March 21, 2019

Ojiichan's Gift

Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Genevieve Simms
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2019

When Mayumi was born, her grandfather built a special rock garden to celebrate.  Then each year, she would visit him in Japan for the summer months, spending time with her Ojiichan while learning to tend to the garden, including how to weed, water, prune and the all-important raking of the gravel. Over this task, grandfather and granddaughter would bond.
From Ojiichan's Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illus. by Genevieve Simms
Amidst the bustle of her own city, Mayumi would recall those special times and that Zen garden by studying her tin box of treasures: dried leaves, tiny pine cones and smooth rocks.
From Ojiichan's Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illus. by Genevieve Simms
But with time, things change. Little girls grow up and grandfathers grow older.  The summer comes when Mayumi's parents must visit Japan to pack up Ojiichan's house which, like his garden, cannot be cared for by the now wheelchair-bound man. Frustrated by her Ojiichan's new circumstances, Mayumi's tries to take on the garden. But it's only when she concedes, creating a Zen garden for Ojiichan in a lacquered bento box, that Mayumi can find calm again.

Chieri Uegaki has honoured her Japanese heritage once again, having already helped showcase it in Suki's Kimono (Kids Can Press, 2003) and Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin (Kids Can Press, 2014). In these previous stories, a young girl looks up to her Obachan who gifted her with a kimono or to a grandfather who plays Second Violin in a symphony orchestra. In Ojiichan's Gift, a girl is again looking up to a grandparent, here a grandfather who has gifted her with a garden that celebrates her birth. But when he can no longer care for that garden, that little girl, not so little anymore, gifts him with a portable garden that would enshrine his original forever.
... if she closed her eyes and listened, she was certain she could still hear the pebbles' soothing chatter.
From Ojiichan's Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illus. by Genevieve Simms
Genevieve Simms creates that same distinction of adoration and respect in her illustrations. While her artwork goes beyond the garden, including spreads of air travel and life in a Canadian city, it's Genevieve Simms's illustrations of the garden that favour Chieri Uegaki's message of serenity and connection. The rocks and the shrubs, the trees and gravel, bamboo and sparrow all create a living world in a dry landscape. It's a world perfect for meditation and companionship.

The garden may have been Ojiichan's gift to Mayumi and her bento box garden may be the gift she presents to him, but the greatest gift is the relationship between Ojiichan and granddaughter and that's something special to contemplate.

March 19, 2019

The Moon Watched It All: Book launch (Saskatoon, SK)

I may have missed an earlier launch for this book, one at which 
both author Shelley A. Leedahl and illustrator Aino Anto 
were in attendance,


here is a second opportunity 
and in a city that generally has fewer book launches than Toronto

so I'm pleased to post about it here.



Shelley A. Leedahl


the Saskatoon launch of

her new picture book

 Written by Shelley A. Leedahl
Illustrated by Aino Anto
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
February 2019


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

7 p.m.


McNally Robinson Booksellers
Travel Alcove 
3130 8 St. E.
Saskatoon, SK 


March 18, 2019

The Moon Watched It All

Written by Shelley A. Leedahl
Illustrated by Aino Anto
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
February 2019

The moon may watch over all of us, sometimes only shining light or hiding in the dark, but, like a watchful deity, it is omnipresent, guiding with a subtle beacon for those seeking direction.

An orphaned boy with only vague memories of a woman's voice and a gentle hand survives alone seeking food and clothing wherever and living in the forest. Elsewhere a woman known as Miranda lives in her home near the woods, rocking and talking to the moon.
She praised it, like she once prized her children, in a time before a time that was then.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
After a man brutally chases the boy away–"Get you, Boy"–he runs far away, finding shelter in a chicken coop and food in an adjacent garden. The moon whispers to Miranda of the boy in the garden but it is not until she is ready to invite him inside for better food and shelter that the two become true companions, finding a way to be themselves with each other.

