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Book Review: Ralphina, the Roly-Poly by Claudia Chandler

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Ralphina the Roly-Poly — a picture book written and illustrated by Claudia Chandler — is a colorful introduction to roly-polies, those garden insects also known as pill bugs, sow bugs, or potato bugs.

The story involves the roly-poly Ralphina and a little boy named Alec. Ralphina wants to meet Alec and be his friend. She eventually does meet him, but then spends the whole time they are together listing facts about herself.

Though the characters are sweet, the story itself comes across as flat. After the two meet and Ralphina spews her facts, they never get together again. The book lacks the complications that make for a truly compelling tale.

Friendship is touted as one of the story’s themes, but this friendship is one-sided and becomes a device for dispensing information. By choosing to handle her subject in this way, I feel Chandler misses an opportunity to do several things: inform children about themselves (something that is commonly done in books targeting preschool and early elementary ages), show how they are different from creatures like roly-polies, and illustrate one of friendship’s qualities – how friends are interested in each other. I was waiting for Ralphina to ask Alec about himself and experience some give and take between the two. But it wasn’t to be. Little Ralphina was interested in no one but herself.

Though I question the promotional claims that children will beg for repeated re-readings, the science material in Ralphina the Roly-Poly is interesting. The facts about roly-polies that appear within the story are reviewed in a summary at the end for added impact.

The ending also has a page of rainbow facts. That was a surprise as rainbows really don’t figure in the story at all and are only mentioned twice in passing (“…the tulips were blooming in every color of the rainbow” and “Ralphina was so happy that she spent the rest of that day and the rest of the summer painting their garden all the colors of the rainbow.”). The rainbow focus seems like a somewhat arbitrary addition to give the book more science value.

Ralphina the Roly-Poly is colorfully and beautifully illustrated, however. The illustrations plus the science facts would make it a useful addition to a preschool or early elementary library.

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