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Posts Tagged ‘toreview’

The Art of 5TH Cell

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 11, 2014


There are generally two kinds of artbooks: those that are interesting as ‘souvenirs’ of their subject, and those that are interesting on their own merit. The categories aren’t mutually exclusive, of course.

The Art of 5TH Cell falls in the former category, though that’s not an indictment: for fans of the featured games, the book is filled with promotional images, concept art, and more that’s sure to please.

The book is divided into sections for five of 5TH Cell’s games, Scribblenauts, Lock’s Quest, Drawn to Life, Hybrid, and Run Roo Run, plus an “Edison Yan Sketchbook” section. It ends with a listing of 5TH Cell’s games with descriptions, screenshots, and information, and one page devoted to concept art from games that never made it to release.

The sections for each game contain all kinds of different art: magazine covers from Nintendo Power and Game Developer, plus sketches and line art for the same; promotional artwork; concept artwork; box art and preliminary concepts for box art; character art including early concepts; logo concepts; and lots more.

The “Edison Yan Sketchbook” section includes artwork for some of 5TH Cell’s older games from Edison Yan, who has worked with them both as an artist for their early games and Art Director for their later games, including most of those featured in this book. It’s even got preliminary artwork for the cover of this very book, a pleasingly meta addition.

I have only two real complains about The Art of 5TH Cell. The first is that it’s a book–so I can’t use the artwork in it as desktop wallpaper. I’m pretty sure that some of it originally was intended for just that purpose, so it’s a shame. The second is that I’d like to see a little more commentary from the artists. It’s great to devote so much space to the art, but a page or two of prose for each game would be welcome.

If you’d like to see for yourself what kind of art you’ll find, you can have a look at Edison Yan’s website, which includes a few of the illustrations featured in the book, as well as original artwork.

The Art of 5TH Cell was published on October 28, 2014 by UDON Entertainment.

Disclosure: this review is based on an advance copy received free for review.

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Robert Frost Country by Betsy and Tom Melvin

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 30, 2014

Two kinds of books I am particularly glad to find in a library: especially good books, which I might not otherwise know of or be able to afford; and especially bad books, which I might otherwise innocently purchase.

This book, sadly, falls in the latter category.

Robert Frost Country - Cover

Robert Frost Country by Betsy and Tom Melvin is a pictorial featuring the authors’ photographs of New England paired with–dare I say it–snippets of Robert Frost’s poems. A sad fate for any poem, to be cut into bite-sized pieces and regurgitated, devoid of meaning, to sell what amounts to a collection of postcards. In an introductory note, Betsy Melvin writes:

When I first came upon the lines that have become so familiar to me, I realized that Robert Frost had said in his beautiful poetry what I had felt in my heart when I made many of the photographs, through my medium of creative expression. It is significant that only three of all these pictures were made especially for this volume.

I agree with her words, though I doubt that she would agree with my meaning. She intends, of course, to say that both she and Frost were trying to capture the beauty of New England, and so by happy coincidence his poems and her photographs are well-suited to one another. It seems rather to me that, having a collection of photographs, she sought fragments of the famous poet’s work to make them more suitable for publication. It is significant that she did not worry enough about the words and text complimenting one another to bother taking more than three new pictures, when compiling this volume.

My words are harsh, I know. But what else am I to think? Consider the following image:

Robert Frost Country - Death of the Hired Man

This is paired with a fragment of “The Death of the Hired Man”:

Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old man
Some humble way to save his self-respect.

The ‘poor old man’ in question, Silas, is, first, probably already dead when these lines are uttered, and, second, explicitly not smoking–to emphasize his poor condition, Mary says: “…I dragged him to the house, / And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke. / I tried to make him talk about his travels. / Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off.”

These mere factual issues are of secondary importance, however. More importantly, this is perhaps the most superficial possible treatment to give Frost’s poem about a man’s concerns about how rightly to live and to die, and the relationships and obligations between people. For all the content of the poem mattered, the accompanying text might as well have been:

“I will answer the second question first,” he said, “—but bless me! this is a splendid place for smoke rings!”

At least the bulk of the fragments chosen merely ignore subtext in favor of imagery, and so are less offensive to my sensibilities. Enough, though: the text and images are poorly matched.

The only other thing to consider, I suppose, is the quality of the illustrations. I am no expert on judging photography, so I will not say much. There are certainly some nice scenes presented: nature can be beautiful.

Robert Frost Country - The Tuft of Flowers

On the other hand, many of the photographs are less to my taste. Consider this image: a mundane subject with uninteresting composition; I can look out my window and see a more inspiring scene.

