Tag Archives: children’s book

Cat and Mouse

The Cat, The Devil, The Last Escape: A Novel by Shirley Rousseau Murphy & Pat J. J. Murphy (William Morrow, $24.99, 313 pages)

The Cat The Devil

On their visits to Morgan she found it increasingly hard to hide her despair at the lack of a job. When she was with him she talked hopefully about their request for an appeal, but too often he would simply hug her and change the subject, knowing she was holding back her stress and doubts.

This book is a second collaboration between prolific author Shirley Rousseau Murphy and her husband, Pat J. J. Murphy. They have spun off from Ms. Murphy’s talking cat series and put humans at the center of the action. (Oh, no. Ed.) Predictably, there’s a morality theme focused on struggles with the Devil. The tale is a seamless follow-up to The Cat, The Devil, and Lee Fontana.

Misto, the ageless cat, is the link tying a small family in deep trouble with Lee Fontana, the train robber turned bank robber. There is a pervasive theme of despair mixed with anxiety as the somewhat predictable tale meanders around the country in search of justice for the small family. The reader must wait until one-third of the way through the book before things take a turn for the better. (It must be noted that the co-authored books do not flow as smoothly or effortlessly as the ones written solely by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.)

The Cat, The Devil back cover

Cautiously recommended for fans of Lee Fontana and Misto.

Cheer Up Mouse

Cheer Up, Mouse! by Jed Henry (Houghton Mifflin, $12.99, 32 pages)

Mouse is feeling sad and his wonderful gang of friends is here to bring him back from the depths. As with Good Night, Mouse, little listeners and their story readers will delight in the lush illustrations by Jed Henry. His lyrics, for the words are much more than just a story, follow the rhythm of the characters’ natural inclinations as each takes a turn at cheering up Mouse.


There’s no need for a spoiler alert because the author/illustrator guarantees a happy ending. Sometimes simple is better and suffering can be alleviated with love and caring. This book only takes 30 some pages to make its point, unlike the Murphy collaboration that struggles along for 313 pages.

Cheer Up, Mouse banner

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg (Chronicle Books, $16.99, 248 pages

Perhaps you’ve heard the comment, “He’s a bit of an odd duck.” Well, Candice Phee, a twelve-year-old who lives in a suburb of Brisbane, Australia is surely an odd duck. The inability to lie, even a kindly white lie, is but one of her many quirky behavioral traits. Overwhelming shyness has led her to use written communication in uncomfortable situations such as prolonged discussions with adults other than her parents and with kids at school. She is a devout reader of the dictionary, which provides her with a remarkably broad and specific vocabulary.

Candice’s world is full of adults who are alienated (not aliens). Her mom is plagued by depression and her dad won’t have anything to do with his brother, Rich Uncle Brian, who is his former partner in a software company. Miss Bamford, Candice’s all-time favorite teacher has a lazy eye that sets her apart and draws reactions from her students.

The other kids in Miss Bamford’s sixth grade class, especially the ultra cool Jen Marshall, mock Candice. The arrival of a new and similarly odd student, Douglas Benson, creates an opportunity for Candice to experience friendship for the first time in her life. Their interactions are hilarious.

Miss Bamford has assigned Candice’s class the task of writing a narrative/autobiography using each letter of the alphabet as the theme of a paragraph. Thus, the primary structure of the book is Candice’s take on the assignment. Interspersed are the poignant and intelligent letters she has sent to her pen pal in New York City who doesn’t reply to Candice.

The Categorical Universe black and white

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee is intended for readers ten years of age and up. Clearly, the audience for the book is a wide one. Fans of The Westing Game, young, old and any age in between, will thoroughly enjoy this heartwarming, sometimes gut-wrenching and ultimately satisfying tale. Author Barry Jonsberg has won numerous Australian writing awards. He is a teacher and resides in Darwin, Australia. This reviewer visited Darwin over 45 years ago, well before Mr. Jonsberg moved there from England. I hope he enjoys the barramundi fish that are plentiful in Darwin! Barramundi is my all-time favorite.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. This book was released on September 9, 2014.

You can read a sample of this book for free on your Kindle device or app:



Filed under Uncategorized

America the Beautiful

America’s National Parks: A Pop-Up Book by Bruce Foster, Dave Ember and Don Compton (W. W. West, $34.95, 22 pages)

America's National Parks

The world’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park, was established in 1872. Forty-four years later, on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior.

