The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

The Jungle Book


Goodreads: The Jungle Book
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Published: 1894


What little I know of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book comes from having watching Disney’s animated version exactly once, several years ago.  So, I knew basically nothing going into this besides there being something about a young human boy being raised by jungle animals.  Imagine my surprise upon discovering the book contains seven stories, and only the first three are about Mowgli.  I do think, however, these three stories are the strongest.

Mowgli’s stories are, interestingly, not told in chronological order; they start with the story of how Mowgli leaves the forest, then circle back to tell one adventure he had while living in the jungle and one story of how he eventually returned to the jungle.  The biggest themes seem to be about power and “the law of the jungle,” which is powerful but apparently not as binding as many would like.  I enjoyed reading about the adventures Mowgli, his wolf family, and his other friends had, as well as how the laws of the jungle were sometimes helpful and at other times ignored.  I have not yet fully decided whether Kipling’s depiction of certain animal societies is supposed to be commentary on something broader, however (such as the depiction of the monkeys as a species completely ignored by the other jungle animals because there is no clear monkey society or law).

The other stories in the book were more hit or miss for me.  The first story to break away from Mowgli is simply about a seal who wants to find his seal friends/family an island uninhabited by men so they can hang out without fear of being hunted.  It’s pretty straightforward, and I didn’t find it all that interesting.  Another story is basically about army mules/horses/elephants/etc. debating who has the coolest, most important, most courageous job.  I think readers, especially younger ones, who happen to like animal stories will enjoy some of these offerings.  (Humans feature in some of the stories but are generally not the point, and I’m certainly not an expert on whether Kipling is portraying the societies with accuracy.) Personally, I found the stories amusing enough while I was in the process of reading them, but I’m not sure I would go out of my way to revisit them.

The Jungle Book was worth a one-time read for me since it is a classic piece of literature, and it does have some of the unique charm of older children’s stories, if you’re into that particular style.  However, since I’m not really an animal story person, I don’t think it spoke to me the way it may speak to some other readers.

Note: I read the MinaLima edition of the book, which is beautifully designed and definitely worth picking up if you like adding pretty books to your collection.  I think the claim of “interactive elements” is a bit overblown because this generally means you might be able to spin an illustration or unfold a map, but they do add some fun to the book.

4 stars Briana


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


Little Women by Louisa May AlcottGoodreads: Little Women
Series: Little Women #1
Source: Gift
Published: 1868


Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are doing their best to grow up into women their father would be proud of.  If only he weren’t so far away at the war!  Still, despite their poverty, they try to be happy.  Along with their neighbor Laurie, they have plenty of good times, from producing plays in the garret to writing their own newspaper.


Little Women is one of those classics that never grows old.  Perhaps it is because the titular little women range in age (12 to 16 at the start) and so can present an array of experiences sure to resonate with a wide audience.  Perhaps it is because they age over the course of the book (Jo ends it at the age of 30) and so can encompass the humiliations of childhood, the first blush of love, the trials of married life, and the rocky starts of careers.  Or perhaps it is because the characters are so vibrant, so lifelike.  Who would not want to spend a day with the March family?  Whatever the charm, Little Women endures.

And Little Women endures despite the complaints of some readers, who find the tale too wholesome, too moralizing.  But this, I believe, is part of its charm.  The book, it is true, makes no secret of its desire to instill good morals in its readers.  It opens, after all, with the girls playing Pilgrim’s Progress and receiving Bibles or New Testaments for Christmas.  Yes, it wants it readers to learn to fight vanity, to control their tempers, to become generous and loving and uncomplaining.  But the book really believes in all this.  It does not feel like a moral tale, but like the inspirational example of a friend.  And, in the end, even though we may be uncomfortable with a book that points out that we are not perfect, its message that we can all try to do better is a message I believe that many people still need and want to hear.

I have always appreciated Little Women for its encompassing look at womanhood, from Jo’s fiery independence to Beth’s comfort in domestic life to Meg’s struggles to be the wife and mother she thinks she ought to be.  There is no one right path here, no correct way to be a woman.  Rather, all the girls’ choices are valuable just as all their personalities are appreciated.  Each one gets to be the focus so that readers can see their flaws as well as their strengths, and learn to love them even when they are weak.

And you get to grow along with them.  Today, we might not think that a chapter about learning how to balance childcare with a relationship with your  husband is the type of thing children want to or should read.  We might not think that a child or teen wants to read about a character in her late 20s falling in love with a man nearly forty.  Or that any child wants to read about a thirty-year-old running a school.  And yet it works.  The work is beloved by many.  Because it gives a glimpse ahead.  It says that life is weird and unexpected and sometimes painful or tragic.  But life goes on.  And you have a hand in shaping it.  It tells its readers that they have agency and that they are important, no matter the path they choose.

