10 Board Books that Make Great Christmas Presents (for Kids 0-3)

10 Board Books to Give as Christmas Gifts

Do you need a Christmas gift for a young child? Here are some fun board book suggestions, most suitable for ages 0-3 that you can consider gifting this holiday! I’ve chosen some that are Christmas-themed and some that are not.

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1. Stir, Crack, Whisk, Bake: A Little Book about Little Cakes by America’s Test Kitchen

An adorable new board book for the littlest of foodies, from the creators of the most-watched cooking show, America’s Test Kitchen, and #1 New York Times bestselling kids cookbook, The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs. Help your little one experience the magic of baking without leaving the comfort of their own home.

“Today is a special day because we’re going to make something together!”

From gathering ingredients to pouring batter to swirling on frosting, little ones will experience the magic of baking cupcakes without leaving the comfort of their bedroom in this first kids baking book. Using an interactive storytelling style, Stir Crack Whisk Bake lets the tiniest chefs be in charge!

In the same vein of interactive books for toddlers including Don’t Push the Button and Tap the Magic Tree, kids can “magically” crack eggs or whisk ingredients together, simply with a swirl of their fingertips! Perfect for little ones who enjoy Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert and want a more interactive board book cooking experience.

2. Santa’s Workshop by Holly Berry-Byrd

It’s time for Christmas Cheer! Come explore the North Pole with your baby or toddler and see inside Santa’s workshop. Visit Mrs. Claus’s kitchen, with this adorable lift-a-flap board book. Simple sentences reinforce future language structure while grasping and lifting the sturdy flaps helps develop fine motor skills. Perfect for stocking stuffers, book exchanges, Christmas gifts and more!

Welcome to the world little one! Come explore Santa’s Workshop Lift-a-Flap board book filled with surprises Perfectly sized for little hands and fingers to open and close the flaps. 6 chunky and sturdy flaps are extra strong so your little one can open and close again and again Surprise and delight baby with bright artwork and special treats under each flap Collect all the books in the Babies Love series. From colors and animals, to first words and holidays, the Babies Love Chunky Lift-a-Flap series is a great introduction to reading with cheerful, contemporary, and whimsical illustrations and sturdy, easy-to-lift flaps.

Jamberry book cover

3. Jamberry by Bruce Degan

This bestselling classic features a berry-loving boy and an endearing rhyme-spouting bear. The fun wordplay and bright paintings with lots of details for young readers to explore make Jamberry a perennial favorite, and this board book edition is a great stocking stuffer.

A small boy and a big friendly bear embark on a berry-picking extravaganza, looking for blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Their fun adventure comes to a razzamatazz finale under a starberry sky.

From author-illustrator Bruce Degen, Jamberry is perfect for sharing. “With delightful, rich illustrations and zany wordplay, Jamberry is a must have book for any family with young children,” according to Children’s Books Guide.

4. Pete the Kitty’s Cozy Christmas Touch and Feel by James Dean and Kimberly Dean

In this Christmas touch-and-feel story, Pete the Kitty gets ready for the holidays! A fun Christmas present for the youngest Pete fans!

Pete the Kitty helps his mom decorate the Christmas tree, he enjoys a cup of hot cocoa outside, and even meets an unexpected jolly visitor at the end!

Toddlers will love celebrating Christmas with Pete the Kitty. Includes five festive touch and feel elements. 

5. There’s an Elf in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

HO, HO, HEY! There’s an ELF in YOUR Christmas book! Get ready for another lively, interactive read-aloud in the Who’s In Your Book series!

Do you have what it takes to make Santa’s Nice List? An elf is here to test you in this participatory read-aloud. Don’t let the elf trick you into being naughty! Just follow his instructions to sing a Christmas carol, clap, BURP… Hey, wait a second! Children will be delighted to join in on the holiday fun.

Bestselling author and musician Tom Fletcher, the creator of the successful West End show The Christmasaurus, has once again paired up with illustrator Greg Abbott to create a creature that readers will fall in love with—and want to play with—again and again!

I Am Otter book cover

6. I Am Otter by Sam Garton

The curious, charming, playful, and internet-famous Otter makes her picture book debut in I Am Otter by author-illustrator Sam Garton. Here’s what Otter has to say about her book: “Hi! I am Otter, and this is a book about me and my best friends, Otter Keeper and Teddy. And it’s about the fun and messy (and little bit scary) adventure we had one day when Otter Keeper was at work. I hope you like the story! (And if you don’t, it’s probably Teddy’s fault.)”

Otter’s utterly winning voice and Sam Garton’s classic yet fresh artwork combine to create a truly hilarious and unforgettable friendship story.

Botany for Babies book cover

7. Botany for Babies by Jonathan Litton

It’s never too early to get an A+ in botany! Here’s a fun new board book series that introduces a wide array of nonfiction subjects to babies and toddlers.

Welcome to Baby 101, where big subjects are tailored for little babies. Featuring simple words and bright and engaging illustrations, this introduction to botany includes information about trees, flowers, seeds, and much more. So don’t be late, because this is one class that babies won’t want to miss. Look for the surprise lift-the-flap ending!

Also available in the Baby 101 series: Anatomy for BabiesZoology for BabiesArchitecture for Babies.

8. Hello, Animals! by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Emily Bolam (Illustrator)

A charming introduction to 10 of baby’s best-loved animals, featuring high contrast black-and-white patterns and a glittering burst of colored foil. With first words to join in with, this stunning book will captivate sparkly little babies everywhere.

9. That’s Not My Reindeer by Fiona Watt

This delightful series of board books is aimed at very young children. The bright pictures, with their patches of different textures, are designed to develop sensory and language awareness. Babies and toddlers will love turning the pages and touching the feely patches.

10. Baby Unicorn: Finger Puppet Book by Victoria Yang

Follow Baby Unicorn as she explores her world:Baby Unicorn Finger Puppet Book invites the youngest readers to follow along with Baby Unicorn as she explores her world and her special healing powers. The simple, comforting story is easy to follow and the permanently attached soft finger puppet keeps little ones engaged. Start building a lifelong love of books at story time with Baby Unicorn.

• Perfect size for curious babies and toddlers to hold and manipulate
• Fun and interactive way to play and read
• Full of colorful, soothing illustrations by Victoria Ying

Briana

2022 “Support Book Bloggers” Challenge: November Check-in

OVERVIEW

This year, Pages Unbound is hosting a challenge to support and promote book bloggers through sharing posts, commenting on posts, and otherwise recognizing book bloggers. If you would like more information on how it works or how to join in, read the introduction post here.

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THIS MONTH’S CHALLENGE

Link to Other Book Blogs in Five of Your Own Posts

Ideas include:

  1. Creating a round-up of interesting links from other blogs
  2. Writing a discussion post inspired by someone else’s and linking back
  3. Linking to other bloggers’ reviews at the end of your reviews
  4. Linking to another blogger’s post in a discussion post to support a point
  5. Including quotes from other bloggers and linking back to them in one of your posts

I completely failed this one. I haven’t had much time for blogging at all recently. In fact, you may have noticed that while Krysta and I posted nearly every day in 2021, that simply wasn’t the case in 2022. But the result is that I probably published 2-3 posts total in November (Krysta’s been doing more!), so I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to complete this task. I’m hoping for some more free time in 2023!

Share 10 posts by other book bloggers to social media.

Mini Challenges

Since we are nearing the end of 2022, keep in mind there are some bonus mini challenge ideas to complete!

  • Comment on a book tour post. (Why: So publishers can see bloggers have an audience and these marketing posts are reaching people.)
  • Comment on an author interview. (Why: These posts tend to get few comments, so commenting shows authors and publishers that people are reading them — and blogs in general.)
  • Tag a publisher on social media when you retweet a 5 star review from a blogger. (Why: These posts often get little recognition from publishers.)
  • Vote for book bloggers in any end-of-the year awards where “book influencers” are nominated. (Why: Usually these categories are dominated by bookstagrammers and booktubers.)
  • Share your secrets to blogging “success.” (Why: We’re all in this together! If you have a great way to get traffic or comments, let others know so we can succeed as a community.)

If you wrote a post, shared a Twitter thread, or did anything else this month you’d like to share, please leave a link in the comments. And since we’re supporting bloggers, be sure to check out some of the links that other people have left!

Happy blogging!

Briana

The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 2: Head of M.O.D.O.K by Christopher Hastings, et al

Unbelievable Gwenpool Vol. 2

Information

GoodreadsThe Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 2
Series: Unbelievable Gwenpool #2
Age Category: Young Adult/Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Gwen Poole somehow found herself transferred from the real world into the world of the Marvel comics, and she is determined to make the most of it. So she donned a costume and is now the superhero Gwenpool. At least, that was the idea. Gwen has no superhero powers and no combat training. Currently, she is stuck being a henchman for M.O.D.O.K. unless she wants to be disintegrated. How did everything go so wrong?

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Review

Though I enjoyed the first volume of Gwenpool both for its dark humor and its subtle commentary on the nature of heroism, the second volume seems to have lost its way. The plotline is confused and messy, and so is the messaging. Gwen still ardently believes she is the hero, but she continues to solve all her problems with explosions and guns, indicating that she has learned nothing since her entrance into the world of Marvel comics. One hopes that this is just the beginning of her character arc, but the overall feeling of the comic is merely bleak.

The plot and pacing feel a bit messy, with the overall storyline following Gwen as she is forced to work as a henchman for M.O.D.O.K., and a secondary one featuring Miles Morales apparently just so Gwen can get a cool superhero team-up. Unfortunately, however, Gwen’s strategy for being the “good guy” has not progressed from the tactic of shooting everyone up, no questions asked. Her decision to bust into a teenage boy’s room with a bunch of firepower is far from funny–more like seriously scary and alarming. It also, of course, gives Spider-Man serious reservations about Gwenpool. Gwen, however, still learns nothing from this encounter, choosing only to pout that her meeting with Spider-Man did not go as planned.

Gwen is a very self-centered character (so I guess it makes sense she assumes herself to be the protagonist of her own comic series), but that also makes it hard at times to root for her. The other people in her live constantly offer her advice and direction that she rejects. And she still fails to treat them like real people with real feelings. Her “best friend” Cecil, for instance, is having trouble coping with the way that Gwen has completely ruined his life, but all she does is tell him to move on and enjoy being her sidekick.

I’m not sure if Gwen is intentionally being written as a psychopath, but I found at times that I was tired of waiting for her to have any sort of character arc because she so often comes across as repulsively selfish. I do think the writers have been setting her up as somehow broken, but, until her backstory is revealed, my sympathy is waning. Even people who have troubled relationships with their parents don’t get a free pass to go around blowing everything up.

There were a few moments of lighter humor in the story, so I will continue reading in the hopes of Gwen achieving some sort of growth and of finding more funny moments in the future. But volume two does feel like a let-down after the first volume.

3 Stars

The Luminaries by Susan Dennard

The Luminaries book cover

Information

Goodreads: The Luminaries
Series: The Luminaries #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: November 1, 2022

Official Summary

Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

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Review

In spite of the fact that The Luminaries begins rather morbid, with the protagonists detachedly retrieving corpses from the woods in which she and her fellow Luminaries live, I am most tempted to call it “delightful.” It’s a relatively short read at 300 pages and, while still fresh, in many ways feels like a callback to how YA fantasy used to be: quick story, a dash of romance, more to discover in the sequel.

I had no particular plans to read this book, in spite of the fact I have enjoyed Dennard’s Witchlands series, but I received it in the November 2022 OwlCrate box, and OwlCrate has once again not let me down! I side-eyed the book a bit as I was thrown into the character’s job picking up dismembered bodies and casually delivering them to the morgue, but luckily the book does get less gross as it goes on, even as it continues to make the case that the forest near Hemlock Falls is dangerous; people can and do die at any time.

In spite of the peril and the monsters, however, the real draw of the book is the characters. Winnie Wednesday wants more than anything to be a Luminary, but her family has been branded outcasts by the town. Her struggles being ignored and mocked by people who used to be her friends and family and her desire to get back her dreams and all else that is rightfully hers are gripping to read about. It’s debatable whether some of the decisions she makes are the best, but they’re understandable. I get her as a person, and I see why does things the way she does.

