Mindful Mr. Sloth – Katy Hudson

Sasha Patience Pruitt lives her life on fast forward and her middle name is a bit of a misnomer. Her new friend, Mr. Sloth, is, well, a sloth and let’s face it, algae doesn’t typically grow on your fur if you’re quick enough to outrun it.

This friendship of opposites has the potential to either be the best thing ever or a super fast/super slow disaster in the making.

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Katy Hudson is one of my all time favourite illustrators. She’s the picture equivalent for me of that one author you’re certain could transform a shopping list into a literary masterpiece. I’m sure I’d be captivated if Katy drew a stickman.

Which made it disconcerting when I didn’t immediately fall in love with Sasha. I’ve adored every character I’ve met in Katy’s previous books and I loved Mr. Sloth at first sight. I read and reread this book until I finally figured out what the problem was. Me.

It turns out I have a bias where picture books are concerned. I can tolerate, and even find cute, all types of bad and/or potentially annoying behaviour from animal characters but apparently I judge humans differently. Not that Sasha was going around chucking tantrums or anything but her impatience frustrated me time and time again. I thought back to when I read Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle, where Squirrel is the speedy equivalent of Sasha, and not once was I frustrated by Squirrel.

Having done a deep dive into my soul, I reread this book once again, with a new understanding of myself as a reader. This time Sasha was simply a young girl with a lot of energy, someone who doesn’t realise she’s missing out on a variety of amazing things because they’re a blur to her. Once she slows down enough and pays attention, she discovers the beauty that surrounds her and learns that some things are best enjoyed at a different speed.

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Once again, the illustrations in this book were absolutely gorgeous. Bonus points for the cameos of the author’s previous books.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Sasha has one speed – fast. She loves to do lots of things, all at once, as fast as possible. Mr. Sloth has one speed – slow. He loves to do things one at a time, at a nice, easy pace. Can Mr. Sloth’s mindful ways teach Sasha to slow down and enjoy life? Best-selling author Katy Hudson gently weaves a mindfulness theme into this unlikely friendship tale between an energetic girl and a sloth, encouraging children to stop, breathe, and be present in every moment.

So You Want to Build a Library – Lindsay Leslie

Illustrations – Aviel Basil

I’ve loved libraries for as long as I can remember. They provide access to books that you’re allowed to take home with you for free (!), whose pages allow you to explore infinite worlds, learn and escape from reality for a while. Any building whose primary purpose is to help facilitate reading is already a magical place, so what could possibly make it better? If a child had the opportunity to build the library of their dreams.

One young reader shows us how they would go about creating the “most MIRACULOUS library ever!” From the location to the types of books that would fill the shelves and the inclusion of pretty much everything you’d need so you’ll never have to leave, including a sundae bar and trampolines, this book encourages you to let your imagination go wild.

I loved the dragons and pie-baking snail but my favourite illustrations included the roller-skating sloth, who seemed to be having the time of their life.

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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

There is no better place in the world than a library. Especially a library that kids create! A million stories high? Sure. Bathtubs? Absolutely. A full-service sundae bar? Of course. Everything is possible in this library – just like in books! 

Batman and Scooby-Doo Mysteries: The Case of the Cursed Crop – Michael Anthony Steele

Illustrations – Dario Brizuela

“And I would’ve gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

When I think of Scooby-Doo crossovers, I must admit I’m more likely to think of the gang teaming up with Sam and Dean Winchester than with Batman. I love Batman, though, and was interested in seeing how the Dark Knight interacted with the Mystery Inc. gang. The team up worked better than I’d expected.

Scooby and the gang have been called to investigate strange occurrences at a farm just south of Gotham City. With a creepy farmhouse, creepy barn, creepy woods and creepy fog to contend with, the spooky factor is pretty high.

“Zoinks!” Shaggy shouted. “Like, this is the worst farm ever!”

Luckily, Batman is also there to help solve the mystery.

I could easily imagine this mystery as a cartoon, especially when classic Mystery Inc. moves like characters’ legs spinning midair before they land and run away, were described. Because I’ve watched so many Scooby-Doo cartoons I also heard the characters speaking in their own voices as I read.

The way the Mystery Inc. gang behaved and spoke were consistent with the cartoons. I solved the mystery fairly early but kid me wouldn’t have known enough about either franchise to be able to figure out who the baddie was before the big reveal. I would have liked to have seen all of the baddies unmasked.

I loved Dario Brizuela’s illustrations. The colours, expressions and mannerisms were consistent with the cartoons. The best compliment I can think of is that they’re exactly what I’d expect to see if I pressed pause during a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

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I appreciated the design choice of using the Batman logo for page breaks. Kids who aren’t as familiar with the heroes will find the short character bios helpful. There’s also a glossary and discussion questions at the end of the book.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Batman and Mystery Inc. arrive at the same farm outside of Gotham City, they soon find themselves in for the fright of their lives! Every time an eerie fog rolls in, fearsome farm monsters come out to play. Can the Caped Crusader help Scooby and the gang crack this case of cursed cropland before the creepy creatures carry them away?

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.