5 stars

Penguins Love Their ABC’s by Sarah Aspinall


Goodreads: Penguins Love Their ABC’s
Series: Penguins #2
Source: Received from publisher
Published: August 29, 2017


The penguins are back, but now that they’ve learned their colors, they’re going to review their ABC’s!  Come along on a journey to uncover the alphabet.


Penguins Love Their ABC’s takes readers on a colorful scavenger hunt to find the letters of the alphabet.  From “B is for broccoli” to “Z is for zucchini,” the story brings a fresh twist to the alphabet book by including some surprising objects .  The fun of discovering what each letter stands for along with the vibrant illustrations will keep young readers engaged as they learn.

The text helpfully includes questions to ask young readers so they can practice responding to the story and anticipating what might come next.  Adult readers are, of course, supposed to ask such questions to teach reading skills, but the inclusion of questions in the story itself will help adults who are not yet accustomed to  asking their auditors to interact with the story.  They also provide a helpful guide so that the adults reading out loud can add questions of their own as they progress through the book or go through a reread.

However, the colorful pictures, the cute penguins, and the sense of playful humor (such as the penguins dancing about in their “lucky underwear”) will surely charm children and make learning seem fun.  Penguins Love Their ABC’s is a delightful addition to the concept book shelf of any home or library.

4 stars

Mini Reviews: Sam Garton’s Otter

Otter Loves Easter by Sam Garton

In this charming tale, Otter loves Easter because Easter means chocolate!  But she doesn’t want to share her Easter gifts with her friends.  With his typical wit and whimsy, Sam Garton presents  a story with illustrations that will amuse readers and a lesson that will warm their hearts.  After all, if the Easter Bunny is good at sharing, perhaps Otter can learn to be generous, as well. 5 Stars.

Otter: Hello, Sea Friends by Sam Garton

This beginner reader introduces young readers to various sea creatures from turtles to sharks to Otter’s favorite–the penguins.  Though the sentences are simple, Garton’s illustrations bring a special charm to the story.  It’s delightful to watch Otter’s body language throughout the book.  Her expressiveness makes her contrition just as charming as her excitement.  You just want to scoop her up and give her a hug!  There’s not much of a story here aside from the trip to the aquatic park, but reading Otter is a treat nonetheless.  4 Stars.

Otter: Let’s Go Swimming by Sam Garton

This is the best Otter beginner reader yet!  It has all of Otter’s signature charm, including her habit of ascribing her fears to friends Teddy and Giraffe.  The illustrations are disarmingly charming–I even laughed out loud!  Thus far I have found the picture books superior to the beginner readers, but this latest may have started a new trend. 5 Stars.

The Princess and the Page by Christina Farley

The Princess and the Page


Goodreads: The Princess and the Page
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: March 28, 2017


Keira has no idea that her family are Word Weavers, who can make stories real by using a magical pen.  All she knows is that her mom hates stories; only lists, facts, and the “the truth” are allowed in their home.  So when Keira stumbles across a beautiful pen hidden in her parents’ bedroom, she takes it and begins to write a fairy tale,  But she has no idea what her words will unleash or the danger she will find herself in.


Magical pens and stories springing to life sound like the perfect middle grade fantasy, so I was excited to read this one.  Who wouldn’t want the stories they put on the page to take on a life of their own?  Unfortunately, The Princess and the Page did not capture my attention the way I thought it would, and I closed the covers with some disappointment.

I thought the prose jarringly clunky and unsophisticated in general, and I considered DNFing because of it. I’ve talked about before how I think that many modern authors simply do not have great prose (Sorry!), but there’s neutral prose and prose that’s grating; Farley’s leans toward being the latter, and this is one thing I really cannot stand in books.  It’s also one thing that an editor cannot really fix for you, short of hiring a ghostwriter to redo all your sentences.

However, I continued powering through, only to discover that the book also contains one of my other least favorite things: ridiculous sounding pseudo Middle English. Farley lays it on thick, and the result is cringe-worthy.  The medieval character (technically French, but the book is in English so….) runs about spouting gems like this: “Thou art most certainly not what I was expecting, but that is nary a worry…Come hither!”  Worse, Farley is not consistent with the grammar.  (Seriously, Middle English has actual grammar rules you should look into if you want to emulate it.)  So the character says “Dost thou” but “thou can” instead of “thou canst.”  I simply couldn’t take a character who speaks like this seriously.  Think of writing medieval dialogue like writing accents in fiction; you want to give readers a taste of it, not write a character who sounds like a hilarious stereotype.