The authors have published one other book, Robert Frost’s New England, also pairing their photographs with Frost’s poetry.

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Wacky Wednesday by Theo. LeSieg & George Booth

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 1, 2014


It all began with that shoe on the wall. A shoe on a wall . . . ? Shouldn’t be there at all!

Then I looked up. And I said, “Oh, MAN!”

And that’s how Wacky Wednesday began.

Dr. Seuss both wrote and illustrated his most famous works, but he did create a few books illustrated by others, usually using a pseudonym. He wrote Wacky Wednesday under the name Theo. LeSieg–his own name, Theodore Geisel, turned around. It was illustrated by George Booth.

Wacky Wednesday tells of one Wednesday when everything was wacky: shoes on the wall, bananas growing on an apple tree, worms chasing birds, and much more. Seuss’s text is very much secondary to Booth’s illustrations. The text of each two-page spread announces the number of things that are ‘wacky’ in the accompanying illustration, inviting the reader to find them all.


The number of wacky things in each scene increases as the book goes along, culminating in a final two-page spread with twenty wacky things:

“Only twenty things more will be wacky,” he said.

“Just find them and then you can go back to bed.”

The type of wackiness varies, exercising different skills: counting (how many wacky things have we found?), spelling (‘schoul’ is not the right way to spell ‘school’), domain knowledge (a portrait of Abraham Lincoln should not be labelled ‘George Washington’), and simple attention to detail (turtles do not belong atop trees!).

Wacky Wednesday is a great book that encourages participation from the reader. It’s appropriate for April Fool’s Day or any day.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-30

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 30, 2014

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

TrueStoryOfThe3LittlePigs-coverAn ALA Notable Book. Scieszka lets the wolf tell his own story in this fractured fairy tale. Alexander T. Wolf–who scurrilous media reports have dubbed “the Big Bad Wolf”–isn’t such a bad guy. He just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar from his neighbors, the pigs, but was overcome by a terrible sneezing cold. An amusing take on the story, with excellent illustrations. This book was the first of many collaborations between Scieszka and Smith.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

BlueberriesForSal-coverA Caldecott Honor Book. Sal and her mother go out to pick blueberries to store for the winter. A bear cub and its mother have the same idea, and the mothers and children get mixed up. Excellent line art and a cute story. The parallel between the bears storing up fat for the winter and the humans preserving blueberries is a good one, and their actions, too, parallel one another satisfyingly.

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E-Mail by Larry Dane Brimner

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 27, 2014


Cast your mind back, all the way to the year 1997. There were some 50 million people with access to the internet, and nearly 10 million of them used America Online. We were so naive as to unironically call the web the ‘information superhighway.’ Google was brand new, and we mostly used Yahoo, Lycos, or Altavista to search the web. Facebook wasn’t even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s 13-year-old eye. We didn’t have Twitter or Tumblr, or even Myspace or Livejournal.

What we did have was email. Back then, we hyphenated it, as a sign of respect for and discomfort with the impressive technology. “E-mail is delivered much faster than regular mail (which some people call ‘snail-mail’),” writes Brimner. “A keypal in another state or even another country usually will receive your e-mail in minutes. That’s great news!”

All of this internet stuff was new enough to most people that books were written to introduce people to the subject. The older set had books like World Wide Web for SeniorZ or Mr. Modem’s Internet Guide for Seniors, the slightly younger crowd had A Parent’s Guide to the Internet, and kids had books like this one, Larry Dane Brimner’s E-Mail.

E-Mail is full of the kind of advice that most of us take for granted, these days. For example, you’ll need a network card or modem, which will “take the signals from your computer and get messages ready to travel over the Information Superhighway.” Brimner helpfully provides a picture of an IBM 7852 model 10 modem, which around that time had dropped in price to only $486.

It’s also got the kind of information we probably should know, but might need to keep in mind: “If you are not careful, you might write and send angry words to somebody else and later wish you hadn’t.” Truth.

E-Mail explains what a flame war is, how to find and subscribe to mailing lists, what emoticons are, and much more. Sprinkled throughout are e-mail addresses that kids might want to try, like Sea World (sea.world@bev.net), the USGS (Ask-A-Geologist@usgs.gov), or the President of the United States (president@whitehouse.gov). The author even includes his own email address (Lbrimner@aol.com).

