Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Sad Goodbye

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the end of Cozy Little Book Journal. I will no longer be reviewing, tweeting about, or blogging about books. Period. This means the end of all of my secondary blogs as well, I'm afraid.

I'm so sorry to all of the authors and publishers who were counting on me to promote the countless books they've sent me over the years, and I'm sorry to all of the readers who have come back to my blog again and again. I appreciate all of your support and encouragement and I'm so sorry to disappoint anyone. I assure you I did not take this decision lightly.

Most people don't realize this but I've not been well for several months now. I've had medical issues that have impacted my life in various ways and I really need to focus on my health now. For a long time, blogging seemed like a good fit for me. I could read and review books even when I was too ill to do much else. Lately, however, the stress of all of my book-related commitments, combined with feeling physically ill and emotionally exhausted, has made it a hobby that I dread more than I treasure. I've hated having reading turn into a chore instead of a joy.

Apart from health concerns, I've also gotten tired of a lot of other aspects of having a book blog. I'm sick of having authors' friends call me an idiot on Amazon because I didn't like a book. I'm tired of being sent dozens of crappy book files every month, despite repeatedly telling self-published authors that I'm in no way interested in their Christian children's books or their vampire YA. I'm tired of always being a few hundred books behind in my reading list, then feeling guilty if I choose to read a library book instead of one I'm "obligated" to read. I miss re-reading my favourite books just because I feel like it, instead of trying to speed-read the endless book files I have on my Kobo.

Don't get me wrong. I've loved so much about book blogging. I'd say I've loved it way more than I've hated it. I've loved being a part of a community of committed readers who discuss books with the enthusiasm of sports fans discussing a big game. I've loved interacting with authors, illustrators, publishers and publicists, the majority of whom have been the most amazing and lovely people. I've treasured the moments when my honest excitement for a book can make an author's day, and I've loved when they've taken the time to tell me that. I've been in awe of so many authors and artists and I've felt like I was backstage at a rock concert, getting to exchange letters and emails with my literary heroes.

I've loved sharing this experience with my daughter. She's five, but she never starts a new book without reading not only the title, but also the name of the author, the illustrator and the publisher. I didn't do that when I was her age. She's only a beginner reader herself, but she can already easily identify when a book is written or illustrated by someone she knows because she's come to recognize art styles, writing styles, and author photos. She thinks computers are mostly for downloading book files. I love that.

Nonetheless, I've decided that it is time to take a break from blogging. My daughter is starting school in a few days and I'm trying to stay healthy enough to share each day with her. Of course we'll still be reading and discussing all our favourite books. We just won't be doing it online.

Thank-you again to everyone who has supported and participated in my book blog, in every capacity, over the past four years. Unfortunately it's goodbye for now (possibly forever) but I really appreciate all of you. Thanks for understanding.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Big Book of Things to Make, by James Mitchem (DK Publishing)

Fantastic! As always, DK Publishing delivers exactly what it promises. This is like the quintessential book of kids' crafts. It's got all those things I vaguely remember from my own childhood (pinhole cameras, bottle rockets), plus a bunch of things I used to know when I was a daycare teacher but have since forgotten (homemade slime, milk art), and a couple of things I just never knew at all (if you make jello with tonic water it glows under UV light -- why?). Basically it's one-stop awesome.

And it has a whole bonus section of "things to do" that includes tips for how to play detective or pirates or even how to make your own board game. You know, for kids who want to better at playing and figure the answer is probably in a book (hint: it totally is). I was that kid. Actually, I still am, which is why I strongly approve of this book.

The Big Book of Things to Make
Author: James Mitchem
Publisher: DK Publishing
Publication Date: March 18, 2013
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Source: Edelweiss

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Loula and the Sister Recipe, by Anne Villeneuve

Magda and I were big fans of Anne Villeneuve's previous book, Loula is Leaving for Africa, about a wealthy girl with successful but scattered parents, horrible triplet brothers, and a (luckily) attentive chauffeur. If it hadn't been for that chauffeur, I'm not sure anyone would have noticed that Loula had been gone all day (not really to Africa). Once again, it's the driver to the rescue when Loula decides it's time for another adventure. This time, she wants to create a new baby sister for herself, if only she can find the right ingredients.

This one sort of straddles the line between adorable and a little creepy, as Loula and her driver assemble the "ingredients" that Loula has heard are needed to make a baby. She gathers chocolate, candlelight, butterflies, hugs and kisses (with her cat), and of course, her parents. I know it's meant to be cute, but it's a little weird. After all, we the readers know that she's trying to set the scene for her parents to get it on (even if she doesn't quite realize it). And her chauffeur is helping her. It's...a little weird.

In the end her efforts do lead to an addition to the family, except it's in the form of a stray dog. Well, they assume it's a stray and just keep it without question. Again, a little odd.

Nonetheless, the series itself is charming and I'm hoping there will be more Loula books by Anne Villeneuve, even if this particular one isn't my favourite.

Magda's Take:
"I don't think that's going to work. I'm pretty sure that's not how you get a baby sister..."

