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Customer Reviews: 805
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Helpful Votes: 2582




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Jason Kirkfield "The Pride and Sorrow of children's book reviewers" RSS Feed (Purple Mountains Majesty)
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Swingline Stapler, Optima 40, Compact, Low Force, 40 Sheets, Black/Silver (S7087842)
Swingline Stapler, Optima 40, Compact, Low Force, 40 Sheets, Black/Silver (S7087842)
Price: $19.73
7 used & new from $15.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A bit funky, but it does the job, February 25, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This little stapler is very comfortable to pick up and use by hand. Pretty much the polar opposite of the wrist-breaking StandUp stapler from Boston.

I've tested this Swingline Optima 40 and it DOES staple through 40 sheets. It's actually strong enough to go through even more, but by around 50 pages, the staples aren't long enough to hold onto the paper. Looks nice, too. I especially like the orange strip: makes it easy to see on the desk.

Because it's so small, however, you can't fit a standard strip of staples in it. So you have to break a strip in half, which may stab you a little, and obviously you will run out sooner. I also think this (or any) stapler should come with a starter strip. Sorta like a remote control that comes with batteries, y'know?

Looks and feels well made, although the rubber bottom comes off fairly easily.

Price is too high, even at twenty bucks on sale. For less than that you could get my current desk stapler which I love (Bostitch B777) or even Milton's stapler (Swingline 747).

4 stars, price notwithstanding, until it breaks.


A Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory
A Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory
by Sara Midda
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.36
102 used & new from $3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, if you can see it, February 17, 2015
When I reviewed Sara Midda's Growing up and Other Vices several years ago, I lamented the book's small size. Nearly all of her books have been published by Workman Publishing, and obviously she has strong ties to the publisher; this book is dedicated (on two separate pages) to both Peter and Carolan Workman. But why do they insist on printing Sara's art so small? Do peregrine falcons comprise the bulk of her readership? Does this come with its own loupe? The answer to the second question at least is No.

A Bowl of Olives is full of personal recollections and mixed media memories of fresh food. It's all very nice, but this small format book is not the right medium for it. In some cases (for example, the bottom of page 13 and all of page 60) the small hand lettering is nearly illegible. Why? It's not a printing error because I have seen it before and this is a common complaint on all of her books. It's stupefying because these pages have tiny art with large white margins!

Conclusion:
A lovely book with fine details, almost looks handmade. Too bad it's so darn small. Sara's work belongs on a gallery wall or a coffee table. Size isn't everything, but it's something.

[The reviewer was provided with a complimentary copy of the book.]


Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep
Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep
by Barney Saltzberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.06
42 used & new from $7.42

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mildly cute, February 17, 2015
Named after the city in spicy (and panda-populated) Szechuan province in central China, this bedtime book is less cute than I thought it would be. The premise is OK: a baby animal has trouble falling asleep. Obviously that's an easy relate for many youngsters. Unfortunately, I see the glass as half empty and the wonton as half eaten. Several of the pages are fold-out which are likely to be ripped or badly folded by the intended preschooler audience, as indeed these were in the library. More critically, the main problem is that the panda isn't very cute and the story isn't very compelling.

Nice colophon and endpapers, but Chengdu just doesn't do it for us. For a reliable bedtime book, try Goodnight Moon. For cute baby pandas, try #YouTube.


The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1)
The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1)
by Kelly Murphy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.86
82 used & new from $8.50

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In this evening's performance, the roles of Holmes and Watson will be played by two young girls, February 16, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The 8- to 12-year-old segment is chock-a-block full of reading material. For the advanced elementary grade reader who likes adventure, choices abound. Lemony Snicket, The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.

The Case of the Missing Moonstone is another option, and one of few with dual heroines. In fact this seemed almost like a Mary Russell prequel. With clear nods to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Ada and Mary meet and begin solving crimes together. Ada's is the more obvious parallel with Holmes, though Mary's passion for writing places her comfortably in the chronicler's armchair. Ada has a cold, clinical way about her; she refers to people as "variables"!