This book is certainly a product of its time. Besides the screenshots of Eudora circa 1996, it’s got a dated approach to dealing with people you meet on the internet. “Most of the people you’ll meet on the Internet are nice. But be smart. Bad people sometimes hide out on the Internet, and you may not be able to tell who they are . . . If your keypal wants to meet you in person, meet in a public place like a mall. And take an adult with you.”

If that advice had been written today, I imagine it’d go more like “If your keypal wants to meet you in person, run. Don’t stop until you’re surrounded by police. Make sure the police have never used the internet. It’s the only way to be sure.”

Books like E-Mail are fascinating as a view back into how we thought about technology in the past. It’s been about 17 years since this book was published. In some ways, it’s still perfectly correct and even useful. In others, it’s hopelessly dated. How will things look in 2031? I don’t dare to guess.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-27

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 27, 2014

Arthur Goes to Camp by Marc Brown

ArthurGoesToCamp-coverThe fifth Arthur book. The art has continued to evolve, and by this point Arthur should look quite familiar to viewers of the TV series. The story is that Arthur goes to camp, is sure that he will hate it–does hate it–but, in the end, he accidentally wins a scavenger hunt for his team, and decides he loves camp. It’s meant to be funny, I guess, but it doesn’t work for me, and the story’s not very interesting. Much boys vs. girls, followed by a new antagonist: an entire camp of villains. Not to my taste.

Arthur’s Halloween by Marc Brown

ArthursHalloween-coverThe sixth Arthur book. Halloween themed, obviously, with a rather tired ‘old lady who isn’t actually a witch, gasp!’ plot. Plenty of Arthur being afraid of his shadow, though he does overcome his fear to go after his sister, which is a point in his favor. Most of these books, so far, are about Arthur being afraid or otherwise insecure. Is that what the series is all about? It’d be nice if Arthur could occasionally be a bit more straightforwardly admirable.

Arthur’s April Fool by Marc Brown

ArthursAprilFool-coverThe seventh Arthur book. Another holiday themed book, and we’re not done with those yet. Arthur must deal with a bully while preparing for the April Fool’s assembly. He’s very nervous, but in the end, he manages to play a trick or two on the bully. It’s unfortunate that none of the adults around Arthur, including those aware of the bullying, do anything to help, but I expect that’s more truth in fiction than anything. Rather average book.

Arthur’s Thanksgiving by Marc Brown

ArthursThanksgiving-coverThe eighth Arthur book. Arthur is put in charge of the Thanksgiving play. Arthur’s friends are extra nice to him, to be sure they get the parts they want. This is nice, until Arthur realizes that nobody wants to play the turkey–and he can’t have a play called The Big Turkey Hunt without a turkey! I was expecting a lesson about leadership, or standing up to your friends, or something, but in the end Arthur just plays the turkey himself, and his friends are kind enough to join him in his embarrassment. Disappointing. Another average book.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-23

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 23, 2014

I had never read any of Marc Brown’s Arthur books before, so I’ve been catching up a bit. They’re not bad. The artwork really evolves over the first few books, and from the covers of later books I’m guessing that trend continues. Should be interesting to see how the books go, over the years.

Arthur’s Nose by Marc Brown


The first entry in the venerable Arthur series. Arthur is teased because of his nose, and considers rhinoplasty, but ultimately decides that he’s fine just as he is. Not too bad art, decent message. The highlight is Arthur trying on various other animals’ noses to see which he likes. Not a bad book, but the series does improve.

Arthur’s Eyes by Marc Brown

ArthursEyes-coverSecond Arthur book. Arthur needs glasses, and is teased because of them. Eventually he learns that they are very helpful, and don’t look so bad after all. Better art than the previous book, and generally improved.

Arthur’s Valentine by Marc Brown

ArthursValentine-coverThird Arthur book. Nice art, and this one even has a real story. Francine is secretly sending Arthur valentines, but Arthur hopes it might be the new girl, Sue Ellen, sending them. Francine has teased Arthur in the previous books, and he gets her back with a little trick, once he discovers that she is his secret admirer. This is the best Arthur book so far.

Arthur and the True Francine by Marc Brown

ArthurAndTheTrueFrancine-coverThe fourth Arthur book, though he scarcely appears. This time, Francine is in the spotlight. It’s nice to see her get a positive showing, here. The moral is that honesty is the best policy, but I’m not sure I agree with the book’s position that Francine shouldn’t reveal when her friend is lying. Loyalty is one thing, but… anyway, it’s still a pretty good book, though I liked Arthur’s Valentine a bit better.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-21

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 21, 2014

More brief reviews.

