Children’s Book Review: Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat by Ayano Imai

Mr. Brown's Fantastic Hat book cover

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat book cover

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat by Ayano Imai

Published by minedition, 2013

Plot: Mr. Brown is a bear who lives by himself and likes it that way. He has a smart, white hat that he wears when he goes for walks. Much to Mr. Brown’s displeasure, a wood pecker decides to make a home in the hat and then invites more wood pecker friends. But the more birds that come to live in the hat, the taller it grows, soon Mr. Brown’s hat becomes the envy of the town. Winter comes too soon and all the birds fly south, leaving a lonely Mr. Brown and his hat. Too late Mr. Brown realizes that being intimidating and lonely isn’t the best after all. He hibernates with a heavy heart; although, he doesn’t realize it, spring is coming….

About the Author: Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat was written and illustrated by Ayano Imai; a Japanese lady who was born in England, lived all over the world including the United States, and now resides in Japan. After studying Japanese painting, specifically mineral pigment painting, she began to paint illustrations eventually leading to her writing and illustrating Children’s picture books.

Text: the sentences are simple and easy to read out loud with about one to two short paragraphs on each two page spread. The sentences don’t rhyme; they are more simple and crisp, yet don’t sound stilted or awkward when read aloud. There are also not a lot of extra sentences (like the books that a person only has to read one or two sentences and skip the other five or six on the page because they are either superfluous or repetitive. Extra sentences usually make reading out loud laborious). Another interesting aspect of this book is the frequent questions within the text (e.g. “Why would they leave?” “Would he ever see his friends again?”). This encourages the child to start analyzing the story: thinking about why an event in the story happened and what might happen next. Well placed questions encourage active reading (or listening as the case may be) which engages the brain. The page layout is also designed for easy read aloud because the text is on the left hand page while the illustration is on the right hand page. The child can look at the picture, and the mom can read the book without the child’s head in her line of vision (which is a major perk).

Illustrations: The full page, color illustration are simple yet whimsical. Each picture combines both urban and natural elements: for example the bear lives in a normal house, but it has grass on the floor and tree branches sticking out here and there. The little bird houses in the hat are not just round holes; they are square with little colored doors. The pastel colors do not just make the illustrations beautiful but also make easy to look at.

My favorite illustration from Mr. Brown's Fantastic Hat

My favorite illustration from Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat

I’m no usually a fan of over stylized illustrations in children’s picture books, but I love the illustrations in this book. I like there simple, natural feel. They are beautiful, and I feel like I could take most of these picture out of the book and frame them to decorate my kid’s room.

Overall impression: great story, great illustrations, and easy to read aloud. I would get it from the library again. This book is more for ages 3+. Honora (3.5) liked the book, but Rosalyn (23 m) didn’t really pay attention while I read (too many words not enough onomonopea).


Book Review: Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Bower

Book Overview:

In the first book,, Thomas manages to capture Magnus, the mighty fortress, but now the question remains, can he keep it? Thomas quickly re3lizes that capturing Magnus was the easy part, keeping rule over it is much harder than he anticipated when everyone he knows seems to be not what they claim. He  seems trapped between two warring factions, The Druids and the Immortals, each intent on getting at Thomas’s secret treasure. Yet, who can he trust?  In the end, Thomas decides he doesn’t need anyone not even those who helped him capture Magus; he will go alone and protect his fortress from everyone. But will he succeed?

My Thoughts:

Fortress of Mists is the second book Merlin’s Immortals series. This is a great coming-of-age story about Thomas heir to the fortress Magnus who must fight the most feared power in the land, the Druids, to keep his inheritance. This book is really great for adolescents 12-15 filled with action and adventure. As well as the story of a young man who is having to decide truth from error in the midst of great deception.

I personally liked the first book better than the second. This story, while interesting, was not quite as riveting; also since Thomas spends most of his time mistrusting people, it doesn’t have some of the fun companionship of the first story. Even with a weak middle, I am still looking forward to the next book.

This book was provided to me for free by Waterbrook/Multnomah publishers. These views are my own.


Cruel Harvest: A Memoir by Frances Elizabeth Grubbs

Cruel Harvest: A Memoir

Frances Grubbs is a singer, songwriter, and speaker. She and her husband Wayne also started the non-profit “Feed the Hungry Children” which helps the hurting people of Kenya. Her ministry has helped and blessed many people. But to truly understand he heart for people, it helps to understand her history. Cruel Harvest is the story of how she grew up in a migrant worker family with an extremely angry and abusive (in every form possible) father.

