3 out of 4 stars
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As a child, we often get very few possessions that really mean a lot to us, even if we have boxes full of toys and stuffed animals. When one of those toys goes missing, it ends up feeling like the world has ended! This is what happens to a little girl named Ruby, who buys a redheaded doll also named Ruby that mysteriously vanishes. Her older brother helps her look through the whole house, but Ruby is just gone! One night she sees a falling star and makes a wish...
Meanwhile, an ugly, old, evil witch is preparing a spell to make herself young and beautiful forever. In fact, the spell is even called Make Me Young and Beautiful Forever! The spell takes seven days and requires drinking various potions each day, so she puts her inventions and Corvus, her slave assistant crow, to work to gather the items she needs. Could this be where Ruby went, to be used as part of some heinous spell for an evil witch? Will Ruby ever see her special doll again?
Where Is Ruby? by Rita Warren is an illustrated book that's aimed at "middle-grade children", inspired by her own niece's desire for a book. The book is just over 50 pages long, with text on each left page and a full-page image on the right page of each set. However, unlike children's books that use a few words, a sentence or a paragraph at most per page of text, Where is Ruby has far more and tells a story that's at least 15-25 actual pages of text long. As such, it actually felt like reading a short story instead of a children's book, making it a good follow-up for early readers looking for something with more substance. The book also uses some larger vocabulary and lots of adjectives to set scenes and teach kids all sorts of fun descriptive words.
The illustrations, done by Cindy Nguyen, are lovely. The illustrations mostly look like digital creations, but there are plenty of little touches that bring them to life more than the typical, flat digital images some books use. There's great use of lighting, and the ugly witch really does look like a typical, ugly witch. I even rooted for her when she starts looking younger and prettier due to her potions thanks to the artwork! But Ruby is definitely the star of the show - her emotions are clear as can be, and she's adorable.
What was a little off to me about Where is Ruby? was that the majority of the book was about the witch, Sinvillainy. That's definitely an awesome name, but I wished there was more about Ruby, or at least that the doll was a bigger part of the story. There's a twist at the end involving the doll, sure, and there's even some expert level foreshadowing that I didn't notice at first right there in the images! But maybe, say, a few pages showing the doll's journey and what the doll was going through as the events happened would've been a nice touch. It was also refreshing to see siblings get along - Ruby doesn't hesitate to say why she's sad, and her brother doesn't hesitate to help look. He doesn't blame her for losing the doll, and he doesn't complain about helping. That was really sweet to see!
The writing in the book is quite fun and silly as well. Despite being so much longer than a children's book aimed at younger kids, there's still a large amount of humor and potential for doing fun voices. The book can be read by older children, surely, but reading it to them is even more fun with the witch reading off various parts of her spell or the sneaky bits of rhyming thrown in. The book is formatted as a normal book would be, in sentences and paragraphs rather than poetic verses, but the author still pulls off what she calls "easy and fa-sheezy rhyme-tyme text" quite well. These rhymes are natural and didn't make me feel like Rita was trying to force lines to mingle.
Where Is Ruby? was a fun, quick story. I could hear half the voices I'd want to use in my head as I read it, and I have no doubt creative children would do the same even reading it on their own. I found only two minor errors, and the quality of the physical book is excellent. The covers are just the right amount of solid-yet-bendy, and the images are glossy, giving them both shine and a bit of extra thickness so they're harder to tear. My rating of Where Is Ruby? by Rita Warren is 3 out of 4 stars. Whether you have a kid who loves reading on their own but isn't quite ready for full-sized books, or you want to read something longer to your child but still want to show off some awesome, full-paged images while reading it to them, Where is Ruby? is a solid choice.
Where Is Ruby?
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