By Elizabeth Wroten
On 14, Jan 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Meet the Fletchers. Their year will be filled with new schools, old friends, a grouchy neighbor, hungry skunks, leaking ice rinks, school plays, wet cats, and scary tales told in the dark!
There’s Sam, age twelve, who’s mostly interested in soccer, food, and his phone; Jax, age ten, who’s psyched for fourth grade and thinks the new neighbor stinks, and not just because of the skunk; Eli, age ten (but younger than Jax), who’s thrilled to be starting this year at the Pinnacle School, where everyone’s the smart kid; and Frog (not his real name), age six, who wants everyone in kindergarten to save a seat for his invisible cheetah. Also Dad and Papa.
WARNING: This book contains cat barf, turtle pee, and some really annoying homework assignments.
Oh no! This was a DNF (did not finish) for me. I wanted to like the book and I can’t say I didn’t, I just wasn’t clicking with it right now for some reason. (I suspect it’s the time of year as I read this just before Christmas and had a to-do list a mile long.)
Even though I put it down I think it’s got great appeal. The story follows the four boys in the Family Fletcher. Four very different boys, in appearance and personality, who are all adopted by two dads. The book really captures a loving, functional family which is so refreshing. The family is also very much the picture of suburban families- they play sports, attend private school (and public school), they camp, they have traditions, they have a cat and a dog, the list goes on. If anything this book goes overboard in making the family both diverse and normal. But can you really go overboard with that?
Each chapter switches perspective and is narrated not by, but from the perspective of, one of the boys. They each have something going on such as a new school or changing friendship. The Fletcher’s live next door to a crotchety old man who is always yelling at them about too much noise and various pieces of sports equipment, but even he isn’t painted with a broad villain brush. He slowly evolves in the eyes of the boys as they have a variety of interactions with him where he becomes a lot more human. The best part of the book is how quirky the whole family is when taken as a whole. And I think this is so relatable for kids at that upper elementary level. They’re just starting to become aware of how they look as a family to people outside looking in and it can be so embarrassing!
This would make a fantastic read aloud to a third or fourth grade class (or kid), but the youngest brother has just started kindergarten so there is certainly something there for younger readers to connect with and make this book good read aloud for a mixed-age group. The langauge and length definitely make it more suitable to older readers who want to tackle it alone. Although not quite as sweet and pastoral as The Penderwicks I think this is a good place to go for kids who liked sibling relationships and friendship elements of that book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Jan 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Picture Book Biographies
I have really mixed feelings about the picture book format used as a biography. On the one hand I think they can breath life into a genre that can be incredibly dry. They are also great a piquing interest. On the other hand they can be rather sparse and if the life of the person isn’t handled properly (giving it a plot of sorts and telling a story) it can fall very, very flat. I also think a lot of kids tend to get into biographies when they are out of the picture book stage. While picture books often have more difficult text than chapter books they get a stigma of being for little kids and upper elementary kids, who many picture book biographies are aimed at, don’t want to be seen with them.
From Goodreads: In this exuberant celebration of creativity, Barb Rosenstock and Mary Grandpre tell the fascinating story of Vasily Kandinsky, one of the very first painters of abstract art. Throughout his life, Kandinsky experienced colors as sounds, and sounds as colors–and bold, groundbreaking works burst forth from his noisy paint box.
While I really enjoyed how this book brought Kadinsky to life and made him very relatable to kids I came away wanting to know more. Kadinsky apparently had a condition (is that what it is?) called synesthesia where your brain crosses your senses and you might taste words or hear colors as Kadinsky did. Since it’s a book for younger audiences I think the amount of information is appropriate, but don’t be surprised if you are asked to help them seek out more information.
Rosenstock does a wonderful job describing sounds and colors together as they blend in Kadinsky’s mind. Children reading the book will have no problem hearing the colors along side the artist. The illustrations are also a wonderful blend of realistic pictures of people and places, but as soon as the colors start swirling tiny details, like instruments, appear as mixed media or collage in picture.
The book is very interesting and gets points for talking about Kadinsky and his different way of sensing the world (a diversity of sorts). I also really like when these types of books show artists as children. Kadinsky really didn’t paint until he was much older despite having been given a paint box as a child. No one believed that he could hear the colors and it certainly wasn’t proper. When he actually painted pictures they came out as abstracts, representing the music he was hearing, making them difficult for his family to appreciate. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of kids have artistic aspirations and will find comfort in the long path it took for Kadinsky to finally become recognized and appreciated.
