October 31, 2016

Shakespeare for kids

Tales from Shakespeare
presented and illustrated by Marcia Williams

Marcia Williams retells Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, and The Tempest in comic book style, making Shakespeare palatable for elementary students. The plays are presented as if they are being held in London’s Globe Theatre, complete with noisy patrons, Queen Elizabeth I, and Shakespeare himself! She and the playwright are hidden in the pages, adding a seek-and-find game to the proceedings. 

The actors quote Shakespeare’s words, while a summary of the action is told underneath the pictures. The spectators, who surround three sides of the page, provide a running commentary on the action. They are often funny, irreverent, rude, and hungry, as evidenced by the many food vendors hawking their wares.

With an abundance of action to follow, the pages often have a crowded feel that can confuse rather than elucidate. The plays tend to work better when larger picture panels are used instead. This tends to benefit the tragedies more than the comedies. The Winter’s Tale is the best.

All-in-all, it’s not a bad way to introduce Shakespeare to young readers.

If you enjoy Tales from Shakespeare, you may also like More Tales from Shakespeare, in which Williams retells As You Like It, King Lear, Much Ado about Nothing, Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Richard III

October 28, 2016

Decorate yourself!

Decorate Yourself: Cool Designs for Temporary Tattoos, Face Painting, Henna & More
by Tom Andrich

You'll need lots of equipment and a steady hand to pull off the intricate designs in this book, especially if you plan on trying the airbrush tattoos! Fortunately, it includes stencil-making patterns that should make things easier. No stencils are provided for the henna designs; instead, there are close-up pictures for you to copy. 

The elaborate look of the airbrush and henna ideas make them more suitable for teens and adults. Much simpler are the many face-painting, body-painting and nail designs that should make younger kids happy. 

Detailed info about materials, technique, and safety preface each chapter. At times, the instructions aren't presented in straight columns, making things needlessly difficult. However, with enough practice, you just might produce something wonderful!

Good luck, and happy face-painting!

October 26, 2016

Be wild!

Wild Faces: Animal Face Painting
by Snazaroo

Snazaroo is a professional face-painting company and it shows. They gloss over materials and techniques on the assumption that their audience has previous face-painting experience. The instructions sound complex and the photographs only show completed faces. Animals featured include frogs, fish, spiders, butterflies, birds, monkeys, zebras, and tigers.

Not recommended for beginners.

October 24, 2016

Easy face painting

Face Painting: Over 30 faces to paint, with simple step-by-step instructions
by Karen Harvey

Turn any trick-or-treater into puppies, bunnies, pirates, vampires, witches or zombies with this easy-to-follow instruction book. It begins with a two-page primer on tools and materials, followed by slightly tricky instructions on how to paint a butterfly face. Helpful photos accompany each step.

There are five levels of difficulty from quick and simple to masterpiece. It would have been more logical to present the simpler faces first before moving on to the more difficult ones, but instead, it's a mixed bag. It helps to hide the fact that only five faces are rated at the beginner levels. Most of the instructions are of the "tricky and creative" (level 3) and "ready for a challenge" (level 4) variety. However, the clear writing and large photos make it fairly easy to recreate each face.

October 21, 2016

The art of the con

Duped! True Stories of the World's Best Swindlers
by Andreas Schroeder
illustrations by Remy Simard

Swindlers, tricksters, hustlers, con artists .... whatever they're called, they're experts at getting people to part with their money. What they do is criminal, but you can't help admiring their ingenuity and audaciousness. The eight stories in this book showcase some of the more outrageous schemes perpetrated by masters of the con. They include an expert Shakespearean forger, a novice sailor who nearly won a round-the-world race, a French peasant who scammed her way into high society, and a scientist who discovered vibrational energy.

Lively writing and graphic-novel style artwork make for an entertaining and engrossing read. Kids will want to check out Schroeder's other title: Robbers! True Stories of the World's Most Notorious Thieves.

October 19, 2016

Vanished without a trace

Vanished: True Tales of Mysterious Disappearances
by Elizabeth MacLeod

An entire colony vanishes without a trace... Two ships disappear in icy Arctic waters... Another ship is found drifting without passengers or crew... A radiant room made of amber is lost forever... Three prisoners escape from Alcatraz Island, never to be seen again... Priceless works of art are stolen and have yet to be found.... These are the true stories of mysterious escapes and disappearances that have beguiled historians for many years.

Filled with mind-boggling suspense and wonder, MacLeod has crafted a winning book that should keep readers riveted. She explores the possible theories behind each disappearance and shows how today's technology can help solve some of the mysteries of the past. 

A fascinating book.

October 17, 2016

Tricky Vic

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
by Greg Pizzoli

Robert Miller, aka Count Victor Lustig, aka Tricky Vic, schemed and scammed his way across Europe and the United States, always managing to elude the police. But as the end reveals, sometimes criminals get their just desserts.

Pizzoli's depiction of Tricky Vic with a thumbprint for a face, appropriately captures the nature of the con man. Plus, the rest of his mixed-media graphics match the 1920s setting with appealing panache. Reading about a criminal has never been more fun!

October 14, 2016

Pentominoes and stolen art

Chasing Vermeer
by Blue Balliett
illustrations by Brett Helquist

Pentominoes are a set of puzzle pieces that can be put together into rectangles of different sizes and shapes. They're used by mathematicians to explore the relationships between geometry and numbers. Calder, one of the protagonists of Balliett's novel, carries pentominoes everywhere he goes. He relies on them for guidance as he and his friend Petra work together to solve the mystery of a stolen painting.