The author was obviously inspired by the Sherlockian canon: "Ada would lean back in a small wicker chair, almost to the tipping point, and listen with eyes closed." There's references to Baker Street, even Cumberbatch's mind palace. Chapter 21 seemed like a reenactment of Clue, and in fact the jewel heist was similar to a 1946 radio play titled, "The April Fool Adventure" (included in The Lost Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

But this first book in The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series isn't perfect. Plot progress happens a little too easily, for example, Peebs' confession. The two sisters' arrival on the final two pages seemed tacked on for the sole purpose of a sequel. Dickens flew so far underneath the radar that he was nearly missed. Finally, while the book is quite readable, the dialogue doesn't sound particularly British.

I would gladly read future entries in this series, but I will expect a manageable amount of adventure and relatively little set design, and you should, too. While not nearly as simplistic as Encyclopedia Brown, it is far too simple for the upper end of the recommended reading range. The biggest plus is the friendship between the two girls. Nice illustrations. Final book will include map of London.

3+ stars


I Know a Bear
I Know a Bear
by Mariana Ruiz Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.10
85 used & new from $6.78

4.0 out of 5 stars Vast and wondrous, February 16, 2015
This review is from: I Know a Bear (Hardcover)
2014 was a banner year for conservationist picture books. I already reviewed Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual. (Read it!) I Know a Bear, the debut picture book from Argentinian author-illustrator Mariana Ruiz Johnson, is less visually arresting but its dream reveal packs a lasting punch.

Keen readers will note the girl's clothing is different on certain pages, evidence that some scenes are seen in her imagination. Our young bear-whisperer sympathizes with the zoo bear's captivity. He tells her of the Land of the Bears, a wondrous place of milk and honey--at least honey--where naps last for months and months.

"To zoo or not to zoo" is a topic of ongoing debate, and it may be a valid point that raising an animal bred in captivity is not as cruel as the classic animal acquisition technique seen in Curious George or indeed Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, also from 2014. The zoo depicted here is sparse, as zoos used to be, not like the environmentally realistic and very expensive zoos of today.

The minimal text and graphite shadings allow the book's message to resonate. The girl's act of selflessness is touching, even if her parents would not approve. Or perhaps this is a dream, too? Either way, I Know a Bear is a picture book with depth and pathos, suitable for all ages.


Skeleton for Dinner
Skeleton for Dinner
by Margery Cuyler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.06
76 used & new from $4.04

4.0 out of 5 stars Cute enough, February 15, 2015
This review is from: Skeleton for Dinner (Hardcover)
Recalling the classic Twilight Zone episode, To Serve Man, this Halloween-themed picture book offers a pleasing if predictable story for youngsters. The witches have brewed a tasty stew, and wish to invite their friends: "We must have Skeleton for dinner!" Kids will find it funny that the bones-only skeleton is afraid of being eaten.

In many ways this is similar to At the Old Haunted House by Helen Keetteman, for whom artist Will Terry has illustrated many Southwestern-style fractured fairy tales (The Three Little Gators, Senorita Gordita, There Once Was a Cowpoke Who Swallowed an Ant). Both Skeleton for Dinner and At the Old Haunted House feature a big witch and a little witch and what I assume are digital illustrations. Both books also offer toned-down scares for young readers, and conclude with an inclusive dinner party for all.

Skeleton for Dinner teaches an additional lesson: miscommunication and misunderstanding can happen, even amongst friends. The crow, who solves the problem, should have been seen watching earlier, perhaps from a tree branch.

Albert Whitman & Company publishes some wonderful children's books, but often does not include a colophon. I remain unconvinced that holiday books are the wisest purchase, but this is cute enough. Creepy Carrots is Halloweeny and creepy, plus it's the sort of book you can enjoy all year long.


Very Little Red Riding Hood (The Very Little Series)
Very Little Red Riding Hood (The Very Little Series)
by Teresa Heapy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.83
68 used & new from $6.76

3.0 out of 5 stars Probably best for girls aged 4 to 6, February 15, 2015
Along with The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood is one of the most evergreen of fairy tales. I love seeing new takes on this classic. Two of my recent favorites are Little Red Hot and Little Red Writing.

