Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns #6: Who Turned Off the Colours? – Matthew K. Manning

Illustrations – Joey Ellis

So, here we are at the end of this series. After my initial delight at the strange concept and the fun I had visiting a couple of other dimensions, I’m finishing the series disappointed.

Xander has somehow caught the virus that made his unicorn friends zombies. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for this to happen or why it happens at the same time to all of the people who have interacted with the unicorns, regardless of when they watched the magic show.

Xander and the other humans have different symptoms to the unicorns. Instead of vomiting rainbows, they lose all of their colours. Even their clothing turns grey. It’s up to Xander, Cradie, Blep and Ronk to figure out a way to restore colour to the humans.

I had a whole bunch of questions throughout the series that I was looking forward to having answered when I made it to the final book. I didn’t get a single question answered.

The lack of attention to detail in the series really bugs me now. It was always something I noticed but it began to impact on my enjoyment of the series in book five.

This time around the main problem I had related to the central plot. So, Xander has lost his colours.

In fact, his skin was grey, his hair was a darker grey. Even his clothing was grey!

Two pages later …

He was wearing a bright purple onesie, but he was too worried to be embarrassed.

Seven pages after that …

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Xander’s onesie is purple, his bunny slippers (which are certainly cute) are pink and the inside of his mouth isn’t grey either! Kids notice inconsistencies like these. It makes me wonder if the publisher lost interest in this series as it progressed.

Until book five, whenever Ronk said, “Ronk!” the word was always green and in a different font; in the final two books it’s blue for some reason. Cradie and Blep have also previously had colours specific to them when they vomit rainbows. These are also blue in this book. Later in the book there are places where the text is entirely normal. I would have thought this was clever if it related to Xander but the unicorns didn’t lose their colours in this book.

At the end of this book there’s a glossary, barf words (these have been the same in each book), jokes and a character spotlight where you learn more about Xander.

Up next: Start figuring out next year’s 🦄 Unicorn Day! 🦄 read/s.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The Rainbow-Barfing Unicorn virus hasn’t infected humans … until now! In this adventure, twelve-year-old Xander contracts the mysterious virus of the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns. The virus gives the unicorns their barfing abilities, but it’s having the opposite effect on Xander – it’s draining him of any colour at all! Xander’s fate lies in the hands – er, hooves – of Ronk, the most dimwitted of all Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns. This is not good. In fact, this is bad – really, really bad.

Plump-full of grotesquely delightful characters and fantastical realms, Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns is so epic it’ll make you wanna puke.

Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns #5: Fairies Hate Ponies – Matthew K. Manning

Illustrations – Joey Ellis

I love visiting the other dimensions and the flashbacks of the unicorns’ time before they became zombies so this book felt a bit tedious in comparison. Most of the time we’re either hanging out at the Montgomery Orchard or the landfill next door.

There are some new characters in this book, several thousand of them in fact. Insect fairies from Pegasia are sick of all of the sweetness and adorability of their home so they hitch a ride through a portal to see what Earth has to offer. They like what they see and decide to stay, but this doesn’t bode well for Cradie, Blep and Ronk; if humans discover these magical creatures they’re sure to be locked up and experimented on.

I thought insect fairies would be interesting characters but I found them annoying. We only really get to know Willibop, who’s pretty cantankerous. Because this book basically felt like an exercise in pest control, my mind started to wander.

I keep wondering what Xander’s parents know about the unicorns. Their son is the person who introduces the unicorns during the weekend shows and given how popular the shows are supposed to be, have these parents seen the show? Asked Xander where he got the ‘ponies’?

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After searching for Stalor in another dimension, the unicorns seem to have forgotten all about him. I’m not sure if he even survived the events in The Search for Stalor.

Then I thought about the zombie virus the unicorns were infected with. Is there a cure they could be looking for? Is there going to be any information about the origin of the meteorite that brought the zombie disease to Pegasia?

Is Xander finally going to admit his crush to Kelly? Is Kelly going to finally figure out that there are unicorns in her aunt’s orchard? Is Kelly’s aunt going to figure it out? With only one book left in the series I’m really hoping for some answers to at least some of my questions.

Ronk has randomly been described as grey during the series, which makes me wonder if he was originally going to be that colour. Most of the time he’s described as green and is always pictured that colour. In previous books, whenever Ronk says, “Ronk!” the word was always green; in this book it’s blue for some reason.

