Dragonsdale Book Review



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Review:

I am pretty sure that if I’d read this book as a 10 year old girl, I would have loved it unconditionally. Reading it as a 30-something woman instead, there were a few conditions, but I found it to be an enjoyable read.

Dragonsdale is essentially a horse book with dragons instead of horses. This is a good thing as far as I’m concerned – I loved horse books as a girl and making the horses into dragons was a fun twist. Wikipedia tells me that 16 year old “Salamanda Drake” is actually two middle aged guys named Steve, and the two Steves must be commended for putting some real thought into the differences you might expect between a riding academy for dragons and one for horses. The worldbuilding was nicely done, especially for the audience, with enough details to bring Dragonsdale to life, yet plenty of scope for the eager imaginations of young girls dreaming of a tame dragon of their very own. 

My main issue with the book (and again, this is the perspective of an adult reader – I don’t think it would bother most children) was the behavior of the father. Admittedly, grief can make people behave quite irrationally, but for a guy so traumatized by his wife’s fatal accident that he can’t bear to let his daughter ride, he doesn’t seem to have any issues riding himself. It seems just plain cruel to forbid her to ride at the same time he’s raising her surrounded by dragons, and forced day in and day out to watch others ride them, including others far younger or less knowledgeable than she herself. Imho, it’s way beyond irrational and into the realm of stupid to expect her to obey him forever under those circumstances.

Similarly, I’m sure dealing with the spoiled daughters of aristocrats is a nightmare (yay democracy!) but as a former equestrian, I was really giving him the side-eye when he let his anger get in the way of his judgement enough to foist off an untrained mount on a rider he knew to be both incompetent and cruel, thus putting the life of both the rider and the dragon at risk. It would be bad enough if it were a horse, but something that can fly, breathe fire, and eat people? Seriously?

Despite my issues with the father’s characterization, Dragonsdale was enjoyable, and I think it would make a great read for kids about 8-12, especially girls who love horses.

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My rating: (3 / 5)

The Magic Tree House Series

Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series has been a big hit with my daughter, and luckily (given how many of them there are) they’re easy to find at used book sales. In the books, a pair of ordinary children named Jack and Annie are sent on missions by Morgan Le Fay (and later Merlin) to historical and fantastical locations with the help of a magical treehouse, learning about history, mythology, and science along the way. My daughter also enjoyed the games at MagicTreeHouse.com.

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The Apple Pip Princess Book Review



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Review:

The Apple Pip Princess, by Jane Ray, is a beautiful book in pretty much every way possible. It tells the story of a “little and shy and quite ordinary” princess named Serenity. Her father the king decides to choose which of his three daughters will inherit the kingdom when he dies by asking each of them to do “something to make your mark – something to make me proud.” Serenity’s proud and vain older sisters set about creating tall towers to reach the heavens. Serenity plants an apple seed.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, but suffice to say, it was so lovely it literally brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it. The book is beautifully illustrated and touches on many valuable moral lessons without ever being preachy. In fact, as a feminist and a lifelong tree hugging, bleeding heart liberal, I’d have to say this is a nearly perfect book, on par with Miss Rumphius, another personal favorite about women making a difference in the world. To wit:

  • The story revolves around the critical role that planting trees plays in restoring degraded environments, providing food for people and habitat for wildlife, and beautifying the landscape.
  • The princesses, their father, and their subjects are all characters of color.
  • The two older princesses try to dazzle their subjects with magnificent and beautiful monuments built by taking the very roofs from their heads. It doesn’t work.
  • The two older sisters try to force their subjects to obey by threatening them with the “dark and crumbling” royal dungeon. Serenity befriends a commoner and the two work side by side with the whole kingdom to replant the orchards.
  • The two older princesses learn from their mistakes and are welcomed back with open arms and forgiven, instead of being punished with banishment or worse. The story ends with the three sisters together, happy, and at peace with each other, enjoying the beautiful song of the nightingale under the trees.

In short, this charming little fairy tale quickly became a family favorite at my house, both among the adults and the children. I hope other families will enjoy it just as much.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

Princess Smartypants Book Review



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Review:

I have somewhat mixed feelings about Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants. On the one hand, it’s an entertaining and funny book. On the other hand, I don’t think that Princess Smartypants herself is a particularly good role model for girls (feminist or otherwise), so if you’re looking specifically for princess books that do have good role models, this one probably shouldn’t be on the list.