From GoodReads: For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time.
The book for kids who love to make lists. There’s a lot here: the illustrations are busy and charming; the story of Roget’s life is interesting; the author’s note and timeline at the end provide a bit more information for those who are curious.
As interesting as Roget’s biography is, it’s the illustrations that make this book. Sweet draws charming people, but adds tons of collaged details that will have readers poring over the pages. In keeping with Roget’s lists, words cover many of the pages charmingly grouped together with hand-drawing fonts and brackets.
I’m not sure I can add much more to the discussion of this book. It seems to be very popular with librarians, and considering their love of order and words (not stereotyping at all!) I can’t say I’m surprised. I wonder if kids will connect with it, but I certainly think the right kid will. Give this to kids who like lists, who love words and writing, and to kids who are interested in biographies. Especially that last group. The format of the book is so engaging you might even be able to convince kids who don’t normally go for biographies to pick this one up.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Jan 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Daily, for decades, Ashley has walked up and down the beach, stopping to pick up sea glass, weathered bones, a tangle of fishing net, an empty bottle, a doorknob. Treasure.
And then, with glue and thread and paint and a sprinkling of African folklore, Ashley breathes new life into these materials. Others might consider it beach junk, but Ashley sees worlds of possibilities.
Ashley Bryan’s two-foot-tall hand puppets swell with personality and beauty, and in this majestic collection they make their literary debut, each with a poem that tells of their creation and further enlivens their spirit.
What an incredible book!
I could see that some of these puppets might look a little creepy to kids and I was fully prepared to do damage control with my daughter, but she was totally enthralled with them. Just reading the introduction where Bryan talks about finding bits and bobs on the beach that he uses to make puppets had her asking to make her own puppets from recycled materials around the house. She was really captivated by the poems that accompany each puppet and the close-up pictures of each puppet only made her more interested in making her own. They are incredibly charming from the frog to the elephant, they have amazing clothing and are composed of all sorts of objects.
The book is laid out with a series of two page spreads that show a line up of several puppets. Each spread is followed by pages featuring a portrait of each puppet and a poem about them. The poem titles are the names of each puppet and are a variety of African gods, goddesses, and words. A few of the puppets shown do not have their own poems which Bryan had done deliberately. He encourages readers to write their own poems for the characters. These puppets are amazing and paired with the lovely little poems that bring them to life and highlight some of the objects used to make them (e.g. a glass for a hat or bird bones) really makes for a striking composition. I am not normally one to enjoy poetry, but children’s poetry is usually pretty good. This is even better because of how it works with the puppets.
This is definitely a book for savoring and poring over again and again. The puppets really invite many closer looks. Every time it seems you notice something new about their construction. While I think kids will really enjoy the short poem format with the gorgeous pictures, I think this will make a great classroom resource. It’s easy to see how this can provide inspiration for using recycled materials, for looking at materials in a new way, for writing poems, and for making puppets.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 07, Jan 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Mexico may be her parents’ home, but it’s certainly not Margie’s. She has finally convinced the other kids at school she is one-hundred percent American- just like them. But when her Mexican cousin Lupe visits, the image she’s created for herself crumbles.
Things aren’t easy for Lupe, either. Mexico hadn’t felt like home since her father went North to find work. Lupe’s hope of seeing him in the United States comforts her some, but learning a new language in a new school is tough. Lupe, as much as Margie, is in need of a friend.
Little by little, the girls’ individual steps find the rhythm of one shared dance, and they learn what “home” really means.
Dancing Home was such a sweet, gentle story about family, identity, and embracing your culture. Margie is struggling because the kids at school pick on her for being Mexican. Except she’s as American as they are having been born in Texas. She’s finally gotten to a point where she has some friends, has her hair right, and goes by Margie instead of Margarita, when her cousin shows up from Mexico. This seems to remind the kids that Margie is still different and they start picking on her again.