The story starts out when she is very young and documents he life till about age 14 when she is able to escape her father. This book is a hard one to read. How could a father be that cruel to his wife and children? And how could anyone recover from the physical and psychological torture they endured? But this story is not just a story about destruction; it is also a story about renewal. All of Frances’s family abandons her father and is scattered away from each other. Through the help of her second husband, Frances is about to find and be restored to most of her siblings.  Bringing healing to their hurts as well. She is also able to find the grace to forgive her father for all the wrong she endured.

But how could this broken and battered little girl who had suffered and lost so much (she actually became an alcoholic and married a man much like he father) ever accomplish anything with her life, let alone something so great? God’s grace is the only answer. All through Cruel Harvest there is a little theme that runs through: her childlike belief in God. She prayed to him during the darkest times, and He walked with her and preserved her life eventually healing her and renewing her whole family. Through this book, the reader comes face to face with just how awful Satan’s plan to destroy this family is and how successful he was, yet God’s grace and healing is strong than any of Satan’s schemes and that is the real beauty of Cruel Harvest.

I received this book from Thomas Nelson through their book sneeze program. The opinions are all my own.


Book review: My Grandma & Me by Crystal Bowman, Illustrated by Katherine Kirkland


Grandmothers are special people. I have precious memories of my grandmother teaching me plant flowers and making me eat all my food (not just the cream out of the Oreo). Yet, she also taught me to be generous and kind even when others offend or hurt you. There are lessons that only a grandmother can teach her grandchildren; parents try, but sometimes, it just sticks when it comes from grandma.

That is why Crystal Bowman wrote My Grandma & Me. This isn’t just a kids book; it’s a devotional specifically for grandmother’s to reach to their grandchildren. It’s an opportunity for grandmothers to impart God’s wisdom to young children through poetry and beautiful illustrations. A few topics covered in this devotional include sharing, forgiveness, thankfulness, prayer, and faith. Each page contains a Bible verse, a corresponding poem, and either a prayer or a song (each song can be sung to common children’s songs). I really liked the format of this book. It’s simple with just enough information for a young child’s attention span, yet it imparts profound truth.

I like that it integrates scripture with prayer and songs. The book also contains The Ten Commandments, Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer as well as an introduction section on how to use the book. My daughter is still very young, and so grandchildren are not in my immediate future. Yet, my daughter enjoyed the pictures, songs, poems, and prayers included with this book, and my hope is that as she grows she can enjoy this book with her grandmother too.

My Grandma & Me was a complimentary copy to me to review by Tyndale House Publishers. As a part of this book’s blog tour, I will be giving away one free copy of My Grandma & Me. To enter the drawing, comment below, and tell me why how you would use this book. This drawing will end October 28, 2012.




Book Review: The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer


Book Overview:

The only life that 18-year-old Thomas has ever known is one of hard work under the guardianship of four hypocritical monks in a small, seemingly god-forsaken monastery. This all but destroys his faith in a God. His nurse, Sarah, had died when he was 10 but not before she instilled in him the destiny to become the lord of Magnus, an impenetrable fortress ruled with a fist of iron and holding a mysterious secret group.

After escaping the monastery, he befriends a reluctant knight, silent girl, and small pickpocket. This motely group travels to Magnus seeking it’s surrender. But none of them are what they seem. In Magus, they face many obstacles but are finally about to bring Magus to its knees without killing a single person. Thomas becomes its lord, but he has much to learn and many enemies to face. What he does not realize is that now he has placed himself in the midst of an epic battle between the Druid cult and Merlin’s Immortals.

My Thoughts:

This young adult book kept me interested as well as entertained. Even thought I am grown, I still love a good medieval tale. Sigmund Brouwer is a master at spinning not just a good yarn but a yarn that makes you think too. In his pod cast, he discusses how he desires to engage young people in reading and designs books to reach reluctant as well as advanced readers.

Thomas is not a perfect protagonist by any means. Throughout the book he makes mistakes and struggles with the idea of faith in God. Yet, his companion the knight, William, subtly mentors him while he undertakes his quest. Also, Thomas learns that looks can be deceiving. The lovely and alluring, Isabelle, his female companion, turns out to be part of the enemies plot to entrap him. Yet the disfigured, Katherine (who befriends Thomas in Magnus) is willing to defend him and his cause with her life. This book ends with so many questions that will leave the reader desires for the next one in the trilogy.