Beyond these issues, I was not a huge fan of the plot.  There are aspects of it that are interesting, since Keira has to deal with a story she wrote coming to life.  It also has a great setting, a mysterious castle in France, and the glamorous set-up that Keira has won an all expenses paid dream vacation there.  However, the novel is meant to be part mystery, as it takes Keira and her friends a while to figure out what’s happening in the castle, how the actions are related to the story she wrote, who is responsible for certain actions, etc.  The issue is that Farley relies on the trick of artificially withholding information in order to create suspense.  For instance, readers are never told how Keira’s fairy tale actually goes, so they have to wait for actions to happen in the text and Keira to reveal pages later that real life is mirroring her tale.  This also means the story is sometimes choppy because it’s not always clear what is going on.

There are things that I like about The Princess and the Page, but since I considered DNFing a couple times due to the prose and the jumpy plotting, I decided to give it two stars.  It has a pretty high overall rating on Goodreads, however (books about stories always seem to be a hit), so others might enjoy it even though I did not.


Why I’ve Never Liked Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree

Discussion Post

When I was in elementary school, my teachers used to read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree aloud to my class.  I understood that my teachers thought that the story depicted selfless giving on the part of the tree.  Year after year as the boy and then the man come to her asking her to give of herself to him, she happily obliges, allowing him to take her apples, her branches, and, finally, her trunk.  But, despite my teachers’ apparent love for this story, it never enchanted me.  To me, it was a dark and twisted tale, one in which a man unthinkingly kills someone who was kind to him, because he thinks only of his own needs.

My teachers would have seen the tree as a example to us all.  The tree loves her Boy unconditionally and does everything in her power to provide for him and to make him happy, even though he is grateful for none of it.  I appreciate this interpretation and can only hope that I can become a little more like the tree myself–generous, cheerful, and willing to sacrifice for the good of others.  However, I cannot help but feel that the interpretation is missing something–a recognition that, even though the tree is generous and loving, that does not excuse the actions of the Boy.

As a child, I possessed the sense of justice that many children possess.  I knew instinctively that the boy was wrong and selfish, even though this is not something any adult would have said.  The focus was all on the positive–how kind and giving is the tree!  No one mentioned that the tree was capable of such sacrificial lengths only because the Boy she served was willing to chop her down without a second thought.  A more well-rounded interpretation of the story would, I think, acknowledge that it is not okay for someone to keep taking, taking, taking with nary a thank you.  Nor is it acceptable for someone to ask another person to hurt themselves so that they can attain more wealth or material possessions.

Am I being too literal?  Well, that is what elementary school me thought when my teachers read this story aloud.  I never liked The Giving Tree.  I found it disturbing and I found it even more disturbing that the adults seemed unperturbed by the ending, in which an old man sits down on the stump of the tree he has killed.  The tree is happy because she can keep on giving and the man rests content, still oblivious to his selfishness throughout his life.  (Yes, technically the tree is still happy so I guess she is not really dead, but surely the man who chopped her down didn’t expect her to somehow go on living?  That is not  how trees work!)  To me, the story was more about the depredations of the selfish Boy than it was about the abused love of the tree.

Years later, I still cannot stand The Giving Tree.  I cannot help but think that readers too easily dismiss the actions of the Boy in order to praise the sacrifices of the tree.  I am pleased to learn that some criticism has been leveled at the work, with some readers interpreting the work more along the lines that I do–as a story about the selfishness of the boy or the ways in which humanity destroys nature.  But I suspect that many elementary school teachers go on reading the work, happily untroubled by its darker undertones.

How do you interpret The Giving Tree?

Penguins Love Colors by Sarah Aspinall


Goodreads: Penguins Love Colors
Series:  None
Source: Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Published: 2016


Six little penguins love colors, but their home is full of white snow!  Can they find a way to create a colorful surprise for their mama?


Penguins Love Colors is the charming tale of six little penguins named after flowers–Tulip, Tiger Lily, Dandelion, Broccoli, Bluebell and Violet.  Even though they are surrounded by snow, they want to paint their mama a surprise. Thus begins a sweet story that will help younger readers learn to recognize and name colors.

Sarah Aspinall clearly created her book with beginner readers and their caretakers in mind.  Not only does it teach colors through naming and repetition, but it also includes the types of prompt questions adult readers are encouraged to ask of their young audiences to develop reading skills.  “Do you think they made a mess?” the text asks and “Do YOU know [which penguin painted which flower?]”  These moments encourage the reader to pause  for the child to predict what might come next and to try to identify the color that matches each flower.  Adult readers who are unsure what types of questions to ask their children or who are just beginning to learn what types of questions they should ask while teaching literacy will surely find these prompts useful.  And children will enjoy the interaction.

The bright pictures add to the book’s appeal.  A rainbow of color appears on nearly every page and the penguins spin and slide exuberantly through their vibrant (if snowy) world.  Readers are sure to fall in love with them as they break out their paint brushes to get creative.  And maybe readers will want to get creative, too!

Krysta 645 stars

Bonus Content

Interested in Penguins Love Colors?  Sarah Aspinall has created coloring pages and a teaching guide for you to use!  Check them out below!