This British-flavored effort, the author's picture book debut, is an acceptable but not overly creative retelling. In short, Very Little Red Riding Hood has a tantrum and the (not so big or bad) wolf saves the day. The final page is cute--"And they all slept happily ever after"--but seemed an abrupt end.

The illustrations redeem this book, however. Sue Heap's watercolors and bright and expressive. Attractive typeface (copyright page says "Adminster Book": pretty sure that's a typo), and it's freely tweaked here and there for size and style. Cute map endpapers (in red, of course!). Apparently this is the first in a series: Very Little Cinderella

I generally feel picture books are suitable for all ages. In this case, however, I would cap my recommendation at age 6.

3.25 stars


The Book with No Pictures
The Book with No Pictures
by B. J. Novak
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.10
108 used & new from $6.73

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unoriginal and Unfunny, February 9, 2015
How does this book have over a thousand 5-star reviews??

Breaking the fourth wall is not new in children's literature, and it has been done better (and funnier). Mo Willems' We Are in a Book! is laugh out loud funny, and an excellent choice for emerging readers. Children can also still enjoy the Groverian classic, The Monster at the End of this Book. Either way, kids will learn that reading can be fun and empowering but not hurtful.

The Book With No Pictures is, perhaps aptly given the lack of pictures, a naked emperor. The realistic usefulness would be as a read-aloud for book-phobic kids. Its anti-authority vibe would be an easy sell, though perhaps the benefit even there is short-lived. This will not provide a pervasive incentive to read, given its laugh-at-you nature. Why would a child want to read when they just laughed at the reader's expense? That sort of embarrassment is the opposite of the "warm and joyous" experience the publisher heralds. The BooBooButt doesn't bother me as much as the overall meh-ness of the book.

Conclusion: B.J. Novak may write for a living, but this is not good writing for children. Not funny, Not original, Not recommended.


Doug Unplugs on the Farm
Doug Unplugs on the Farm
by Dan Yaccarino
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.20
99 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Surprising and Excellent, February 9, 2015
I missed Dan Yaccarino's first "Doug" book (Doug Unplugged), but this sequel is easily enjoyed on its own. Like another recent title, Aviary Wonders Inc., Doug Unplugs on the Farm is a visually appealing story which masks very real concern for the future.

The dangerous appeal of technology is not far removed from today's reality. The target here is well-meaning (but short-sighted) parents who wish to cram their children's heads full of knowledge. Young robot Doug is plugged in to a seatback-screen, taxicab-style, while the real world literally passes by. We all know parents who ply their children with the newest devices: "Doug's parents wanted him to be the smartest robot ever." At best, an overload of devices may stymie communication. At worst, they become pseudo-caretakers.

But what happens when the Internet connection is down or the technology breaks? This picture book explores that certainty. The car gets stuck in a ditch, the family becomes unplugged, and Little Doug saves the day. His parents have become so dependent upon technology that they cannot function without it. Doug represents the innocence of youth, willing to explore outside his (or at least his parents') comfort zone. The ro-boy, a cross between A.I.'s Haley Joel Osment and Yaccarino's own Backyardigans, is likable, and so is the book.

Solid colors and a mix of curved and straight lines make it easy for youngsters to connect. Love the tube and antennae on the old grandbots' heads. This book packs a cautionary punch, but ends with a hopeful though rebellious note. "But Doug stayed _unplugged_" Children should be given opportunities to learn, yes. But most of all, they should be allowed to live life.


Count on the Subway
Count on the Subway
by Paul DuBois Jacobs
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.93
88 used & new from $0.73

4.0 out of 5 stars 1-2-3 and what do you see?, February 9, 2015
This review is from: Count on the Subway (Hardcover)
With bold colors and cutout-like characters, this counting book recalls the jazzy title credits from Catch Me If You Can. Dan Yaccarino's urban scenes are accessible and fun. This is a far cry from pre-Giuliani NYC. Look for the poster of Doug Unplugged on the subway!

Counting up to 10 and back down again, this book is a solid choice for very young children. Good rhymes, though it takes a little effort to "spell out" the numerals when reading out loud, especially when they conclude a line.

Nice choice for kids who love transportation (see also Donald Crews' Truck and Inside Freight Train) and a perfect purchase preceding any youngster's first trip to New York City.


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