I do think the jacket copy is a bit misleading, as it implies Winnie and Jay spend a lot of time hunting a new monster in the forest, which isn’t quite true (though I’d be unsurprised if it’s true in the sequel), but the plot of Winnie training for the trials while having concerns about a new monster and having to navigate complicated relationships with her neighbors did keep me turning the pages. And I certainly want to find out what this new monster is!

Sign me up for book two, and sign me up for more Jay, as well, one of those perfect YA boys who seem aloof yet strangely perceptive.

Briana
4 stars

All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot

All Things Wise and Wonderful

Information

GoodreadsAll Things Wise and Wonderful
Series: All Creatures Great and Small #3
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published:

Summary

James Herriot begins training in the Royal Air Force during WWII, but still finds time to visit his pregnant wife Helen and reminisce about his veterinary practice in the Yorkshire Hills.

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Review

I was intrigued by the third volume in James Herriot’s series about being a vet in the Yorkshire Dales because I knew that Jim would be heading off to the Royal Air Force. What would this mean for his charming animal stories? Would the book become a WWII memoir instead? Would we ever see Tricki Woo again? The answer is complicated. The book switches between brief anecdotes about Herriot’s time in the RAF and his memories of Darrowby. Often, the parts about his time in the RAF are just a few sentences that lead him into a vet story instead of an RAF story. In the end, I have mixed feelings about All Things Wise and Wonderful. I suppose Herriot could not have left out his time in the RAF completely, yet these parts often seem tangential to the book, as if Herriot was well aware of what his readers actually wanted–the Yorkshire Dales.

In thinking about my reaction to All Things Wise and Wonderful, I did wonder how Herriot could have mentioned his time in the RAF and yet still made the book feel a bit less choppy. I even wondered if he actually needed to mention the RAF at all. His books typically skip through time, with Herriot telling stories about his vet adventures before he was married, and then returning back to his “present.” If he just mentioned some of his training and then spent longer sections on his visiting his pregnant wife and meeting his son, it seems rather like that would have been well and good. Just enough to let readers know what his “present” is, while still launching him back into of his veterinary past. Because the joke is that, after finally getting trained to fly, Herriot is asked to have a surgery that then disqualifies him from flying. And, because he is in a reserve profession, he is unable enlist in another part of the military. Herriot gets sent home! His time in the RAF seems relatively minor.

In some respects, Herriot seems to understand his time in the RAF was relatively minor, and he really does not dwell on it. Sometimes I wondered why he bothered to bring readers back to his present, or frame narrative, at all. A section, for instance, might begin with a few sentences on a fellow trainee being odd, with Herriot using his observation to launch into a remark that animals can be odd, too. Then off we go into another memory. Why bring up the odd fellow at all? Why not just tell the animal story?

Because the animal stories are where Herriot really shines. He has some amusing incidents to relate about his time in the RAF, such as getting a tooth pulled by an incompetent dentist, but, by and large, his best writing is reserved for his time in Darrowby. This usually pertains to the animals, but, of course, his anecdotes about his colleagues Siegfried and Tristan are always worth a laugh, as well. The only character in Darrowby that Herriot does not really make come alive is arguably his wife Helen. Typically Herriot brings out the humor of human nature, but Helen is always presented as kind, generous, loving, and supportive. The perfect wife. It probably made for a happier marriage, but her character is one of the duller ones in the books.

Though some of the transitions from frame narrative to memories are clumsy, All Things Wise and Wonderful still brings Herriot’s signature charm, humor, and warmth to his stories. Joy, heartbreak, and wonder all mix together in his vivid depiction of life as a rural vet making this third installment well worth the read.

4 stars

Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow by Tom King, et al

Supergirl Woman of Tomorrow

Information

Goodreads: Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow
Series: Collects Issues #1-8
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

When her father is killed, the alien girl Ruthye asks Supergirl to help her track the man down responsible and avenge her father. Supergirl does not believe in killing, but will the ravages she witnesses change her mind about the nature of justice?

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Review

Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is, I think, my second Supergirl comic! I realize that this might be a controversial choice. From vague snippets I have heard from other readers and read online, apparently this version of Supergirl pushes the boundaries and is supposed to explore a new, more “grown-up” version of the superhero. I don’t know about all that. What I do know is that Kara’s kindness and compassion still shine through in this story–the supposed edginess seems like a mere ploy to get readers interested in the title. The only thing I heartily disliked is the vague ending, primarily because having a vague ending risks undoing all the work of the previous issues.

Since I cannot really compare Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow to other iterations of the hero, I must assess the book on its own merits. To that end, I can say confidently that I enjoyed Supergirl’s characterization and was intrigued by her journey. Is Supergirl not supposed to drink or something? Too gritty? I can’t say I care. I did care, however, not only about the way she travels the universe hoping to save worlds, often stopping for small bits of kindness that do mean the world. I also love the interior journey readers get to see, with the book exploring Kara’s backstory and the way she carries the burden of watching her planet die (unlike Superman, who left as a baby).

The low point of the book is probably Ruthye’s narration. In some respects, as a narrator Ruthye works rather well. She is a child who watched her father die and now wants revenge. So her translating her experience and understanding of Supergirl is a neat narrative trick; she is the shadow of Kara, the bitter vigilante Kara might have become. However, Ruthye’s actual form of narration–her weird, pseudo-Early Modern English, is excruciating. I think the writers wanted her to sound like Shakespeare, but she just sounds like someone’s bad take on Hamlet. She also repeats herself a lot. I think this is meant to make her sound dramatic, but I just found it tiring.

If readers can get past the writing style, however, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is an engaging book. Readers get to travel with Kara and Ruthye to various planets and see Ruthye’s developing understandign of Kara’s character. I think the authors are trying to tease the idea that Supergirl might break. That she might actually kill a man for revenger. This might grip some readers or worry some readers. Not having read much Supergirl, I was not entirely invested in the question. I figured if I did not like Kara’s depiction, I just would not read this particular take on Supergirl again.

The ending does hit a sour note with its ambiguity. I discussed it with the person who had recommended the book to me, and they had an entirely different interpretation than I did. So then I did an internet search to see what the consensus might be. There are several different takes on it. For some books, ambiguity might work and be desirable. Here, however, I think the story needs a clear-cut ending to keep it thematically whole. So, for me, the ending is a definite miss.

On the whole, however, I enjoyed Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow. I can see myself reading more Supergirl comics in the future.

3 Stars

The Pearl Hunter by Miya T. Beck (ARC Review)

The Pearl Hunter book cover

Information

Goodreads: The Pearl Hunter
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: February 7, 2023

Official Summary

Set in a world inspired by pre-Shogun era Japan, this is a stunning debut fantasy in the vein of Grace Lin about how a young pearl diver goes to the ends of the earth to rescue her twin sister, who has been stolen by a ghost whale.

Kai and Kishi share the same futon, the same face, and the same talent for pearl diving. But Kishi is the obedient daughter, while Kai tries to push the rules, and sometimes they fight. Still, when Kishi is stolen and killed by the legendary Ghost Whale, nothing will stop Kai from searching for her, deep in the ocean, hoping for a way to bring her back to life.

But such a rescue is beyond the power of an ordinary mortal. Kai strikes a deal with the gods: she’ll steal a magic pearl in exchange for her sister’s soul. As she journeys across treacherous land scape, Kai must navigate encounters with scheming bandits, a power-hungry war lord, and a legion of conniving fox spirits. And when a new friendship becomes something almost as powerful as her love for her sister, Kai must make impossible choices and risk everything just to get home again.

Woven through with Japanese culture and legends, this many-layered story will grip readers of all ages.

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Review

With immersive world building and a protagonist whose love for her sister cannot be stopped, The Pearl Hunter is sure to be a hit with lovers of middle grade fantasy.

Miya T. Beck drops readers into protagonist Kai’s world, where her family is tightknit but magic seems faraway because her family’s status as pearl divers makes them low class. However, legends quickly become real after Kai’s twin dies, and she encounters gods and magical beings she thought were only fairy tales. And she’s ready to bargain with them all if it means getting her sister back.

Kai’s bravery and determination are some of the things I loved most about the book. Even places where the plot slows or falters, Kai’s personality helps the book keep shining. This is, of course, another instance of a book where the strong sisterly bond is almost always in flashbacks because the one sister isn’t actually present in the story, but I love a good sister bond nonetheless, and The Pearl Hunter delivers.

I do wish some of this charisma had been present in the romance. The love interest is an interesting person in his own right, and I like him well enough as a character, but there isn’t a lot of development showing how he and Kai actually come to care for each other. It seems that one moment they’re enemies, and the next they’re all blushing and willing to risk their lives for each other. Possibly the target audience will not take issue with this, however. I remember being in middle school and thinking some books that have maybe 3 pages total of romance were wildly romantic, whatever that says about me.

The bold choices the author makes at the end of the novel, however, definitely earned my respect. Things didn’t go quite the way I might have hoped or imagined, but they’re memorable and make a lot of sense in the context of the book. I also don’t think there will actually be a sequel, but there’s a lot of room left for me to imagine the adventures Kai might go on next and how she might try to change fate, and I like that a lot.

This is strong, solid fantasy. The pacing is slow at times, but the heart of the protagonist is inspiring and the folklore woven in will appeal to a lot of readers, so this is one to check out.

Briana
3 Stars

Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega & Rose Bousamra

Information

GoodreadsFrizzy
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Marlene just wants to be herself and have fun, but all mother wants is for her to behave and keep her curls from going wild. This means a weekly trip to the salon to achieve what her family calls “good hair.” With the help of her Tía Ruby, Marlene will learn that all hair is good, and how to embrace hers.

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Review

Frizzy is the type of story that will pull at readers’ hearts. It follows Marlene as she strives to be accepted by her family, but is always made to feel less-than her cousin who is perfect and has “good hair.” Even Marlene’s well-meaning mother places pressure on her to present herself as “professional” and “grown-up” by straightening her hair every week through a torturous appointment at the salon. Marlene’s journey to self-love is sure to move and inspire readers.

Reading Frizzy was honestly quite difficult, and I found myself tearing up at times over how Marlene’s family treats her. Though they say they love her, they constantly compare her to her cousin with straight, blonde hair, acting like Marlene’s natural curls are akin to a moral failing. Worse, whenever Marlene tries to speak up to defend herself or to explain how she feels, she is punished for being rude. Like many adults, her family feels that grown-ups can say anything they like to children–no matter how hurtful–and that children must never say anything back. This behavior was particularly difficult to see from Marlene’s mother, whom Marlene notes used to wear her own hair curly, but now has bought into the idea that only straight hair is beautiful.

The book, however, treats Marlene’s mother with as much sensitivity and kindness as it does Marlene. Tía Ruby explains to Marlene how she and her sister were also brought up with the harmful idea of “good hair,” and how that has affected Marlene’s mother, and led her to perpetuate the idea with her own daughter. With Tía Ruby’s help, Marlene is able not only to learn how to care for and style her curly hair, but also is able to rebuild her relationship with her mother. The story is a real tearjerker!

Frizzy is a must-read for fans of middle grade graphic novels. It is written with sensitivity and insight. And, though it is sometimes hard to read, it ends with a hopeful message that things can change and all hair is beautiful.

5 stars

The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 1: Believe It by Christopher Hastings, et al

Gwenpool Volume 1

Information

GoodreadsThe Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 1
Series: Unbelievable Gwenpool #1
Age Category: Young Adult/Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

Newly arrived in a universe that is clearly a comic book, teenage Gwen Poole decides to get herself a superhero costume and become the protagonist of her own series.

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Review

I had no idea who Gwenpool was, and I have even stayed away from the Deadpool comics because I worried they would prove too violent for me. However, when I heard the premise for Gwenpool, I couldn’t resist. Gwen Poole (not Gwen Stacy!) is a regular person from our world who finds herself in the world of the Marvel comics. She knows she is in a comic, so she decides to don a superhero costume so she will not be “an extra.” The result? A teenage girl with no superpowers or combat training running around, trying to defeat supervillains. And, because she thinks she knows how comics work, she never worries about safety or consequences. Her comic is a delightfully zany story of chaos.

