Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

I'm not one for really scary stuff so apart from wearing costumes and getting candy, Halloween has never been a particularly big deal for me. I do enjoy carving pumpkins, though, and I've started experimenting with the form a little more recently. This is the Jack O'Lantern I designed this year. It's a bit more cutesy than my usual style (unicorns aren't exactly my favorite) but I loved the idea of the carrot horn.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Book review - The Case of Maker Mischief

Title: The Case of Maker Mischief
Author: Liam O'Donnell
Genre: Mystery
Similar books: The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg
                     The Ghost and Max Monroe by L.M. Falcone
a nice little mystery

Summary (provided by publisher): Myron, the third-grade detective who loves logic, facts, and solving mysteries, gets the chance to crack another case when he finds out his classmate Jordan’s robot has been stolen. Jordan and tech-savvy Danielle, known as “Glitch,” had been working on it for weeks for the upcoming Maker Faire Robot Maze Challenge.
Together with his detective partner, the hyper-energetic Hajrah, Myron pins down two suspects: Sarah “Smasher” McGintley, the school bully, and Lionel Amar, another robot builder who was caught with Jordan and Glitch’s plans. But after investigating the case further, they find out the thief is someone entirely unexpected.
Myron’s unique perspective from the autism spectrum and his eye for detail make him a top-notch sleuth. Similarly, the other neurodiverse kids in his resource room demonstrate creative problem solving and unique talents that come in handy for the case.
Black-and-white spot illustrations accompany the text in this fun and accessible page-turner for independent readers. With a connection to STEAM and the maker movement, this book is an exciting next installment in the West Meadows Detectives series.

My opinion: Characterization in this novel is minimal but that can be excused by both the reading level (it skews towards early elementary) which leaves little room for character development and Myron's ASD. Given that the story is told largely from his perspective, it's not entirely unexpected that the narrative focuses more on facts, details, and cause and effect than in details of personality or interpersonal relationships. While this can lead to some disconnect between the reader and the story and this age level that's less of a hindrance than it would be for older readers. As a mystery, it's pretty solid. Plenty of clues, red herrings, and a logical progression of events. Additionally, this is the second book in a series. Even without reading the first book I was easily able to follow the plot and distinguish characters.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pick 6: Horror

October means it's time for my annual list of horror stories. Who doesn't love a good scare in October? It's almost required to prepare for Halloween by scaring yourself silly. Here are six horror books published in the last six months.

6 new horror novels

1. The Curse of the Were-Hyena by Bruce Hale

2. Tales from the Haunted Mansion: the Fearsome Foursome by John Espito

3. The Hill by Karen Bass

4. The Monster in the Road is Me by J.P. Romney

5. And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

6. One Was Lost by Natalie Richards

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Non-fiction book review - To Burp or Not to Burp

To Burp or Not to Burp by Dave Williams and Loredana Cunti

What better way to engage a kid with the sciences than through the weird and gross. Its not a new approach by any means but it still works. Lots of cool information in a relatively short book, enumerating the effects of low gravity on various bodily processes. We learn not only what happens to a belch, sweat, etc but why it happens. With photographs and illustrations illustrating the points it's a solid choice.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Not your typical stuffed bunny

Today's project is something I started a few weeks ago when my hands needed something to do that wasn't as messy as polymer clay (which is what I actually should have been doing).  I found the remains of a skein of yarn and decided to whip up the cyclops project from KnitWit by Kate Boyette, the source of one of the first crafts I posted about on this blog. Of course, because I was using scrap, I ran out of yarn before finishing but that allowed me to personalize my cyclops, making his arms and legs a different color. He doesn't look exactly like the original project, but I'm quite fond of Norris (I intended to name him Ogden, but the further I got the more he wanted to be called Norris).

Point of clarity - the bunny suit is original to the pattern. There are a handful of details particular to Norris

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Picture books for everyone

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

In recent years there have been an increasing number of picture books that directly address the reader. This format works well with an older audience. It causes them to engage with the text differently. This book is an excellent example of that. It asks questions of the reader, poses hypotheticals. And it does all of this with a light-hearted plot and delightful illustrations. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Some Writer!

Some Writer! The story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

This biography is bound to be a hit with young readers. First of all you've got the subject matter. Most every kids has a positive encounter with the work of E. B. White. Secondly, you've got a wide span of his life, from childhood through adult fame, providing brief snatches of the things that influence him as a man and as a writer. It helps having direct quotes from White backing up Sweet's statements. Thirdly, it is visually quite appealing. Lots of images, both photos and drawings, and a warm color palate. It has plenty to look at without the pages becoming chaotic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book review - The Capybara Conspiracy

Title: The Capybara Conspiracy
Author: Erica S. Perl
Genre: humor
Similar books: The Secrets to Ruling School by Neil Swaab
                     Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic by Mark Tatulli
Kind of a cute and clever novelty

Summary (provided by publisher): Fans of Tim Federle and Louis Sachar will love this hilarious story of what happens when the non-jocks kidnap their sports-obsessed school’s beloved mascot.
Seventh-grade playwright Olive Henry is frustrated by her middle school’s lack of appreciation for anything but sports. While the principal drones on and on during morning announcements about the sports teams’ victories, all non-athletic club meetings are relegated to the school basement, never to be mentioned on the loudspeaker. So Olive and her best friend, Reynaldo, hatch a plan to kidnap the school’s capybara mascot, planning to return it, heroically, just in time for the school’s pep rally and claim a reward: permission for their drama club to practice in the auditorium. And, hopefully, some overdue respect for the school’s non-athletes. But when an animal-rights student activist and an undercover athlete with murky motivations join in the conspiracy, their plans—along with Cappy the capybara—veer wildly out of Olive’s control.  