Chasing Vermeer is quite a challenging mystery in that it doesn't rely on the standard amassing of clues. Fingerprints and magnifying glasses are not in use. Instead, Calder and Petra's methods of detection involve intuition, tape measures, and an amazing series of coincidences. A subplot about a missing boy named Frog add to the intrigue, aided by Helquist's pictures, which contain hidden frogs and pentominoes. They're a code to a secret message that readers are challenged to decipher (a web address with the answer is included).

Kids may find the book a bit slow-going at first, but the suspense soon escalates with late-night sleuthing trips and an exciting chase. Along the way, they'll learn a little something about art and the life of painter Johannes Vermeer.

Definitely puzzling.

October 12, 2016

Clever criminals, beware!

The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1)
by Jordan Stratford
art by Kelly Murphy

Stratford imagines an alternate reality set in London in 1826 - an age of invention (think electric batteries and steam-powered boats) - with real historical figures and places. In his fanciful novel, eleven-year-old Ada Byron and fourteen-year-old Mary Godwin, team up to form a clandestine detective agency in order to capture clever criminals. They are aided in their quest by a boy named Charles, a tutor named Percy (whom Ada dubs "Peebs"), and a silent butler named Franklin.

Ada, who as Ada Lovelace, became the world's first computer programmer, is the daughter of poet Lord Byron. Percy, aka Peebs, is poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary Godwin grows up to become Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. And Charles is author Charles Dickens. Together, they manage to solve a missing necklace case, complete with dishonest crooks, a gloomy prison, and exciting chases, including one by hot-air balloon. 

Ada and Mary make an appealing team, reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. They're smart, funny, adventurous, and, in Ada's case, eccentric, and they encourage girls to study math and science.

Two more detectives join up in the closing pages - Ada and Mary's sisters Allegra and Jane. To see what they get up to, read The Case of the Girl in Grey (Book 2) and The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals (Book 3).

October 10, 2016

It's okay to make mistakes

To add a little variety, and because every book contains some truth, I'm reviewing fiction books this week. The theme is mystery.

The Best Mistake Mystery
by Sylvia McNicoll

Stephen Nobel gets a little anxious sometimes and can't help counting all his mistakes. His anxiety rackets up a notch when the bomb squad blows up a backpack at his school and a car smashes into the building. To send him into over-analytical hyperdrive, someone's started blackmailing him. If he doesn't do what the blackmailer says, he/she will hurt Ping or Pong, the two dogs he's caring for. What's an anxious dogwalker going to do?

In this fast-paced mystery, Stephen sets out to find the suspect, aided by a new best friend, smart, know-it-all RenĂ©e. Over three days, Stephen makes thirty mistakes (10 mistakes per day). Some of his mistakes lead to bad consequences, but other mistakes lead to surprising results. In the end, he realizes that making mistakes isn't all that bad.

With likeable characters, slightly clueless adults, and a couple of really personable dogs, this is a fun, enjoyable, non-violent mystery that any kid can readily get into. And for those who can't quite follow the clues, an aftermath wraps up everything nicely.

October 7, 2016

Awesome Canadian facts

Canadian Geographic Canada for Kids: 1000 Awesome Facts
by Aaron Kylie

Compiled by the editor of Canadian Geographic, this is a province-by-province collection of facts and trivia about Canada that you probably never knew. Covering geography, weather, wildlife, structure/community, business/industry, communications, innovations, transportation, pop culture, sports & leisure, and people, places & things, the book is filled with info and statistics that’ll appeal to both kids and adults alike. It also features an excellent list of largest roadside attractions.

A terrific book to take along on any Canadian road trip.

October 5, 2016

Colossal Canada

Colossal Canada: 100 Epic Facts and Feats
by Elizabeth MacLeod and Frieda Wishinsky

A book of Canadiana, MacLeod and Wishinsky have compiled an eclectic collection of facts and figures that showcase everything that make our country great. Divided into sections that are uniquely Canadian, extremely Canadian, unforgettably Canadian, and patriotically Canadian, the book is filled with people, places, attractions, inventions, celebrations, and even mysteries, that will intrigue and delight.

An entertaining read. 

October 3, 2016

Canadian history - one year at a time

Canada Year by Year
by Elizabeth MacLeod
pictures by Sydney Smith

Take a trip through Canadian history in Elizabeth MacLeod's year-by-year compendium of key Canadian milestones. 

Some interesting examples: 

  • 1881 - A railway across Canada is begun.
  • 1893 - The first Stanley Cup is awarded in hockey. 
  • 1918 - Most women are granted the vote.  
  • 1932 - Superman is born (created by Toronto-born Joe Shuster). 
  • 1946 - Viola Desmond of Nova Scotia takes a stand against discrimination.
  • 1947 - Oil is discovered in Alberta. 
  • 1977 - Willie Adams becomes the first Inuk senator. 
  • 1999 - Nunavut becomes Canada's newest territory.

From the start of Confederation in 1867 to Canada's 150th birthday in 2017, the book encompasses nearly everything that occurred in politics, sports, business, arts, and culture. Sidebars include important firsts, biographies, and lesser-known facts that shine a light on all that is wonderful and diverse about our amazing country.

With conversational text and contemporary drawings, the book makes Canadian history fun and accessible.

Highly recommended.