Despite this theme I wouldn’t call the book a bullying book. The kids poke fun at her, but the real focus is on Margie learning to accept her cousin (who has a difficult backstory of her own) and accept her heritage. Lupe’s presence in her home brings a lot of their culture back that Margie has asked her parents to give up. Her mother begins cooking more Mexican food again, they speak in Spanish, and they put out a nativity scene instead of a Christmas tree. Margie begins to realize she wishes she was more a part of this culture. She also realizes she likes a lot of it despite wanting so desperately to feel “normal”.
Margie also is lucky to have a new girl arrive in class who sits next to her and strikes up a friendship. Camille is one of those totally confident kids who is also a little bit nerdy and she manages to bring Margie along showing her that it’s okay to be different. Margie is surprised to discover that Camille, despite being pale and blonde, is actually part Cuban and Panamanian and she totally embraces it. This adds another chink in the armor Margie has built around herself.
One aspect I really appreciated about the story was the piece about Lupe’s father. He illegally came to the US years before and stopped sending money or letters home. Lupe’s mother finally moved on, got a job, remarried, and had twins. Life wasn’t easy. They were sad and then her mother had to work long hours to support them and letting go hasn’t been as easy for Lupe who never wanted accept that she would never see her father again. While she didn’t have a plan for how to contact her father she hopes that he may track her down. He does eventually turn up with a broken leg much to the surprise of everyone. He confirms the rumor that he has a new family and is living in Texas. A lot of kidlit books make these plot lines happy and syrupy sweet: Lupe would have been joyously reunited with her father who just wasn’t able to return home but still loves the family dearly. While the book skips anything lurid, it isn’t the happy, fantasy ending you might expect and is probably a lot closer to the reality of what might happen in that situation. And Lupe and Margie handle the situation well.
My only complaint was that the book could feel a little didactic. The girls were more introspective than fifth graders usually are and sometimes sounded more like they were thirty year olds visiting their therapists in how they talked through their issues and came to conclusions about their feelings. Because of this I think it might make a better book for classes to read together. There are plenty of themes about teasing, culture, being new, and straddling cultures, but I would also give it to kids who like gentle stories. When I added it to my TBR pile I thought it was middle grade (meaning for middle school) and while a middle schooler, especially a sixth grader, might enjoy this, its length and language make it better suited to upper elementary.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 17, Dec 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Amid the hustle and bustle of the big city, the big crowds and bigger buildings, Little Elliot leads a quiet life. In spite of the challenges he faces, Elliot finds many wonderful things to enjoy—like cupcakes! And when his problems seem insurmountable, Elliot discovers something even sweeter—a friend.
We just got this book out of the library yesterday and I loved it so much I felt I had to write a review of it. As the description says it’s a sweet little friendship story. A story about how there is always someone who needs more help than you and how friends can help each other. Two heads are better than one, or, in this case, two friends are tall enough to order a cupcake at the bakery counter.
However, I think there is a huge subtext here that will really resonate with kids. Elliot is a little elephant who struggles to fit in in an adult, human-sized world. He has to stack books up to sit at the table. He’s so much shorter than the people who rush around the city and gets a bit lost in the crowds. But he’s happy for the most part. Until one day he struggles to be seen at the bakery counter where he really wants a cupcake. When the woman at the counter doesn’t notice him he leaves feeling frustrated and discouraged. On his way home he notices a small mouse who is even more disadvantaged than Elliot and the two pair up to get the cupcake and share it.
Does this sound like the life of a child to anyone? Too small for an adult-sized world. They are expected to fit in with giant, towering cabinets, mile-high chairs, and mile-high people. I know my own daughter often becomes anxious in large crowds and asks to be picked up. In my arms, or her father’s, she is at the right height to see out and not feel smothered. We do a lot to help her feel capable around the house (mini fridge with snacks and drinks, step stools everywhere, toys on low shelves). But as soon as we step outside she is so small compared to everything. More often than not people will ask me questions about her that they could (and should) direct to her. Elliot is a child in a grown-up world and his frustration is that of a child who is tired of being ignored, pushed aside, and made to feel incapable.
I think the art in the book, which is absolutely beautiful, does an incredible job emphasizing this theme. Elliot looks oddly like he was inserted into some other piece of art. While the city he lives in, New York in the 1940s or 50s I presume, and the people around him look like something out of an Edward Hopper painting, Elliot looks a little cartoonish and his polka-dots are reminiscent of outfits I have seen kids pick out for themselves. His out-of-place quality makes it more obvious that he doesn’t exactly fit in with this world. But like most kids it doesn’t seem to bother him most of the time. He’s resilient and with a new friend the two can work together to find their way.