My opinion: This is certainly an unusual book. Presented as a script, Olive explains the plot to steal the school's mascot and how this landed her at the principal's office. The script format relies heavily on dialogue, of course, but that dialogue is a real strength here. While the characters are presented as more caricatures than real people, this adds to the school play feel of the novel. This same element, though, lends a heavy dose of distance and unreality to an already hard to believe plot. Humor and a strong sense of pacing help it along. Entertaining enough for a single read.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, October 17, 2016


Since I started producing ornaments for craft fairs I discovered I have this tendency to make something once and then never want to replicate it. It's a weird mental block and something I'm working on. In the meantime it has meant that some of the ornaments I produce are a bit ... unusual. Like alligators wearing winter hats. And hippos playing musical instruments. This trio is one of my tamer groups.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Book review - Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea

Title: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea
Author: Ben Clanton
Genre: graphic novel/humor
Similar books: Sleepless Knight by James Sturm
                     Claude in the City by Alex T Smith

a silly good time

Summary (provided by publisher): Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal. Jelly is a no-nonsense jellyfish. The two might not have a lot in common, but they do they love waffles, parties and adventures. Join Narwhal and Jelly as they discover the whole wide ocean together.
A wonderfully silly early graphic novel series featuring three stories. In the first, Jelly learns that Narwhal is a really good friend. Then Narwhal and Jelly form their own pod of awesomeness with their ocean friends. And finally, Narwhal and Jelly read the best book ever -- even though it doesn't have any words...or pictures!
Ben Clanton showcases the joys of friendship, the benefits of working together and the power of imagination in the delightful Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea.

My opinion: If you like ridiculous stories, this is the book for you. It's out there, but in the best possible way. Like Mo Willems and Bob Shea did for picture books, so Clanton does for graphic novels. The stories are simple and rely on a truly absurd brand of humor. This means, though, that they can be appreciated by a broad audience. They are straightforward, so don't expect to be mulling them over even minutes after finishing but for sheer entertainment value this book gets a great big thumbs up from me.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book review - Light

Title: Light
Author: Rob Cham
Genre: graphic novel
Similar books: Robot Dreams by Sarah Varon
                     The Tiger by Frederic Brremaud
interesting but not my first pick

Summary (provided by publisher): Light is a silent graphic novel that follows a pair of adventurers on an epic quest to collect five magic gems from deep inside the earth and bring them to the surface to return color to the world. On the way they carry fire-lit torches through secret places and endless passages, swim in crystal-clear waters, encounter strange beasts and creatures, and meet strange mysterious hermits! Writer/Artist Rob Cham creates beautiful vivid illustrations that gradually evolve from black and white subterranean worlds to vivid bright colorscapes. This inspiring all-ages story recalls retro video-game vibes and role playing games, creating a one-of-a-kind mythos of magic lands and mischievous critters.

My opinion: Wordless graphic novels are risky. Your images must be distinct and expressive so the reader can clearly follow the plot. This one isn't quite there. Cham does some really cool things with his selective use of color and the interplay between light and shadow. The plot, though, gets a bit muddled at times. Could be interesting to discuss in a group setting, though.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, October 10, 2016

It started out with good intentions

I have a small sketch book I use to plot out some of my craft projects. I had a vague idea of doing a cow themed project but no clear ideas so I started doodling in hopes of gaining some direction. Instead it went of the rails into increasingly unhelpful doodles. The cow project has been shelved for now. I kind of like the doodles, though.

This one is definitely the turning point. Elvis cow pretty much guaranteed that I was done being productive


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Graphic Novel Spotlight - Monster Motors

Monster Motors by Brian Lynch

While retelling classic monster stories with cars wouldn't be my first choice, it plays out well in graphic novel format. The illustrations are stylized, allowing the monster cars to have personality and menace instead of holding rigidly to representing reality. Lynch also blends several classic monster stories, Dracula and Frankenstein being the major elements. There is a heavy dose of humor, keeping the story from becoming maudlin. A good choice for teen graphic novel fan looking for a mildly spooky story for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Monster Science

Monster Science by Helaine Becker

I'll be honest - the cover of this book is a bit of a turn off. But it belies a fantastic interior. The approach is great. Using a monster as a starting point to introduce a variety of historical, scientific, cultural, and ethic issues is genius. While none of these concepts are explored in any depth, its a great way to pique a child's interest. I don't love the illustrations but the content is good enough to give the design flaws a pass.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book review - The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes

Title: The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes
Author: Wade Albert White
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayres
                     The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton
clever, quirky fun

Summary (provided by publisher): A thrilling debut novel where fantasy and science fiction meet, dragons aren't as innocent as they look, and nothing is quite what it seems.
Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes--or face the horrible consequences.

My opinion: I didn't have particularly high expectations going into this one so I was pleasantly surprised by the execution. On the surface it's a fairly standard fantasy adventure. An unlikely team thrown together by circumstance. A menacing villain, a series of enigmatic tasks. Its somewhat predictable. What makes it shine is that White know and acknowledges this predictability and he plays with it. The characters must draw role cards for their quest, roles that include betrayer. Its all very tongue in cheek, keeping it light and entertaining. It helps that he characters are well-presented, complex and dynamic. I like the sci-fi elements as well. A great first volume. I'll be interested to see how the series progresses.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Not quite Jaws

I've been toying with the idea of a shark puppet for a while. When I found this blue sock among my puppet supplies everything seemed to come together. He turned out a little more silly than menacing but I think I like it. He's got character.