figure out how to mail five letters. Peg and Cat divide the five letters in many ways. On their way to mailing the letter, they encounter a problem…a BIG problem. Using math, drawing plans, and through trial and error, they figure out a way to mail their letters. Peg + Cat is based on the Emmy award-winning animated TV series that uses math skills to solve problems. It is a level 2 reader and great for the developing reader. The illustrations match the text and enhance the story.

Verdict: With four chapters, spacing between the words, and a nice mix of easy and challenging words, this book will be a great addition to any young children’s library. Not only will your child build his/her confidence reading he/she will also learn to manipulate numbers.

December 2017 review by Tami Harris

Book review: Bob and Tom, by Denys Cazet

Cazet, Denys. Bob and Tom. Richard Jackson/Atheneum, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-6140-5. Ages 5-8. P9Q9

The author of lovable and hapless pairs of friends such as Minnie and Mo and Snail and Slug has a new silly pair in these two clueless turkeys. As usual, the ridiculous dialog carries the plot of this chapter book from morning rain showers to swimming in the afternoon and the loss of their names. Mixed-media illustrations carry out the delightfully absurd action for example when Bob uses a magnifying glass to see if Sam’s head has anything inside.

Verdict: Cazet has a great understanding of satire, but I still prefer Minnie and Moo. 

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Sticks and Stones, by Nicole C. Kear, illustrated by Tracy Dockray

Kear, Nicole C. Sticks and Stones. Illustrated by Tracy Dockray. (The Fix-It Friends series) Imprint, 2017. $5.99. ISBN 9781250085863. 144 pages. Ages 6-9. Book 2 in the Fix-It Friends series. P7 Q7

Veronica helps her friend, Noah, who is being bothered by another student. This book focuses on how to deal with being teased. It includes a tool box with detailed steps on how to handle being teased. Like the first book in the series, The fix-it friends have no fear, this book also includes resources for parents and children. The Fix-It Friends have not fear is a chapter book in the series Fix-it Friends. The author is planning to have six books total in the series. The third book is estimated to be released in September 2017, and books four to six will be released until 2018. The books can be pre-ordered. Each book in the series focuses on an issue children may be dealing with and each book can stand alone.

Verdict: I recommend this book for libraries, classrooms and personal libraries. This book is especially helpful for children who are being teased. As a family advocate, this is a book I will keep in my personal library. I look forward to the other books in the series.

June 2017 review by Tami Harris.