I don’t know if there will be more books with the charming Little Elliot and his rodent friend, but the little badge on the top right of the cover makes me think there will be. I certainly hope there will be.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 26, Nov 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet’s Chasing Vermeer series.
It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.
This book totally knocked my socks off. I love a good solid mystery, but this had so much more.
One of the great things about the mystery was kids got sh*t done. Milo takes on this role in a role playing game that he and his new friend Meddy connect to real life and it turns out he’s pretty good at getting to the bottom of mysteries. But he isn’t a super genius and he doesn’t have super powers. He just thinks through things logically and notices little details. Since they’re in his house and he doesn’t like change, he notices when things have moved or been tampered with. Nothing magical here. Even better, the grown ups aren’t treated as imbeciles who need some genius kid to come in and set them straight. Most of them have secrets and Milo’s parents have their hands full of caring for 5 (and eventually 8) unexpected guests during a severe snowstorm. They’re busy or are too involved with their own agendas and don’t have time to sneak around the house solving mysteries.
Being trapped in an inn this isn’t exactly a fast-paced, high suspense mystery. In fact the mystery is really a device that leads to soul searching for a lot of the people involved. Milo is adopted and, being Chinese, looks nothing like his white parents. Milo isn’t angst-y about being adopted, but he is curious, a little confused, and feels guilty for feeling those emotions since he does love his adoptive parents. There are a lot of layers here for Milo to work through and the role playing game Meddy introduces him to gives Milo an outlet for exploring having a parent that looks like him. It also gives him permission to imagine what his biological father could have been like. It’s interesting to see how Milo takes the folklore he reads, the role playing game, the stories the guests tell, and the information about the inn that comes to light and interprets it all through the lens of a confused, adopted kid.
The adults are all also fairly fleshed out and some of them are quite the characters. All of them are not at the inn by coincidence, but arrived looking for information about its history. None of them are forthcoming with this information and it forms the basis for the mystery. As it turns out, while the information all of them are seeking is interconnected, it is still separate.
There is also a thread of friendship as the guests come together to tell stories and are brought together by the information they are seeking. Most of them do not leave friends, but do leave with a greater sense of tolerance and understanding. Milo, who was looking forward to a Christmas vacation alone with his parents, comes to accept the guests and feel for them. He also builds a friendship with Meddy and learns to work with her as a team through the role playing game.
So I have to say there is a huge twist very near to the end. I’m not going to spoil it, but I wanted to talk around it a bit. I totally did not see it coming until the last possible second. It’s a device I’ve seen employed in other mysteries so maybe people who read mysteries more than I do will see it sooner. Maybe not. However, the times I have seen it used it often feels like a really cheap trick. That was not at all the case here. It was very masterfully done. Well played, Milford, well played.
Greenglass House would be a good one for kids who enjoyed The Westing Game or even Blue Balliet’s mysteries. While its length and slower pacing make it feel more like a middle grade novel (6th-8th grade) I could certainly see a strong 4th or 5th grader loving this too.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Nov 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: A collection of thirty-six eerie, mysterious, intriguing, and very short short stories presented by the cabinet’s esteemed curators, otherwise known as acclaimed authors Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire LeGrand, and Emma Trevayne. Perfect for fans of Alvin Schwartz and anyone who relishes a good creepy read-alone or read-aloud story. Features an introduction and commentary by the curators, and illustrations and decorations throughout.
Ignore the discrepancy between the number of stories on the picture of the cover and the title and description here. The copy I have says 36 (although it felt like a lot more, in a good way), not sure what the deal with that is.
I had really mixed feelings about this book. At its heart, it’s a collection of deliciously creepy, wonderfully macabre stories. I love short stories, especially creepy ghost stories, and I think they are excellent choices for kids with little time or little inclination to read. These stories are really engaging and they are short (the longest I recall was 25 pages). The language isn’t dense so the pages fly by. But the book is almost 500 hundred pages. You’re going to need to do a lot of convincing to get those kind of kids to pick this up or you’ll need to hand it to a serious reader. Actually, I think most kids will need a lot of convincing to pick up a 500 page book.