The majesty and vibrancy of the 18 parks featured in this remarkable book literally jump off the page. Readers, both young and not-so-young, are provided with a 3-D peek at the most representative feature for each park. Additionally, small pop-ups include some of the vegetation, creature inhabitants and even activities that make a visit special. The narrative breaks the country into geographic regions to better grasp the relationship they have.

This reviewer was delighted by the intensity of the colors and the fine quality of the paper stock that goes into this nearly magical pop-up book. Perhaps it brings back memories of the Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz book that belonged to my mom. There’s a huge difference this time around! Our national parks are real, no illusion like in Oz.

While pop-up books can be a delight to hold for little children, America’s National Parks is best left to older kids and grown-ups to manage for their viewing pleasure. The book is sure to be a family treasure that can spark interest in some memorable adventures in the real world.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Up Next…

America's National Parks 2

A review of America’s National Parks: A Pop-Up Book by Bruce Foster, Dave Ember and Don Compton.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The First Step

First Day of School by Anne Rockwell (Harper, $6.99, 40 pages)


First Day of School is a charming children’s book that will help parents calm down their little ones who are about to enter a strange new world. The story by Anne Rockwell — illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell — reminds kids that they will retain their friends, even if they are not assigned to the same class. In the tale, a number of children confess their fears from the prior year about school while noting that everything turned out for the best.

Interestingly, Rockwell impresses upon the young reader that school can serve as an excuse to go shopping — for new clothes, shoes, and supplies like backpacks. And they’re reminded that the school library will likely have some of their favorite books.

One of the best things about this book is that the characters are multicultural. There’s an Anglo boy and girl, an Asian girl, a Hispanic boy and an African-American boy and girl. And parents are shown as supportive figures there to assist their children in any way possible. Finally, Lizzy Rockwell’s artwork is almost watercolor-like which further serves to foster a sense of calmness.

First Day‘s soothing message is that school is fun and people are good and kind.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. For children ages 4 though 8.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Follow That Dream

Mr. M 3

Mr. M & The Red Thread by Soizick Meister (Read Leaf, $16.95, 54 pages)

Mr. M & The Red Thread is a nice, small art book about the need to follow one’s dreams in life. The story is based on a Chinese proverb which states that those who are meant to meet are bound by an invisible, unbreakable red thread. Mr. M is a man who lives in isolation, yet continually sees a red thread representing someone he apparently used to love. At the end of the story, he elects to reunite with this person from his past.

While this is a sweet story, it’s hard to see who the audience might be for this work by the Canadian artist Soizick Meister. Adults will view it as a children’s book (it’s printed on the size stock that is usually reserved for “little one’s” books), and children will not understand the obtuse artwork and language that hides the tale’s true meanings. I doubt that parents will want to take the time to translate the tale into simple, basic words. The publisher may wish to reprint the book in a children’s edition which is more direct and does not play hide the ball — or hide the string, as it may be — with the book’s message.

Perhaps Mr. M & The Red Thread is meant for adult readers with a childlike mindset. For most, it’s an oddity that simply does not work.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bearly There

No Bears 4No Bears by Meg McKinlay, illustrated by Leila Ridge (Candlewick Press, 32 pages, $15.99)

This is a novel children’s book written by Meg McKinlay, and illustrated by Leila Ridge.   It’s about a girl named Ella.   Ella loves books but is tired of reading stories that are filled with bears.   As she says, “I’m tired of bears.   Every time you read a book, it’s just BEARS BEARS BEARS…”   So she designs a story with pretty things, a princess, a castle, a monster and a giant.   Oh, and also a fairy godmother with magical powers that might be needed to save the princess from the monster.

This 32-page Candlewick Press book is wonderfully illustrated, and throws in a lot of cool, sneaky references to well-known children’s tales (young readers will have fun discovering such things as the Owl and the Pussycat).   It’s a great early reader because it includes standard phrases such as Once upon a time, Happily ever after, and The End.   And it’s relaxing and unique especially because there are said to be NO BEARS in it.   Not even one!

Written for readers aged 3 and up, and a few bright 2-year-olds.   Toddlers who love animals will appreciate it; especially as they find that there are actually a few loveable bears hidden in its pages.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized