Dotty by Paola Opal
Hardcover, 24 pages
Published 2010 by Simply Read Books
This new book in the Simply Small series features Dotty, a little fawn. Mommy and Dotty are on their way through the field searching for strawberries. When Mommy leaps across a stream without getting wet, Dotty wants to, too. But Dotty is too small to leap as far as Mommy, and she keeps falling. Will she find a clever way to cross the stream? Of course she will — with a little help from her imagination and the animals around her.
This is another adorable addition to the Simply Small series that combines bold and bright illustrations with sweet stories. (source)
Adorable is right, even when Dotty falls flat on her face. Or maybe especially then. Like the other Simply Small protagonists, Dotty is confronted with a problem that small children (the Simply Read Books site recommends this book for 0-3 year olds) will find familiar: she can’t do something her mother can do. Fortunately, Dotty is a keen observer and perseveres until she finds her own way.
The illustrations are endearingly simple, with clean lines and cheerful colours. I admired how the changes in expression are conveyed through body stance and the shape of the pupils in Dotty and Mommy’s enormous eyes.
Hardcover, 64 pages
Published 2014 by Simply Read Books
After the king declares it’s time for Princess Candi to get married, the math-loving princess decides to carry out a husband search on her own. Not knowing how to find such a creature, she turns to fairytales for inspiration and ends up using every method in the books, from kissing frogs to slaying monsters. But will she find her Prince Charming? Or just a bunch of duds who cheat, cry and make armpit noises? This swashbuckling tale is brimming with romance, algebra problems and at least one very large pickle. (source)
Despite some parenthetical sass, this story doesn’t quite sparkle. Candi comes across as a dim bulb (fondness for mathematics aside), and the narrative attitude feels forced rather than easy.
The illustrations, on the other hand, are charming and lively. Although Princess Candi is nineteen, she looks between nine and twelve years old, which suits the cheery spunk of the pictures just right. Candi’s bold heart, determination, and imagination leap off the page with each (mis)adventure. The endpages are covered with snippets of illustrations, showing Candi’s range of action and reaction, like snapshots, giving readers a change before reading to guess and wonder at the context, and to relive favourite moments after reading.
Qin Leng’s website has a few early sketches, such as this treat – concept art:
The Cardinal & the Crow by Michael Moniz
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published 2014 by Simply Read Books
All the birds tease old Crow for his scraggly feathers and harsh call, especially proud Cardinal. But when Cardinal gets into trouble, there is only one creature smart enough to get him out. Will Crow choose to help the boastful bird? This thoughtful picture book, inspired by Aesop’s Fables, reminds us all that pride and foolishness often go hand in hand, or in this case, “claw in claw.”
This book had me from the description of Crow on the first page: “This crow was very old, older than any of the other birds or animals for many miles around. His call was harsh and coarse and his feathers were long and scraggly. But these things didn’t bother him.// He would have been happy, if only the other birds left him in peace.”
Crow is unquestionably an interesting character, yet Muniz makes brash young Cardinal, who with his “brilliant red feathers and a beautiful singing voice” leads the other birds in the mocking song of “ugly old Crow” a dynamic character, too. Crow and Cardinal in text and illustration have distinct and memorable characters. They are more than types, and the subtle layers of background in the illustrations add further to the sense of depth created by the words. This was a pleasure to read.