Loula and the Sister Recipe
by Anne Villeneuve
Published by Kids Can Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2014
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Source: NetGalley

Also Mentioned In This Review:
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Monday, August 4, 2014

Feivel's Flying Horses, by Heidi Smith Hyde (ilustrated by Johanna Van Der Sterre)

Oh this is a lovely book! It tells the story of Feivel, a Jewish immigrant who comes to America in the 19th-century, leaving his family behind in Europe, so he can make a better life for them in the new world and hopefully earn enough money for them to come over and join them. A gifted artist, he makes a living carving elaborate and beautiful carousel horses, each dedicated to a member of his family. Finally, he earns enough for his wife and children to join him in New York, where they can finally see his amazing "horses."

Because it's based on real events, the book is of particular interest to children of Jewish families, European immigrants, or those who live in New York, but it is certainly not limited to that audience. The theme of longing and determination expressed through art is a universally relatable one, I think, and I found it very touching. Mostly though, the illustrations are so rich and lovely that it made me want to go on a carousel. What a wonderful book to read in the summertime, when there are merry-go-rounds to ride on at fairs and exhibitions (though perhaps not as amazing and special as the ones in the book)!

Feivel's Flying Horses
by Heidi Smith Hyde
Illustrated by Johanna Van Der Sterre
Published by Open Road Media
Publication Date: May 20, 2013
Originally published by Kar-Ben Publishing on January 1, 2010
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Source: NetGalley

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Where in the World Will We Go Today? by Heather C. Toner (illustrated by Bill Pazman)

The description of this book sounds ambitious--a children's illustrated journey around the world--but I had high hopes for it anyway. After reading so many wonderful books by DK Publishing I thought the concept had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, this book is definitely not a DK book and it didn't meet even my most meagre expectations. The illustrations are dull and amateur; the rhymes are toneless, shallow and banal; and the "journey around the world" only includes about a dozen countries, most of which only have a few lines of description at best (except for the United States and, confusingly, Tanzania).

If I had to describe this book in a word, it would be "unsuccessful."

Where in the World Will We Go Today?
by Heather C. Toner
Illustrated by Bill Pazman
Published by BQB Publishing (Boutique of Quality Books)
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
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Source: NetGalley

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rhoda's Rock Hunt, by Molly Beth Griffin (illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell)

Oooh I love this book! Sometimes when a children's book is fantastic, it's hard to find a creative way to say "it's fantastic" because, well, many children's books are. Let's see. What I really mean is "as a parent, there are zero things which annoy me about this book" and "this book would continue to not annoy me, even after reading it forty times." If you're the parent of a preschooler, these are very important factors to consider.

But what kind of fantastic is it? Is it the kind that kids will love but parents will merely tolerate? Is it the kind that is so funny that parents will be laughing out loud but kids won't get the joke? Is it the kind that is educational so parents and teachers will want to read it with kids? I guess it's mostly the last one, but primarily it's a lovely story with lovely illustrations.

A little girl named Rhoda is excited to be going on a big hiking and camping trip with her aunt and uncle, mostly because of all of the interesting rocks she'll find. The only problem is that since they all have so much gear to carry, Rhoda absolutely must be responsible for carrying her own backpack. When her bag inevitably gets too heavy to lift, she'll have to decide which rocks to take and which to leave behind, not an easy decision for an amateur geologist like Rhoda.

My daughter and I both loved the idea of a rock collecting little girl, because we also love finding interesting rocks and seeing what we can learn about them. I also liked the problem solving aspect of Rhoda's journey. She has to leave behind some of her rocks and no amount of fuming is going to get her aunt and uncle to carry her bag for her. They simply can't give in to her frustration because they have their own stuff to carry. On the other hand, they sympathize with Rhoda enough to let her take some time to figure things out on her own. They're pretty great caregivers, those two. Well, they must be, because Rhoda's parents trusted them to take her into the woods for several days without them!

Magda's Take:
"I really loved the part where Rhoda's backpack is too heavy and she was trying so hard to pull it but she couldn't. That was pretty funny."

Book Details:
Rhoda's Rock Hunt
by Molly Beth Griffin
Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell
Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press
Publication Date: October 1, 2014
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Source: Edelweiss

Friday, August 1, 2014

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, illustrated by Rashin

There have been so many interpretations of this classic rhyme, it's hard to imagine a new one would bring anything else to the story. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly is not only silly and a favourite among children, but also utilizes many different consonant blend sounds (fly, swallow, spider, etc.). Past incarnations of the rhyme have had the old lady swallowing all sorts of things: sea creatures, seasonal trimmings, regional fare. So how does Rashin's version, one that doesn't stray from the original words, add anything?

Well I'll tell you. It's the illustrations. For one thing, we get a rare glimpse into how the animals feel about being swallowed! Do they actually chase each other around in her stomach, as the rhyme assures us they should? In this one, they do!

Just when I thought I couldn't be surprised by this familiar verse, I saw the picture of the bird trying to stop the knife-wielding spider from chasing the fly and I almost snorted milk out of my nose. (Okay, it was Diet Coke, not milk, but I should be drinking more milk so I pretended that I was. I wasn't, though. It was soda pop. It hurt when I laughed because of the fizz.)

Rashin Kheiriyeh has managed to bring back a manic joy to a story that I thought was long since exhausted. Well done!

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
Published by North South Books
Publication Date: August 1, 2014
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Source: NetGalley