At the end of this book there’s a glossary, barf words (these have been the same in each book), jokes and a character spotlight where you learn more about Willibop, the insect fairy.

Up next: Who Turned Off the Colours?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Xander discovers a new magical creature – millions of them, actually! In this adventure, a swarm of insects threatens the Montgomery Orchard and twelve-year-old Xander’s fruitful summer job. Luckily, the so-called bugs aren’t actually bugs. Unluckily, they’re miniature, unicorn-hating, insect fairies from the magical world of Pegasia!

If Xander and his team of Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns can’t rid the orchard of these no-good fairies, their secret will be blown quicker than a stomach-load of full-spectrum chunks. Plump-full of grotesquely delightful characters and fantastical realms, Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns is so epic it’ll make you wanna puke.

Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns #4: Return to Pegasia – Matthew K. Manning

Illustrations – Joey Ellis

🦄 9 April is Unicorn Day! 🦄

I need to live in visit Pegasia, this marvellous world that Willy Wonka would be proud to call home.

The clouds are candyfloss. The dirt is crushed chocolate cookies.

There’s a chocolate milk river (actually, that reminds me very much of Mr Wonka’s chocolate river).

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The unicorns smell good enough to eat. Note to self: Don’t eat the unicorns!

We get to meet more unicorns in this book. My favourite new unicorn was Cradie’s best friend from Pegasia, Bubblegum Taffy! She’s pink and she’s adorable! I will never be accused of having her problems.

My mother had been worried I wasn’t eating enough sweets.

It’s taken until the fourth book but we finally got around to the topic of unicorn farts. It had to happen eventually. The first offender is Bubblegum Taffy and her farts smell like bubblegum! Naturally!

After hearing all about it for over a month, Xander finally gets to visit Pegasia for himself.

It’s a magical place of dreams and wonder!

The unicorns’ distrust of humans is again validated, although this book’s ‘villain’ is much lower on the diabolical scale than the previous one. We also discover how appropriate the unicorn world’s name is.

At the end of this book there’s a glossary, barf words (these have been the same in each book), jokes (I’ve stopped reading these now; I find them repetitive and groan worthy) and a character spotlight where you learn more about Cradie, with her broken leg and weird but cool uni-skull tattoo.

Up next: Fairies Hate Ponies

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Once banished for being zombie-like creatures, the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns return to their home of Pegasia. Twelve-year-old Xander travels along and discovers a world of sugary sweet, fruit-flavoured unicorns – which is a problem, since the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns are HUNGRY!

Plump-full of grotesquely delightful characters and fantastical realms, the adventures of Xander and his team of Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns are so epic they’ll make you want to puke.

Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns #3: Revenge of the One-Trick Pony – Matthew K. Manning

Illustrations – Joey Ellis

🦄 9 April is Unicorn Day! 🦄

After finding Stalor (briefly) in The Search for Stalor, Xander and the three original rainbow-barfing unicorns, Cradie, Blep and Ronk, are preparing for another performance at Montgomery Orchard. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to our villain and given their backstory.

Unicorns have always feared humans knowing of their existence. They’re certain that if they’re found out they will be imprisoned and experimented on. This book’s Big Bad proves that humans are not to be trusted. We can still trust Xander though; he’s a kid so he doesn’t count.

With their home world of Pegasia boasting such delicacies as candy floss clouds and a chocolate mousse lake, it seemed appropriate that two of the Big Bad’s henchmen were called Ben and Jerry.

I loved learning more about Pegasia and the history of the unicorns. I particularly appreciated the connection between the Big Bad and the mention of something in the first book that seemed irrelevant at the time.

I am really enjoying Joey Ellis’ illustrations. There are still some inconsistencies between the text and images in this book but I couldn’t be bothered explaining the differences. My favourite illustrations were heartwarming

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and funny.

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But as it turned out, even a rainbow looks gross when it’s barfed up.

As disgusting as it sounds, I want to know the consistency of this rainbow vomit and whether it magically disappears if you accidentally come into contact with it.

At the end of this book there’s a glossary, barf words (the same ones that were included in the first book), jokes (over half of these are recycled from previous books) and a character spotlight where you learn more about Blep, with his stumpy horn and underbite.

Up next: Return to Pegasia

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The secret of the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns is out and that makes Xander Stone sick! Twelve-year-old Xander is the only person on Earth who knows about the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns. Except, of course, for a rich and crazy billionaire who will stop at nothing to capture these zombielike, upchucking creatures and get even richer and crazier!

Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns #2: The Search for Stalor – Matthew K. Manning

Illustrations – Joey Ellis

Spoilers Ahead!

🦄 9 April is Unicorn Day! 🦄

It didn’t seem fair. You try to eat one unicorn’s delicious-smelling hoof, and they kick you out of your world completely.

In Magic Smells Awful we were introduced to 12 year old Xander, whose belief in magic is finally validated when he sees rainbows shooting across the sky. After following the rainbows to their source he discovers three unicorns.

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Cradie, Blep and Ronk aren’t ordinary unicorns. They barf rainbows and have been banished from their home, Pegasia.

“Who did what in the where now?”

This trio weren’t the only ones banished that day. Stalor, the most handsome unicorn on Pegasia, also made his way through the portal but was separated from the rest of the unicorns before they reached Earth. At Cradie’s insistence, Xander and the unicorns set out to find Stalor. Just between you and I, Cradie has a bit of a crush on Mr Handsome.

Their search takes them through another portal, one that I was expecting would lead to Pegasia. Instead, they wind up in another world altogether – Shushyerbum (I’m pretty sure kids will love that name). Once there, Xander is separated from his friends and meets Tobias, a mouse-bear. Oops, sorry. Tobias is a Mear. That other term is offensive to Mears.

For another dimension, this world was suspiciously like Earth. And then all of a sudden, it wasn’t.

From the first time he was mentioned I was suspicious of Stalor. I suspect he will grow on me eventually. Now that it’s been confirmed there are other dimensions out there I hope to have the opportunity to visit some more.

The differences between the details of the text and the illustrations I noticed in Magic Smells Awful remain here. I found a few new discrepancies in this book. When the unicorns are described as having reins on them Cradie is pictured without them. Xander is supposed to be wearing a special metal hat, yet he is wearing his usual cap when he and Tobias leap off a cliff and again when they’re inside a cave.

At the end of this book there’s a glossary, barf words (the same ones that were included in the first book), jokes and a character spotlight where you learn more about Stalor, with his receding hairline and perfect teeth.

Up next: Revenge of the One-Trick Pony

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Xander Stone must save the handsomest of all Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns! In this installment, the handsomest of all Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns, Stalor, is missing. (P.S. He’s not really that handsome.) Twelve-year-old Xander and his other stinky, zombielike, upchucking unicorns set out to find him. Their naively heroic quest leads them to another dimension ruled by a diabolically bizarre king. Can the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns save their relatively handsome friend, or will the plan throw up in their faces? 

The Perfect Birthday Recipe – Katy Hudson

I absolutely fell in love with A Loud Winter’s Nap and The Golden Acorn, and I have read this one so many times now that I’ve lost count. Some of the most adorable children’s book illustrations I’ve come across are from this series. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even care what a Katy Hudson story is about anymore; I need it in my life regardless.

Beaver is a perfectionist. His latest project, which he’s been planning very carefully, is a birthday cake. Not content with anything less, this will be a “PERFECT birthday cake”. Beaver’s friends, Tortoise, Rabbit, Bird and Squirrel, decide to help. Only they don’t have Beaver’s attention to detail.

Rather than the perfect layers of sugary goodness Beaver had imagined, his friends’ help has instead resulted in layers of panic, frustration and ultimately a perfectly dramatic temper tantrum for Beaver. Beaver finally decides that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself but ultimately discovers it’s a perfectly lonely way to celebrate a birthday if you have alienated all of your friends.

I understand Beaver’s perfectionism, possibly too well. After spending so long reading and rereading this book, and agonising over finding the perfect words to include in this review, my advanced copy of this book has morphed into an ‘oops, this book has now been published’. Apparently I still need to read this book a few more times.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions for the opportunity to read this book. Now all I need to do is find a copy of Too Many Carrots and I’ll have a go to book for every season. I wish there was a fifth season so I could look forward to another book in this series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Summer birthdays can be lonely, but not when you have great friends like Beavers! This year Tortoise, Bird, Rabbit, and Squirrel insist on baking Beaver’s birthday cake, but Beaver isn’t so sure. He is the ultimate perfectionist and would rather do it himself, following the recipe exactly. Will Beaver’s nitpicky ways ruin his birthday and his friendships?

The Perfect Birthday Recipe is the fourth and final story in Katy Hudson’s best-selling set of seasonal picture books, including Too Many Carrots, A Loud Winter’s Nap, and The Golden Acorn.

