The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall

September 10th, 2018 · Books


The Monster Mall is a worthy second installment to The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo series. Author and illustrator Drew Weing expands the world of Echo City with adventures via the subway, a moped, and checking out new neighborhoods. And while the variety of “monsters” isn’t as wide as in the first book, The Monster Mall delves deeper into Margo Maloo’s life and home, and we see further developments in monster/human relationships.

This second book continues the theme of bridging differences and changing residential landscapes that can cause one group to unintentionally but effectively harm another. In our review of the first Margo Maloo book, we liked “the casual but direct manner issues like gentrification, stereotypes, and challenging both fear and bias were addressed.” Weing continues to show effects of these issues in The Monster Mall. In one instance, Margo and her assistant teammate Charles Thompson help siblings solve what’s behind the mysterious pranks in their new home: A young imp named Fyo. However, they find that the former home, where Fyo’s family was still living, has been torn down in the name of progress. Where the imp family has gone is left unsolved at the end of the book, hinting at a future storyline.

In the incident for which the book it named, Margo and Charles investigate an abandoned mall after receiving a distress call from vampires about human intruders. The nervousness about the unknown from both sides of the conflict ends up becoming grudging admiration, as with many Margo Maloo mysteries. A welcome surprise: These teen vampires are vegans. In an attempt to correct the vicious mistakes of their parents, they abstain from blood, instead drinking coconut water. The book’s characters are consistently shown understanding and given compromises to help monsters and humans live in close proximity with relative peace. But for how long? Throughout the story, Weing drops hints that unwelcome change is coming for the monsters.

Weing’s illustrations adjust from whimsical to comic to spooky to loving. They are colorful even when they are overwhelmingly dark, and the illustrations manage to convey a full spectrum of emotions in various characters. As in the first book, the juxtaposition of Charles’ round profile and Margo’s sharp profile continues to work to endear them to readers as a team.

Alert readers will see references to The Shining, Slenderman, Pokemon battles, and (possibly) a light reference to Poltergeist. Margo’s search for information via her many sources introduces us to new monsters, including a forest floor being that even Margo doesn’t recognize, a group of vampires with musical interests, and the mischievous imp Fyo. A favorite from the first book, Marcus the troll, returns and his story is intertwined with Kevin, Charles’ friend who has been monster-skeptical – but that seems to change in this second book.

In addition, we learn more about Margo’s home and background via her Uncle Vikram and a peek into her office and files, which seem to have been left to her by her parents. Margo lovingly cares for her uncle, or Mamaji, and we find out her mother’s name: Shivani. It’s apparent that Uncle Vikram is a bit senile, which gives Margo cover for her independent adventures even as it demands that she care for her uncle much as a parent would.

Charles’ family life is given some attention as well, and one particularly relevant detail is that his mother now works for the Echo City Historic Preservation Foundation, which may develop into a boon or a complication for Charles and Margo in the third book. He also receives a long desired phone, which opens up a whole new world of independence for Charles in ways his mother’s talk about “phone safety” won’t apply.

The original Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo set a high bar for story and illustration, and Drew Weing delivers with exuberance on both in The Monster Mall. Highly recommended for ages 8 and up.

The publisher sent a copy of this book for review.



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Plant, Eat, Cook! A Children’s Cookbook

August 27th, 2018 · Books


Before the cooking comes the growing. And before the growing comes the planting. And even before the planting comes the planning. The first U.S. edition of PLANT, COOK, EAT! from co-authors Joe Archer and Caroline Craig is a complete and child-friendly guide to the full appreciation of a delicious, healthy, plant-based meal.