One of the most common types of Rebellious Princess is the princess who doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Princess Smartypants takes this one step farther and doesn’t want to get married, period. She is quite happy being single, thankyouverymuch. I think that’s great. Not all women do want to get married, after all, and it’s fantastic to see a heroine who’s a confirmed bachelor and not just “waiting for Mr. Right.”

That said, I thought that some of the methods Smartypants uses to get rid of her unwanted suitors were mean-spirited. Later, when one of her suitors manages to outsmart her and pass all the tests she devises to win her hand in marriage, she gets rid of him with a dirty, underhanded trick. Prince Swashbuckle isn’t exactly a charmer himself – he’s conceited and smug and when he passes her tests, he concludes that Smartypants isn’t so smart after all – but I would have preferred that she beat him fair and square. As it is, she comes off as kind of a spoiled brat and this mars an otherwise fun book.

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My rating: (3 / 5)

The Paper Bag Princess Book Review



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Review:

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, was originally published in 1980 and was one of the first children’s books to feature a princess who did more than sit around and wait to be rescued. More than 30 years later, it’s still one of the best.

Its heroine, Princess Elizabeth, starts out as a Princess Classic who loves pretty dresses and is looking forward to marrying a prince named Ronald. Then a dragon demolishes her castle (burning up all her clothes) and kidnaps Ronald. Elizabeth dresses herself in a paper bag that somehow survived the fire and sets off in pursuit of the dragon. She rescues Ronald, but when he turns out to be a snobby, ungrateful jerk, she dumps him and skips off merrily into the sunset by herself.

I like The Paper Bag Princess because the message about valuing yourself despite what other people might say (even other people you thought you loved) comes through loud and clear without being preachy. It’s a fun and entertaining story, not just a lesson plan from Personal Empowerment 101.

Another thing that makes The Paper Bag Princess one of the best princess books for young readers is that Elizabeth ends up defeating the dragon using brains, not brawn. I like this because it’s more realistic for a girl who started the story as a completely stereotypical princess than having her turn out to be some secret swordfighting whiz. Even better, it teaches the valuable lessons that brains can defeat brawn and that there’s more than one way to be smart and brave… and girlie girls can do it, too!

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My rating: (4.5 / 5)

Moo, Baa, La La La! Board Book Review



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Review:

This short board book was one of my daughter’s favorite read-aloud books as a young toddler. The funny, rhyming text and cute illustrations are a fun way to help teach simple animal noises, and toddlers absolutely LOVE the opportunity to “correct” the silly singing pigs.

My rating: (4 / 5)

The Going To Bed Book Review



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Review:

A perfect choice for a bedtime read, with rhyming, relatable text and cute illustrations. My only gripe is that the animals make the mystifying choice to take a bath, get in their pajamas, and THEN run upstairs to exercise. Who takes a bath and then runs out and immediately gets all sweaty again? Not to mention you’d then have to try and fall asleep in sweaty pajamas. Anyway, that’s a little weird, but I guess Boynton just couldn’t think of any word but exercise to rhyme with “when the moon is on the rise.”

On the other hand, the final line – “The moon is high, the sea is deep, they rock and rock and rock to sleep” – is perfect, especially when accompanied by actual rocking. 🙂

My rating: (4 / 5)

Chicka Chicka ABC Board Book Review

Review:



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This is an abridged board book version of the classic Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. My kids like the “chicka chicka boom boom” parts, but except for that, it’s a very boring read aloud. The text starts off rhyming, but by the end, it just becomes a list of letters. It reads like the author lost interest halfway through. For example:

A told B and B told C, “I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.”

But:

Look who’s coming! L M N O P! And Q R S! And T U V!

Whoop de doo. Four exclamation points in a row doesn’t make a boring list of letters any more exciting. If I wanted that, I’d just go with the alphabet song.

It stops shortly thereafter with the letters all falling to the ground, leaving off the second half of the original book.

My rating: (2 / 5)

I recommend getting the full version instead, as it contains more rhyming in the second half.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Paperback)
by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault

Price: $7.99
163 used & new available from $0.25
4.7 out of 5 stars (2594 customer reviews)

Your Personal Penguin Board Book Review



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Review:

A cute sing-along book about a penguin who wants to be best friends with a somewhat befuddled-looking hippo. The song, performed by Davy Jones, is available as a free download.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Sheep in a Jeep Board Book Review



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Review:

A favorite read-aloud book of both my kids thanks to its funny, rhyming text and cute illustrations.

My rating: (5 / 5)