A Many Feathered Thing – Lisa Gerlits

I would have talked about the wings. His and mine and everybody’s.

In order to become tortured enough to consider herself to be a real artist Clara decides she needs to do hard things. She begins by doing the hardest thing she can imagine, talking to a stranger, Mr Vogelman, who is rumoured to collect teeth.

Knocking on Mr Vogelman’s door isn’t the only scary thing Clara needs to face. There’s a new girl in her class, her friendship with Orion (who she’s known her entire life) is changing and, possibly scariest of all, she needs to find her voice so she can deliver a presentation at school.

Drawing had saved me where my voice failed.

I had planned on reading this book sooner but put it off for several weeks. From the first sentence I knew that no matter what else I found in this book, an ugly cry was certain and I wasn’t in the right head space at the time. Now I’m on the other side of my ugly cry and I can say that although there were several times where it hurt to read this book, hope was also threaded through it.

I loved Clara’s best friend, Orion. His integrity and loyalty endeared him to me and I wanted to watch him as he focused on making things and worked on his intricate knots. I liked Clara most of the time but was anxious for her to pay more attention to other peoples’ struggles and be a better friend. I’d like to spend more time with Elise, the new girl in Clara’s class, who sometimes behaved as though she was much older than eleven.

“You’ve got to have something inside you that no one can take away”

Birdman, as we come to know Mr Vogelman as, teaches Clara about much more than art.

“Every effort is valuable. We must not rub out our failures. They are most important to our success.”

Although I managed to catch a few glimpses of his life outside of his friendship with Clara, I would have liked to have learned more about him. He had a complexity that I wanted to be explored further.

While I understood why this was the case, Frouke’s character felt two dimensional until very near the end of the story. Even now I’m not entirely sure what her relationship was to Birdman … Housekeeper? Friend?

At its heart this is a book about friendships and having the courage to face the hard things. It’s also about finding ways to connect with people, even if it’s through failed knock-knock jokes. It’s about tying knots and unravelling them. It’s about seeing, truly seeing, by looking deeper and continuing to look even when you think you’ve understood all there is to see. It’s about hope and love.

“Love is not one shape. It is not always a red heart. Sometimes it is a tree. Or a bird. Or a bicycle bell.”

I’m always drawn to books where children connect with and learn from older people. I’m especially keen when I get the opportunity to peek into the lives of the people who live in the neighbourhood’s scary house. You know the one. It’s the house that children avoid on Halloween. There are rumours about the horrors that may befall you if you wind up on the wrong side of the door. The outcasts, the recluses, the mysterious. Birdman is one of those people. I dare you not to fall in love with him.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eleven-year-old Clara is known as the girl who draws, but she’s not tortured enough to become a real artist. Her only suffering, besides embarrassment over her real name Clarity Kartoffel, German for Clarity Potato is a crippling inability to speak in public. When Clara and her oldest friend, Orion break their neighbor’s glass gazing ball, Clara decides that in order to suffer like a true artist, she will do every hard thing in her path … starting with knocking on scary old Mr. Vogelman’s door. That’s when she meets Birdman. That’s when she sees his swirling painting. And that’s when everything changes.

To pay for the broken glass ball, Clara begins working for Birdman in his atelier. He challenges her to throw away her eraser and draw what she sees, not what she wants to see. But as Clara discovers, seeing, really seeing is hard. Almost as difficult as befriending the new girl at school, or navigating awkward feelings for Orion or finding the courage to speak in front of the entire class. But little does Clara know, the biggest challenges are yet to come. To cope with tragedy, she will have to do more than be brave. As Birdman teaches her, she will have to bring the hope. 

Help Wanted, Must Love Books – Janet Sumner Johnson

Illustrations – Courtney Dawson

Shailey loves reading bedtime stories with her father but since he started his new job he’s been too busy.

Shailey’s solution?

Fire her father and advertise for a new bedtime storyteller.

A host of fairytale characters apply for the job but none of them are quite right. Shailey begins to wonder if she’ll ever be able to find a suitable replacement for her father.

Some of my fondest childhood memories include trips to my local library to find new treasures. I always love books about books! I appreciated the inclusion of fairytale characters as it was a reminder that books are always there for you, even when you feel like you’re alone.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Shailey’s dad gets a new job, she loses her bedtime reading partner. She immediately starts interviews to fill the position and is thrilled when her favourite fairy tale characters line up to apply. But Sleeping Beauty can’t stay awake, the Gingerbread Man steals her book, and Snow White brings her whole team. Shailey is running out of options. Is bedtime ruined forever? 

Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes – Jennifer Orr

I need to preface everything I say about this book with: I’m not the target audience. Sometimes this doesn’t matter as I consistently read books that are intended for readers born in a different century than I was. However, I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older my tolerance for friendship drama has decreased exponentially.

Socially awkward twelve year old Abigail Hensley may have skipped three grades at school but she’s never had a friend. It’s not from lack of rigorous anthropological research on her part. Unfortunately other girls her age simply don’t share her interests – fencing, time travel, anthropology and French cuisine. They also have a bad habit of intruding in her personal space bubble, even though she has generously narrowed the recommended four feet to three and a half.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to successfully befriend a girl my age. It’s like I’m helium, physically unable to mix with any other chemical element. Bonding with girls my age just doesn’t seem part of my atomic makeup.

Joining Abigail in Clovis Cabin are:

  • Sofia, Fia, Fia, with her impractical bejewelled fingernails
  • Quinn, who speaks like she’s a Magic 8 ball
  • Rachel, with her crooked name sticker and rule breaking tendencies
  • Mary Elizabeth George (Meg), who lives in the shadows of her perfect older sister
  • Gabby, who’s enthusiastic and agreeable. She’s Abigail’s roommate.

Despite being oblivious to social cues Abigail is trying her hardest to figure out the science of making friends. She’s determined to crack the code this week and will be making extensive Field Notes to help her navigate the process.

I plan to use these notes to help me with my ongoing experiment: finding a friend.

Unfortunately for Abigail this social experiment may not be as easy to implement as she hopes. Shortly after arriving at Hollyhock something is stolen from another Clovis camper and she’s the prime suspect.

While I’m always drawn to books where I get to attend summer camp vicariously (this was not something that was available when I was growing up and I’ve always felt I missed out on a rite of passage), too many of the conversations in this book revolve around accusations for my liking, so I didn’t enjoy my time at Camp Hollyhock as much as I had anticipated. I hope (and expect) younger readers will disagree wholeheartedly with me.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Twelve-year-old Abigail Hensley is a socially awkward aspiring anthropologist who has always had trouble connecting with her peers. Abigail is hopeful that a week at sleepaway camp is the answer to finally making a friend. After all, her extensive research shows that summer camp is the best place to make lifelong connections. Using her tried-and-true research methods, Abigail begins to study her cabinmates for friendship potential. But just when it seems that she is off to a good start, her bunkmate’s phone gets stolen, and Abigail is the main suspect. Can she clear her name, find the real culprit, and make a friend before the week is done?

My Footprints – Bao Phi

Illustrations – Basia Tran

I’ve read this book so many times that I’ve lost count but each time I’ve tried to write my review I haven’t known what I wanted to say about it.

Thuy has been bullied at school again. She is angry and upset, but on her way home she notices her “jagged footprints”.

When she sees a lone bird, she imagines what it would be like to be able to fly away from danger and recreates its footprints in the snow. She continues to imagine other animals and makes their footprints her own as she arrives home.

“I want to be the biggest and strongest and scariest monster,” Thuy says, “so that if kids at school make fun of me for having two moms, or tell me to go back to where I come from, or call me names, or bother me because I’m a girl, I can make them stop!”

Together Momma Arti, Momma Ngoc and Thuy talk about which animals are strong and which are their favourites. Then Thuy imagines the best animal of all.

I loved Basia Tran’s illustrations, particularly Thuy’s Arti-Thuy-Ngoc-osaurus.

This imagined creature has footprints shaped like hearts, which I absolutely adored.

While I don’t think I would have appreciated this book as a child, adult me loves its messages. Thuy’s story tackles the impacts of bullying but also highlights the importance of having a supportive family. She is learning about courage and perseverance, and the power of her imagination, and I love her and her family more with each reread.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Every child feels different in some way, but Thuy feels “double different.” She is Vietnamese American and she has two mums. Thuy walks home one winter afternoon, angry and lonely after a bully’s taunts. Then a bird catches her attention and sets Thuy on an imaginary exploration. What if she could fly away like a bird? What if she could sprint like a deer, or roar like a bear? Mimicking the footprints of each creature in the snow, she makes her way home to the arms of her moms. Together, the three of them imagine beautiful and powerful creatures who always have courage – just like Thuy.