Why share reviews on a blog about writing kids’ books? Aren’t there a ton of great book-review blogs (not to mention professional publications reviewing books) out there already?
Yes and no.
Most publications, and even some of the blogs, won’t touch self-published children’s books. They figure the world is flooded with self-published books, and most of them just aren’t any good (they’re not entirely wrong).
I see a ton of self-published kids’ books these days – most of which are not extraordinary (unless they’re extraordinarily bad).
So when I come across somebody who’s doing a great job in every way – writing, illustrating, publishing, promotion – I feel like we ought to carve out a small space to highlight their accomplishments and see what they’re doing right because:
a) they deserve the kudos for doing something great, and
b) maybe we can all learn a thing or two.
Meet Mark C. Collins!
And Mark C. Collins is doing just that – writing terrific books that kids love (and testing them on his own kids). It helps that he’s his own illustrator, too, with a bright, compelling style that – according to his bio – he’s been perfecting since age 2. (Me, too, but my art is still a long way from being presentable.)
Spend the day with Ben…
Ben’s Day is such a fun book, about a loveably hyper boy who runs around making his own, old-fashioned good times: soaring on his bike, diving in his kiddie pool, getting plopped on by a bird on his way to his treehouse. And why not? It’s the first day of summer.
This enjoyable book loses a bit of its impact from its overuse of exclamation marks (“A mountain of ice cream is such a cool treat!”). True, Ben’s having an exciting time, but that already comes across well in the illustrations, so the text doesn’t need to scream the point home over and over.
I also don’t personally love the gap-toothed, tongue-hanging-out look Mark’s given Ben throughout the story… but it’s exactly the kind of exaggerated / gross kid-style that my 6-year-old son enjoys, so I think Mark’s got his finger on the pulse on that one.
But what I really (really really!) want to talk about is Meet the Bugs, which is – frankly – terrific.
…Or come and meet the bugs!
In Meet the Bugs, he’s also managed to create a girl-friendly book about bugs, in that it’s not too creepy or gross, and quite a few of the bugs tucked inside (plus the cover image) are feminine. Indeed, this may be my only concern with the book – boys may not want to open up a book featuring a heavily-lipsticked caterpillar on the cover.
I hope they can get past it, though, because there’s lots inside for all kids.
The rhymes in the book are light and appealing. Each insect is introduced with 4 lines of verse, and there’s also a one-page rhyming intro at the beginning of the book to draw the reader in: “Be kind to bugs, it’s their world, too. / Would you want someone stepping on you?”
Each insect has its own special name, and the names are cute, clever and relevant (Dusty the moth, Lee the flea) without being cutesy or weird. The accompanying rhyme for each bug introduces one or two facts.
The illustrations are the real highlight of Meet the Bugs!, though, tiptoeing expertly along the fine line between scientific accuracy and cartoonish exaggeration, all sporting smiles and delighting readers with their individuality.
This short book ends somewhat abruptly - “That’s all the bugs we have for you today.” – when a cute couplet at the very least might have made a better transition out of the book. As a plus, Mark does offer a link to a National Geographic site about bugs, though I might have linked to a page I controlled so I could be certain the link wouldn’t go out of date.
But aren’t we all a little disappointed when we come to the end of a good book? And that’s what this is: Meet the Bugs! is a terrific book, and we enjoyed it immensely.
Currently priced at or under $1, the Kindle version is a bargain amid a sea of overpriced, awful e-books. But if you want a book to keep on your shelf and read over and over and over (and have your kids read and enjoy on their own), consider buying the print version. The paperback print version of Meet the Bugs! includes larger and more detailed illustrations, and two-page spreads which enhance the presentation of each of the featured bugs.
With three self-published kids’ books under his belt, and one more coming soon, it’s clear Mark is a writer / illustrator going places.
But while in the past, “going places” might have meant a contract with a big-name publisher, today, his example gives us hope that there may actually be a future (and money) in self-publishing… if you do it right.
What’s in it for you?
What’s the biggest take-away for you from Mark’s books, as an aspiring writer?
In Meet the Bugs!, on the inside title page, Mark credits the book’s editor. I love this not just because I work as an editor (and would be happy to take on your kids’ book!), but because every writer and artist needs to know what they’re capable of doing on their own – and at what point they need to ask (and pay) for help.
Self-publishing doesn’t mean you’re an island. You may be the publisher, but you are not alone. You’re part of a team. So don’t wait for a publisher to tell you you’re great: write yourself a book… then get yourself a team and get it published!
Want me to review your kids’ book here? At the moment, I’m only taking picture books, and generally only those that stick to the traditional 32-page format. I never charge for reviews, so if yours meets that criterion, please check my guidelines and get in touch.