I loved how they were grouped into stories around themes: luck, travel, flowers, tricks, etc. That makes the book feel cohesive even though it’s really a collection of unconnected short stories. But, the concept of it being a cabinet of curiosities that then included letters from the “curators”, really the authors, to each other was kind of odd and oddly executed. The stories themselves sounded very modern and often included references to cell phones, the Internet and pop culture (although nothing that will make this sound so dated in five years). Sometimes they had vaguely historical settings and fantastical kingdoms, but they never sounded old-fashioned.
The letters between the curators, though, I think are supposed to be modern but employed this stilted, vaguely Victorian sounding dialect and writing style. They call each other “my dear curators” and the like, and sprinkle in words like “alas” and phrases like “particularly fond” and employ an oddly formal syntax. Not only did that feel silly to me (and this could be me as an adult reader who reads and likes Victorian literature reading a kid’s book) it felt very jarring when paired with the stories. It was hard to understand exactly what they meant by the “cabinet of curiosities”. At times there are references to rooms, then drawers (not necessarily in rooms), a building, and a museum. I know what cabinets of curiosities were in the Victorian era, but this didn’t feel like that. I found myself skipping the letters and just reading the stories. Would a kid have trouble with this, I don’t know? Should they read this? Yes, especially if they love creepy stories.
Nothing struck me as particularly gory or inappropriate for upper elementary, but this could be enjoyed well into middle school maybe even lower high school depending on the tastes of the reader. Wish I had had this book as a kid and despite my complaints will be buying a copy to keep on my shelf.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, Nov 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived in a dreary town in northern France, what would your life be like? Would it be full of color and art? Full of lines and dancing figures? Find out in this beautiful, unusual picture book about one of the world’s most famous and influential artists by acclaimed author and Newbery Medal-winning Patricia MacLachlan and innovative illustrator Hadley Hooper.
What a lovely picture book. Our whole family enjoyed this one. For all of us it was the illustrations. Matisse is such a sweet, dreamy looking boy. The illustrations have this 1950s/60s feel to them which I think is part the color schemes used and part the technique. The pictures are so simple yet their bold lines and colors really make the ideas contained in the words pop off the page. The story is quiet and a bit meandering, but captures the feel of a dreamy childhood. It’s such an enticing book.
I love the idea of introducing young children to famous and important people and I think the picture book makes a wonderful way to do this, especially with artists. I think it is done especially well in The Iridescence of Birds because you see Matisse as a boy in his rather ordinary home and city. I think kids could easily see his inspirations in their own lives after reading this.
Some of Matisse’s works are woven into the illustrations which I think helps connect the reader to his adult, working life and shows children where his creative influences led. But I don’t think the point of the book is to tell kids exactly who he was, simply to give them exposure, pique their interest, and inspire them.
I was especially taken with how Hooper introduces the adult Matisse when the book turns to his painting. Boy Matisse is always in the picture with adult Matisse keeping that connection to what is essentially a story about an artistic child. Even the cover has adult Matisse seen through a set of doors similar to those you see young Matisse through. Their paring is a visual reminder of where the grown-up artist came from. I love that the first introduction of Matisse as a man is this one to the left with the two of them on the ladder, boy Matisse looking sweetly at his older self. Even his pose on the ladder is such a kid pose- leaned back a bit and up on tiptoes.
There is a lovely note at the end that talks about Matisse’s mother who was quite influential on him as an artist, inspiring and encouraging him.
Although very different in illustration style, you could pair this with Yuyi Morales’ Viva Frida which also explores artistic inspiration.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 19, Nov 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: The Donner Party expedition is one of the most notorious stories in all of American history. It’s also a fascinating snapshot of the westward expansion of the United States, and the families and individuals who sacrificed so much to build new lives in a largely unknown landscape. From the preparation for the journey to each disastrous leg of the trip, this book shows the specific bad decisions that led to the party’s predicament in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The graphic novel focuses on the struggles of the Reed family to tell the true story of the catastrophic journey.
