Quarto has recently become one of my favorite publishers of children’s books. Their titles are engaging, beautifully illustrated, and cover a wide range of non-fiction topics from science, to history, to art and their fiction titles are equally broad in scope.
Today, I want to share five Quarto titles that I have recently read and that I hope you and your family will love reading together. The books are presented in roughly age-appropriate order.
I Spy the 50 States (Age: 3-6)
I Spy the 50 States is a picture book aimed at preschoolers and kindergarteners which introduces each of the 50 US states through a collection of stylized images. These images cover a wide range of items, places, and people that make up the different states from apple pies and baseballs, to famous statues, mountains, and cities. As you travel across the US from state to state, you’ll follow a bald eagle and try to spot three items in each state that begin with the same letter*.
I Spy the 50 States does a good job at introducing all the states and showing both what makes them unique and what they share in common. Each state gets an equal amount of space, so none feel more important than any others. California’s spread shows the Hollywood sign, Alcatraz, gold, and the Santa Monia Pier, while New York shows pizza and bagels, Broadway and the Statue of Liberty. Yes, there’s a lot of stereotyping going on here, but in a primer aimed at very young children that’s generally forgivable.
One thing I disliked was the way the color scheme remained the same throughout the book. It seemed to me that states like Nevada and Arizona have a very different color palette to Washington and Oregon, yet the book’s use of a single palette throughout made all the states feel oddly homogenous.
Many of the images were also so overly stylized that it was hard to tell what they were supposed to be, something that was not helped by the lack of labeling. In North Dakota, a building is shown that I guess must be significant in some way, but as I am not familiar with the area, I was left clueless about what it might be. Meanwhile, in California, a tall tree is shown that I can only assume is supposed to be a giant redwood – I have only visited California once but even I can tell you that giant redwoods look nothing like that.
I Spy the 50 States is a fun book for parents to share with very young children, but it may frustrate those with slightly older kids beginning to ask questions.
*In my advance copy, several items listed to search for were missing from the images – a problem repeatedly noted across several other published reviews. I have been assured by the publisher that this problem has been corrected prior to printing.
STEAM Stories (Age: 4-7)
STEAM Stories is a series of five books, each of which focuses on one of the five STEAM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. In each of the five stories, two kids – Max and Suzy – are faced with a series of challenges as they try to complete a task. The stories are written in a way that encourages the children reading to join in with helping Max and Suzy, and the end of each book looks at the subject in a little more depth with questions for the reader.
The tasks Max and Suzy face include competing in a go-kart race (Science), fixing a robot (Technology), building playground equipment in their garden (Engineering), running a cookie stall (Art), and solving a mathematical treasure hunt to enjoy the perfect picnic (Math). Each book is short and brightly colored, making it ideal for capturing and keeping the attention of young children. A series of ideal primers for introducing the basics of STEAM.
Around The World in Every Vehicle (Age: 6-9)
Around The World in Every Vehicle follows the Van Go family from Scotland (Mum, Dad, Freddie, and Daisy) as they travel around the world on a truly global vacation, visiting many countries and traveling by dozens of different type of vehicles.
The family begins their trip by heading to London in their little blue camper van where they see black cabs and big red buses. Freddie also has a journal which helps him learn about different types of the same kind of vehicle, for example, in London he opens it to see other kinds of buses from around the world such as a yellow US school bus. From London, the family head to Paris by Eurostar, then onto Germany, the Czech Republic and on to Turkey and India. Soon they are flying to Hong Kong, then on to New York, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, and then Australia (the order of the countries did confuse me a little here).
Along the way, the family sees jet skis and sailboats, ambulances and bicycles, delivery vans and airplanes. There are common vehicles like cars and trains, and less well-known ones like tuk-tuks in Thailand and trolley cars in San Francisco.
This is a lovely, colorful book that serves as a guide for young children to not only different kinds of vehicles but also to many different countries and cultures. There is some exploration of food and local activities in many of the locations, and maps are used help to give a sense of how the countries interconnect with one another. It was notable that most of the Middle East, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe was skipped over, but then it would be impossible to visit every country without turning the book into an encyclopedia.
This would make a great book for any child curious about the great wide world beyond their hometown.
A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories (Age: 7-10)
A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories introduces kids to 12 of The Bard’s most well-known works in modern, simplified language that will make it easier for kids (and many adults) to appreciate these timeless tales. The book contains all the plays you would expect: Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream along with a couple you might not know so well such as Twelfth Night and As You Like It. It steers clear of Shakespeare’s Histories and focuses instead on a good balance of Tragedies and Comedies.
I really enjoyed this collection. With the plays I did know, it was nice to experience them again in a short and simple way, and often I was able to pick up on new elements of the story that had passed me by when I read or watched in the original Shakespearean English. For the stories I didn’t know, this book was a great introduction that made me want to dig deeper and experience them in their original form. Every play gets its own chapter and each one begins with a list of principal characters which I also found hugely helpful for both the stories I was new to and those I simply hadn’t read in a while.
This would be a fantastic book for anyone studying Shakespeare in school or those who would like to dip a toe back into the Bard after decades away – how many people do you know who haven’t read so much as a sonnet since high school? The modern language makes the stories accessible, reducing much of the notorious difficulty many people find in engaging with these works, and the unusual collage-style artwork makes them delightful to look at as well.
A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories may have been my favorite book across this entire collection.
Power to the Princess (Age: 8-12)
I really loved the concept for Power to the Princess, taking 15 classic fairy tales and reimagining them with a modern, feminist twist. Unfortunately, as far as I was concerned, the concept ended up being far better than the resulting product.
The ideas presented in this collection are certainly interesting. Belle finds employment as an undercover agent at the “Fairyland Protection Dept. Office of Restorative Justice” working to break unfair curses, Ellia (Cinderella) sets up a cleaning business, Aurora trains as a physician specializing in sleep disorders, and the Little Mermaid (here called Marisha) works to combat ocean pollution. There’s also plenty of diversity on show with the princesses covering a range of ethnicities, and sexual orientations which is always fantastic to see in a children’s book.
My problem came with the writing itself which was just, in a word, bad. The stories felt dull, the characters one-dimensional, and the dialogue was downright terrible in places. Belle’s response to her beast becoming a prince is, and I quote, “Whaaaaaaat…”, while the three good fairies’ response to Maleficent (here renamed Jewel..) cursing Aurora is, “well that was awkward.” The book also had a knowingly smug tone that permeated through it with little comments and asides dotted through the text that quickly verged on becoming obnoxious. When Belle marries her prince, she becomes a princess, “but not that kind of princess”. You can practically see the author’s nose in the air as you read it.
If you can overlook the writing then this could be a fantastic collection for the next generation of young women, showing them how they can take their skills and interests and forge careers and friendships from them. For me, however, the writing was just too bad to ignore.
GeekMom received these books for review purposes.