For those who are interested, you can read chapter one on the Publisher’s website.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review."


Book Review: From Blah to Awe by Jenna Lucado Bishop

From Blah to Awe


Book Overview:

This book is written for adolescent girls to help them understand that being a Christian is more than just going to church and youth group or keeping a bunch of rules. It is meant to challenge teenage girls’ faith to light a desire in them to pursue God. Jenna confronts why a person feels bored with God and how to overcome that boredom through:

  • seeing the brokenness of our hearts,
  • stop caring what the world thinks,
  • stop creating God in our own image,
  • stop thinking we are a “know-it-all” about Christianity,
  • actual reading the Bible (and understand what it says),
  • praying (more than just “God give me a nice day and lots of stuff too’”),
  • understanding the gospel (understanding what Christ really did for us),
  • stop focusing on rules and start focusing on Jesus,
  • share God’s love with people,

She retells her testimony of being bored with God as well as also some powerful stories of girls whose faith is anything but boring. It is written in a conversational style with modern references to media and events of today. The book also includes note sections mid chapter for writing down the readers thoughts and reactions.

My Review:

I will admit, it took me a LONG time to read this book (months and months). Why? It’s written in a very conversational, teen-girl style. Great for a teenager, but it drove me insane. Also, I thought it was too long. The book could have been more succinct.  

But overall the content of the book was very good. The problem she presented along with the solution was spot on. This would be a good book to go through with a preteen or teen who felt bored with God and Christianity.

I got this book from Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze blog program. These opinions are my own.


Book Review: The Diaper Free Baby by Christine Gross-Loh





A friend of mine recommended this book to me earlier this year. She was trying the “diaper free” form of potty training with her daughter and was having good success. So I thought “I’ll give this book a chance.” I had read articles on the web about potty training babies before, and my impression less than favorable. They presented Elimination Communication (EC) as an intense all or nothing challenge. Visions of naked babies crawling around the house, peeing and pooping in every corner like a puppy dog and frazzled mothers rushing their little infants to the toilet every 20 minutes (day and night) just incase they might have to pee formed in my mind. Not a preferred situation to say the least.


The Book:

Yet, in her book, Christine Gross-Loh explains the elimination communication is more than just potty training. It is learning to communicate with your child from a young age about their potty needs. Thus making it easier for them to transition to using a toilet. The focus is on communication not so much performance. But before a baby can really communicate with their care provider, Christine explains how Babies have “pee patterns” that parents can learn and put their babies on a toilet at those appropriate times thus helping to lighten the diaper load. Christine also explains how flexible EC can be. It doesn’t have to be a all or nothing battle. A parent can practice the techniques full-time, part-time, or occasionally. EC can begun any time between birth and toddler stages. She outlines how to approach each stage as well as giving a list of equipment to make it easier.

Overall the book was a quick and easy read. Probably because I skipped a lot of the personal testimonies from parents about “how wondering ECing is .” I just wanted the facts.


My Experience:

After reading The Diaper Free Baby, I decided to give it a try. I found myself falling into the more part-time, occasional EC tract. The best bit of advice in the book was,” if it stresses you out to much, Don’t do it! Don’t let this be something that controls your life.” With this in mind, I bought a tiny potty, and I take my baby to the potty after she gets up from a nap or has just eaten. I make sure to ask her if she needs to go before I set her on and make the ASL sign for potty to her. Once on the potty, I cue her to go (basically say “piiisssssssst” to encourage her to go pee. She at least thinks it’s funny). She usually at least goes pee, but still wets in her pants in-be-tween potty times. That’s about all I do. It’s easy and fits into her diapering routine already. Now, she has yet to let me know she needs to go, but I think with time, that will come.


Honora on her Pink Little Potty.


UPDATE: I originally wrote this post back in February and forgot to upload it to my blog. Here is an update as to how EC is working 6 months later. I still follow the same routine putting Honora on the potty after breastfeeding and during diaper change. I have found that’s when she usually goes. She does pee and poop into the potty; although she still doesn’t hold it till her “potty-time,” and she doesn’t usually let me know if she needs to go. My goal in ECing isn’t necessarily to have a potty-trained infant (although supposedly that is possible), but to make Honora aware of her bodily functions so that when it comes time to potty train her it isn’t such a stressful transition for both of us.