The knowing humor of Gwenpool’s stories is what makes them so fun to read. Gwen knows all the secrets and backstories of the heroes and the villains she meets, and she will often use that to her advantage. However, she also figures nothing in this world is real, so she can do whatever she wants. She will ride her motorcycle off a skyscraper and just assume something will save her, because surely she has an appearance in a new issue coming up. She is also cavalier with the lives of the other characters, telling them that no hero ever stays dead forever. She pokes fun at how comics work, but in a way that shows she is a fan, and both she and the creators are in on the joke.

Gwen’s conviction that nothing is real and nothing matters does, however, make her comic more violent than those of the Marvel characters I usually enjoy. Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl, for instance, tend to prefer trying to work things out or help villains repent, before getting into any fights. Gwen represents a more nihilistic mindset, which often leads her to do things like sell dangerous weapons to Hydra (because she assumes the Avengers will take care of it) or to go on killing sprees–because the crooks deserved it, she says, but actually because she does not see the other characters as real people really suffering. Take away the threat of consequences, the comic suggests, and people revert to a feral violence.

Much of the humor, then, is darkly ironic, and relies on the reader having some sense that the characters actually do matter, and that Gwenpool is living a deluded dream. This becomes apparent in how Gwenpool is not obviously positioned as a superhero. She thinks she must be the hero because she is the protagonist of her own story. But readers can see her losing her way, and often doing harm in the name, not only of having fun, but also in the name of doing “good.” Gwen does not actually have a developed sense of what good is, and everyone can see it except her.

The lines between right and wrong blurring becomes an integral part of the story as Gwen repeatedly tries to be a hero, but continues to fail. She “saves” people by causing mass casualties and extensive property damage. Whether she is a hero, an anti-hero, or just confused is up for debate. Is killing the bad guys all that matters? Is that all that makes a person a hero? Or must there be something more?

I was not expecting to enjoy Gwenpool as much as I did, but I enjoyed the dark humor, as well as the questions the book raises about the nature of comic books, what they teach us about right and wrong, and how those lessons can shape us. I’ll be picking up volume two soon!

4 stars

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

A Caribbean Mystery

Information

GoodreadsA Caribbean Mystery
Series: Miss Marple #10
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1964

Summary

While vacationing in St Honoré, Miss Marple learns of the death of a fellow guest. The authorities assume it was Major Palgrave’s health that gave out, but was Palgrave actually ill? What was it he was saying to her just the night before? Miss Marple tests her wits once again as she tries to uncover who wanted the Major dead, and why.

Star Divider

Review

A Caribbean Mystery adds a bit of novelty to the Miss Marple series by moving the amateur detective from her home turf of the village of St. Mary Mead to a tropical island. However, human nature, according to Miss Marple, is much the same everywhere. So when a guest at her hotel dies overnight, Miss Marple’s mind begins working. The authorities believe the death was natural, but Miss Marple believe something is wrong. Watching Miss Marple baffle the local police force is always rewarding, though, in this case, the culprit is unusually obvious from the start, making A Caribbean Mystery a bit more lackluster than other books in the series.

The fun of reading a Miss Marple mystery is, of course, that everyone overlooks Miss Marple because she is an elderly woman and they thus believe that 1) she is none too bright and 2) her gentle mind could never conceive of such shocking things as murder. The joke, of course, is that Miss Marple’s age is precisely what gives her the edge she needs. She has experience. She knows people. And she knows how the world works. Yes, some things change, and Miss Marple might lament the passing of old traditions, but human nature remains the same. And Miss Marple’s mind is as keen as ever.

Unfortunately, in A Caribbean Mystery I did not particularly feel like I needed Miss Marple’s keen mind. Though it feels gratifying to solve a mystery, often the best mysteries are the ones I could not figure out, but that seem inevitable once the solution is revealed. In this book, however, I knew who the murderer was right away. The rest of the book was just Miss Marple trying to figure it out, and I was baffled that she seemed so much less certain than herself than usual. One recurring theme through the series is that Miss Marple is pretty sure who it is, but wants further proof or to catch them in the act. Here, she does not seem to fully consider the true culprit until it is almost too late. Considering the nature of the crime she is trying to prevent, that seems odd because her options are more limited than usual.

Even so, a Miss Marple mystery always remains a pleasant read. I enjoy matching wits with Christie and watching Miss Marple confound the authorities time and again. I eagerly await Miss Marple’s next case.

3 Stars