A lot of people send me books.
But I don’t write a lot of reviews. It turns out, I’m much too picky.
I know all too well that reviews are the lifeblood of any independent writer. In theory, I’m happy to help. But I won’t review just anything. Like my mother always said, “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Two books arrived recently that were actually just right for us to read and review (check out my review guidelines before sending anything).
Another is a series that has been waiting far too long, so I’ll throw it in here for good measure.
Here are the books:
- A Different Little Doggy, by Heather Whittaker (illustrated by Scott Alberts)
- Great Grandma’s Gifts, by Marianne Jones (illustrated by Karen Reinikke)
- The Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo Series, by Oneeka Williams
I read the first two tonight, out loud, with my kids. All of these books have a lot going for them. It makes me excited to be an independent author, honestly it does. It’s like the book says: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
These books are some of the best of what’s out there.
A Different Little Doggy, by Heather Whittaker
The first thing you’ll notice about A Different Little Doggy is that it looks wonderful.
This book features some of the most appealing illustrations I’ve seen in a non-mainstream published book.
The pictures clearly convey the tiny size of Taz, the dog who is the narrator and protagonist of the story.
He’s based on a real dog, owned by the author, and you can practically feel and smell all the dogs and scenes in the pictures. They’re lifelike but also very humourous.
Honestly, the illustrations are eye-poppingly good. They grab you and suck you in.
The story is written in clear, age-appropriate language. The text is well laid out and my 6-year-old son listened carefully as the details of the dog’s challenges are revealed page by page.
However, I think these revelations left my daughter (age 9) and I more disturbed than inspired by Taz’s disabilities. I found the text oddly distancing; it takes a few pages to get into the rhythm of the book, teased in, I suppose, by the tantalizing smallness of the dog.
I was put off by the author’s repeated incorrect use of the phrase “different than.” (See this cartoon for an explanation of why it’s incorrect.) I also found the rhyme schemes forced and awkward.
My ears make me look oh so cute and cuddly. (11 syllables)
No matter how old, I still look like a puppy! (12 syllables, and a looser rhyme than is usually used in a children’s picture book)
Different dogs come in many different colors. (13 syllables)
I am black, tan and white, which is different than some others. (15 syllables)
No matter how I tried, I couldn’t make these two lines sound like they rhyme. (A few tips on writing children’s rhymes that don’t suck.)
Overall, there isn’t much story here, but the strength of the illustrations and the force of Taz’s personality sucked us in and kept us turning pages to see all the adventures of this super-cute canine.
The writer is a motivational speaker who has written two other Taz-based books that I didn’t have a chance to look at. Her site, adifferentlittledoggy.com, feels very slick and professional, and offers more information about the book and about Taz.
However, I was turned off by the book’s three “medals” displayed prominently at the top of the site, two of which are among the organizations listed by Writer Beware as “hidden agenda” writing contests that give awards to just about anyone who pays the entry fee. Anyone can win, but you usually only win only the chance to pay these companies to buy their “award” stickers.
I’d rather see more of the book’s appealing artwork than a medal that doesn’t prove much of anything. But that’s just me.
When I asked the kids afterwards which of the two books they’d choose to read again, my son chose the dog and my daughter, the great-grandma. Par for the course.
So here’s the other book we read aloud together tonight:
Great Grandma’s Gifts, by Marianne Jones
In almost a mirror image of A Different Little Doggy, this book’s illustrations are appealling, but not nearly as slick as you’d find in a professionally-published book.
But the layout is good and clean, the text is well-formatted, and the words themselves are beautiful and compelling in their simplicity.
Jones and Reinikke, both retired teachers, set out to create a book that celebrates grandmas – their lives, their gifts. I believe they’ve succeeded in creating a book that draws children in with its sensory words and cheerful pictures.
She had many pieces of cloth left: red cloth, yellow cloth, green cloth, and pink cloth.
There were MANY colors of cloth.
“What will I do with all these pieces?” Arlene asked.
Then she had an idea.
From a fuzzy coat, she made a teddy bear.
From a pink top, she made a doll.
From a grey dress, she made an elephant.
Every time a colour or pattern is mentioned, the words appear in that colour, a gentle way of bringing kids’ eyes back to the page for these gentle little treats.
My only small quibble with this book is that it’s called Great Grandma’s Gifts, yet there is no great-grandmother in the book.
The girl introduced as Arlene, the narrator’s great-grandmother, is shown first as a girl, then a woman with children, then as a grandmother. But there is no interaction shown between her and her great-granddaughter, who’s presumably telling the story.
The great-granddaughter is shown on the first page holding a blonde doll that is similar to the blonde doll, Maggie, that the great-grandmother loved as a girl. Is it possible that this is the same doll, 70-80 years later? That would be a sweet connection, but it’s difficult to believe she would be in playable condition still.
And I’d really rather see the two of them together to make this intergenerational story complete.
That said, I don’t think this small structural problem will bother kids in the least.
Mine certainly seemed interested all the way through. We’ve read a few other stories where characters had to gather pieces of fabric to make quilts, and this reminded me a little of some of those.
It’s a comfortingly familiar motif that the writer and illustrator have handled in a sweet way. This book would make a lovely gift or read-aloud across the generations.
And last but not least, while I’m reviewing stuff…
The Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo series, by Oneeka Williams
Two more books that deserve an apology, an honourable mention, and a rave: Oneeka Williams’, Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo series, Mission to Pluto and Meteorite Mission (I only see Mission to Pluto up on Amazon at the moment).
I got these ebooks some time ago and haven’t had a chance to sit down and give them the reviews they deserve.
And they truly are terrific books, about a spunky little girl whose doctor parents encourage her, literally, to reach for the stars, solving problems and becoming anything she wants to be.
Williams is a Harvard-trained urologist, and I assume that part of why she’s creating these stories is to encourage other little girls – and all kids – to follow in her footsteps.
As well they should, with a can-do healer and role model like Dr. Dee Dee on the job.
Watch the Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo trailer here:
… and check out the Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo promotional site for more information about these wonderful books.
Phew! Believe it or not, writing reviews is hard work.
I think some people just toss them off like they’re nothing. Not me. I go back and forth, checking and cross-checking and getting all the pictures. It takes time.
But I think it’s worth it.
I love getting to see what’s out there.
And then, in turn, getting all fired up about creating books that can hopefully join these and others among the very best of today’s self-published children’s picture books.
Have you written a picture book? Is it available in digital form?
If so…check out my children’s book review guidelines and consider letting me share it with my kids.
Seen any good indie kids’ books lately that I should review? Let me know in the Comments section, or just link to your own book site, if you want.