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

Rosie'sWalk-coverA great use of medium. The text is a single sentence, describing Rosie the hen’s peaceful walk around the farm (“Rosie the hen went for a walk . . . and got back in time for dinner.”), but the illustrations tell a different story: the whole time, a fox is pursuing her, intent on getting his own dinner. Humorous mishaps keep stopping him, and eventually he’s chased off by a swarm of bees. The art is nice–red, orange, and yellow in the foreground and green in the background, usually with heavy borders, giving everything a sort of paper cutout look. Quite enjoyable.

Hey, Al by Arthur Yorinks

HeyAl-coverWinner of the 1987 Caldecott Medal. Al and his dog, Eddie, live in a tiny one-room apartment, and Eddie isn’t happy. They’re led by a large bird to a kind of paradise, but they begin to turn into birds themselves, so they escape and are happy with their old apartment. “Paradise lost is sometimes Heaven found.”

The art is cleverly fit into rectangles, with bits poking out at the edges. Extremely nice. There’s good emotional impact when Al believes he’s lost Eddie, too. An altogether very good book.

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman

HowMyParentsLearnedToEat-coverI first read this years ago, in school. It’s a story of clashing cultures: an American sailor and a Japanese schoolgirl fall in love, and fear to eat with the other, not knowing how to use chopsticks (resp. a fork). This book isn’t bad, but I think most of my enjoyment was from nostalgia. The art is nice, but pretty flat, and the story boils down to “different cultures have different customs, but we shouldn’t be afraid to learn from each other”. Nothing really wrong with it, but this isn’t a book I’d want to re-read often.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-20

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 20, 2014

Here are some books for which I’ve only brief notes. Fuller reviews may follow, eventually.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble

GirlWhoLovedWildHorses-coverWinner of the 1979 Caldecott Medal. I like the art in this; it’s got a pretty unique style. Oddly enough, it reminds me of the art in Meena. The story is okay, but I’d say the art is definitely its strong point.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

RelativesCame-coverA 1986 Caldecott honor book. Cute story. It’s got no conflict, just a mellow (but amusing) story of relatives from Virginia coming to visit. The art is rendered in colored pencil by Stephen Gammell, whose work I’m more familiar with from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The people share the characteristic ‘lumpiness’ of the illustrations from that book, but there’s nothing horrifying about these. Just lighthearted art in a palette heavy in greens and blues.

Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman

BoundlessGrace-coverThis is the sequel to Amazing Grace, which I reviewed above (and enjoyed immensely!). I don’t think it’s quite the equal of its predecessor, but it’s still a strong book, telling a story about Grace’s relationship with her father, who has long since divorced her mother and lives in Africa.

Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber

IraSleepsOver-coverNice enough story. Ira’s invited to sleep over at his friend Reggie’s house, but is afraid he’ll be laughed at for sleeping with a teddy bear. It turns out that Reggie sleeps with a teddy bear–and was worried–too. The art is fitting and interesting.

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Posted by Tracy Poff on March 20, 2014

When Chrysanthemum was born, her parents thought she was perfect, and wanted to give her the perfect name. Chrysanthemum loved her name. She loved everything about her name. Until the first day of school, that is. The others don’t love her name–it hardly even fits on her name tag! What will poor Chrysanthemum do?


Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is about dealing with bullying when you don’t quite fit in.


Chrysanthemum loved her name.

She loved the way it sounded when her mother woke her up.

She loved the way it sounded when her father called her for dinner.

And she loved the way it sounded when she whispered it to herself in the bathroom mirror.

Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum.

Unfortunately, when Chrysanthemum went to her first day of school, she finds that the other children don’t share her high opinion of her name. “It’s so long“, says Jo. “You’re named after a flower!”, exclaims Victoria. Chrysanthemum is discouraged.


Chrysanthemum’s parents reassure her that her name is beautiful–“and precious and priceless and fascinating and winsome”–just like she is. And the other children are simply jealous–“and envious and begrudging and discontented and jaundiced”. And who wouldn’t be jealous of a name like Chrysanthemum?

When the children tease Chrysanthemum during music class, Mrs. Twinkle, who they especially like, reveals that she, too is named after a flower–Delphinium Twinkle is her name. And she’s thinking of naming her child (if it’s a girl) Chrysanthemum as well.

Chrysanthemum could scarcely believe her ears.

She blushed.

She beamed.

She bloomed.

Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum.

Chrysanthemum has a fine story and a good lesson, supported by absolutely charming watercolor illustrations. It’s recommended for ages 4-8.

Henkes has also written a number of other picture books featuring mice, including Owen, a Caldecott Honor book.

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