Parents and caregivers know that children will often eat (or at least try!) food they’ve had a part in growing and preparing. PLANT, COOK, EAT! incorporates all this, and adds in facts and tips about each step of the process. The photographs that accompany each section are not only bright and beautiful, but instructive and clarifying. In addition, the recipes included are simple enough for even young children to follow. A true love and appreciation for plant-life comes through in Joe Archer’s descriptions, and we’d expect nothing less from the head horticulturist at London’s Kew Gardens. Caroline Craig’s recipes show a deep understanding of foods that will be both interesting and adventurous to children – but not too strange!

With sections that include which parts of plants people eat, composting, garden pests, and preparing a vegetable bed, children and their adults will have all the information necessary to start a garden of any size. Also described are methods for sowing seeds outdoors AND indoors, making the book accessible for a variety of family gardening.

Click on the photo for access to a full-size downloadable.

The main part of the book is structured by produce like carrots, kale, garlic, tomatoes, beets, pole beans, and so on. The sections all include sowing the seeds, planting, and tips and fun facts about each type of food. This is always followed by a recipe that centers the produce as a ingredient. Some examples include cranberry bean burgers, kale pesto pasta, onion soup, and zucchini and polenta fries.

NB: Only two recipes in the book are vegan, as most include Greek yoghurt, butter, or cheeses in the recipes. A few also include bacon. However, the recipes are all easily adjusted to suit fully vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.

Plant, Cook, Eat! was provided to the reviewer by the publisher.




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Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle

July 18th, 2018 · Books


After reading Cheryl Bardoe’s BEHOLD THE BEAUTIFUL DUNG BEETLE, you’ll have a newfound appreciation and admiration for the insects. The book, recently out in paperback, details the three types of dung beetles: Dwellers, Rollers, and Tunnelers. The illustrations by Alan Marks are instructive and intricate – and yes, beautiful. Recommended for ages 5-8 (older children and adults will learn a lot too!), the language in this book is direct, factual, and infused with bemused observations even as it reflects a deep respect and enjoyment of the dung beetle.

The information about how dung beetles make use of the animal world’s waste is impressive and wide-ranging. The behavior of the “dweller” dung beetles characterizes them as easy-going: “Being less choosy about the freshness of their dung, many dwellers simply remain at the buffet longer than other dung beetles…” The “rollers” and “tunnelers,” meanwhile, will wrestle and fight each other for the best burrows, balls, mates, and dung mountains.

The book explains how the habits of the dung beetles differ in how they lay eggs as well. Some simply lay eggs where they eat, others create strong orbs of dung that circles the vulnerable egg, and still others will lay eggs deep in the ground, surrounded by dung that will nourish and protect the next generation. Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle is fascinating and helps reinforce the ways in which every living thing is essential and contributes to nature’s cycles.

See the book trailer for Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle here.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

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A Place to Start a Family: Poems about Creatures That Build

July 6th, 2018 · Books


A PLACE TO START A FAMILY, by David Harrison, is a collection of 12 poems about animals and the homes they build. Separated into sections for builders underground, on land, in water, and in air, the poems focus on the materials and techniques each animal uses to create a cozy, safe space for their young. The beautiful and lifelike illustrations by Giles Laroche are a mixture of collage, painting and more. Families will notice new details each time they read the book.

While the poems alternate between first and third person, each shares a positive and admiring perspective of the subject’s talents. The termites, for example, “keep a tidy nest” and “no one builds a better fortress” than they do. The yellow garden spider is described as “crafting in the dark” and possess an “ancient weaver’s skill.” A favorite in our house was the star-nosed mole whose “secret tunnels sometimes lead outside, sometimes beneath a ledge or limb, sometimes I even have to swim.” The poems are short enough to read several times, but rich in detail for creating discussion and prompting questions, especially together with the illustrations.

Anticipating wide-ranging questions from readers, additional information for each animal is provided at the end, including suggestions for further reading. The final page even is a bonus section entitled “A Different Kind of Builder,” which includes a poem and information about the sun coral.

A PLACE TO START A FAMILY is recommended for ages 5-9, but children slightly younger and older will find much to enjoy.

I received a review copy from the publisher.




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