Being a native Californian I remember studying the Donner Party. Being from Sacramento I have been to Sutter’s Fort (the destination of the Donner Party) on many occasions. At the fort they have Patty Reed’s doll, a tiny doll Patty brought with her and kept with her through the whole ordeal. The Donner Party story is incredibly grizzly and, even as an adult reading this book I learned a ton of information about it. I think being a kid I heard a much shortened and sanitized version of the story, plus it’s been years since I studied it.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, the party, consisting of several families, took a “short cut” on their way out west. It was difficult, nearly killed them and put them way behind schedule. When they reached the pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains, a pass that now bears the name Donner Pass, they became snowed in. Weather that winter was particularly harsh, but it’s also at a very high altitude which receives a lot of snow. It shuts down several times a winter even now with roads and snow machines. Stuck up in the Sierras with little food, the party loses a lot of people and has to resort to cannibalism. Only 48 of the original 87 eventually make it to Sacramento, but not after an incredibly harrowing journey.
Nathan Hale doesn’t hold back and while that might make this book not such a great fit for the faint of heart, it does make it a fantastic book. Plus, it’s a graphic novel (no, there aren’t any pictures of them actually butchering or eating people). The narrative structure has a man about to be hanged telling the story to a soldier and the hangman which adds some humor and much needed breaks from the action of the story. The story itself appears to be very well researched. There were a lot of details I didn’t know and a few I had forgotten. I was very surprised to learn how many of the party were actually eaten (the number now escapes me, but more than 10). I also didn’t realize how many rescue parties left from the camp and tried to reach the camp. And how many were really unsuccessful.
Such a tragic tale, but told in such an engaging way. Like Steve Sheinkin’s books these are historical books kids will want to read. If you have a fourth grader (the grade when you traditionally study state history) who is really interested and has a strong constitution then I would certainly say they could read it. For those chicken-hearted kids (that was me!!) save it for middle school…or adulthood. I’m kinda creeped out by it even now.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 18, Nov 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: When explorers first chipped a hole through a wall and shined a light into Tutankhamun’s tomb, everything it touched glinted with gold and gleamed with silver. The boy-king so surrounded by this treasure would become one of the most famous names in history. But it was a less-famous princess who had accumulated a lot of the wealth that was buried in that tomb. Her name was Hatshepsut. How did she make Egypt so rich? And how did she come to be buried, like Tutankhamun, in the Valley of the Kings? This book brings to life the story of a real and remarkable princess who had the nerve to declare herself Pharaoh.
First off I hate that the description from the publisher has to compare Hatshepsut to King Tut. This is supposed to be about princesses. Also Hatshepsut is pretty famous being the only female pharaoh and all. Egypt is filled with really, really amazing artifacts and history of which Tut is a tiny (albeit famous) sliver. Let’s stop making such a BFD out of him and look at some people who actually ruled and did stuff.
In terms of content the book was fine. It didn’t get into a lot of detail so I think it would be better for kids with a passing interest in Egypt (and who may simply be interested in history), kids who want to read the whole Real Princess series and aren’t looking for something in-depth about Hatshepsut, or kids who are just getting interested in Ancient Egyptian history. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Just don’t make this the focus of your Ancient Egyptian history collection or the sole book in it.
I wish there had been more about daily life and life of Egyptian royalty, maybe even religion, but it was light on much beyond a semi-fictionalized story of Hatshepsut’s life. I think there was opportunity for a little information about Egyptology and the archaeology in the region, especially as pertains to how we know all this stuff about Hatshepsut. For example, the discovery of her mummy (kind of a big deal!) was dealt with in a sentence or two with no explanation why it took so long, what the tomb she was found in was all about and why she wasn’t found in her own tomb.
What I wasn’t so happy with was the overall look of the book. To me, it screams educational publication. I don’t see any kid, besides the die-hard Egypt fan, picking this up on their own and since the content is fairly light I would say they’ll be disappointed. On the cover, why is she standing with the Sphinx and the pyramids? Those predate Hatshepsut by a thousand years and her temple is incredibly impressive, why not show pictures of that?
Inside the graphics are not especially appealing. They look like a cross between educational fare and a picture book. Many of the photographs are not labeled or are poorly labeled, which is too bad. For the wealth of Egyptian temples and artifacts there could have been both more and better pictures of those things. There was one especially confusing family tree that needed better indications of relationships, better flow, and better explanation of who every one was since there were second and third wives listed and people with the same name. Finally, going back to the cover, did they really use papyrus font for the title? Ugh. Such a cliche and such an ugly font.
I do, however, applaud the author and publisher for putting together a series of real princesses who are not those vapid Disney ones that need men to save them.