The Moon Watched It All may be marketed for ages five to nine but I think it is an allegory of such depth that it can and should be read beyond those ages. At its foundation, it is a story of an orphan boy, scorned and rejected, who finds a home with a woman alone who talks to the moon. But, in each, they find the family that they have lost.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
Shelley A. Leedahl's intense story may be in prose form but its intensity parallels that of poetry, steeped in the melancholy of Miranda ...
Her face in the moon's unwavering spotlight. She was a lake unruffled, the coal fire's glow. 
... and the isolation and trepidation of the boy.
Night came calling, and he thought of boots, of heels, and the finger-quick hands. He thought of the children with sticks, and villagers who possessed the power to look right through him. The boy held out his own hand, and could not keep it steady.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
There is a stillness of person and place that seeps into the story which is far more extensive in text and lyricism than in books typically for the very young. As such it has a strength of message that is both serene and profound. It bears being read over and over to capture the importance of the text and its voice of solemnity and grace.  I don't know if that comes from Shelley A. Leedahl's skill as a poet but her words lull and inspire and tug and reassure.

The same goes for Aino Anto's illustrations that take the readers through the forest and beneath the moon, watching and waiting as the boy and the woman do. This is Aino Anto's first picture book and her paintings evoke such emotion without indignation at what are sad circumstances for both the boy, whose identity is only that of Boy, and for Miranda, who endures the passage of time rather than biding it for hope. Or that was the situation until they make a family of their own.

I wept for a mother alone and forgotten and a boy ignored and abused. Each alone in their own ways, one speaking to the moon and one living outside in its light. And the moon watched it all as the two come together, as a waxing moon, growing into something important.

March 14, 2019

The Dog Who Wanted to Fly

Written by Kathy Stinson
Illustrated by Brandon James Scott
Annick Press
36 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 2019

A chattering squirrel just out of reach is the frustration of many a dog. Though a chase may be all that is wanted, but unlikely to happen when the squirrel remains out of reach, that mocking babble is taunting, and Zora is determined to find relief. If only she could fly!
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Tully the cat may be the voice of reason, stating quite clearly that "Dogs can't fly" but Zora is resolute. She bounces as high as she can and she crashes. She flaps her ears and her tail and she crashes. She tries to springboard from a teeter-totter and she crashes. She considers using an umbrella but that idea is thwarted by a human. She fashions herself into a plane with ears, paws and tail extended but she cannot will herself "up." Still, when Tully begins to fall from a perch on a branch, Zora zings to the rescue.
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Zora's story is that of author Kathy Stinson's own dog Georgia to whom she dedicates the story, but it really is the story of every dog who watches wistfully at chase fodder a.k.a. squirrels. But, like anyone with big dreams that may be preposterous–let's face it: dogs can't fly–there still may be a way to achieve versions of those goals and that's what Zora does when her friend is in danger.  Kathy Stinson, who can write everything from picture books to YA novels, tells Zora's story with words and logic that young readers will understand and enjoy, ending it with the subtle humour that children will appreciate, sure to laugh themselves silly.
And the squirrel was very quiet.
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Brandon James Scott is an accomplished animator, creating the Emmy-nominated "Justin Time" TV series, but his artwork really shines when giving visual life to Kathy Stinson's story. He endows Zora with the cuteness to sweeten her story and the attributes of determination, imagination and compassion to carry it forward. Her expressive eyes and eyebrows, mouth and body language always speak to Zora's intentions, just as Tully and the squirrel voice their own views. (Check out the final illustration directly above.) Even Zora's backyard of fenced-in greenery is lush with light and life.

Here's to Zora who doesn't let logic keep her from her dreams and to the squirrel and Tully who will have to rethink what a dog can and cannot do.
Zora, The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott


Annick Press, the publisher of The Dog Who Wanted to Fly, just posted this sweet book trailer for it on YouTube.
Uploaded by Annick Press to YouTube on March 12, 2019.

March 12, 2019

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

Written by Beverley Brenna
Illustrated by Tara Anderson
Pajama Press
128 pp.
Ages 7-10
February 2019

Finding one’s own purpose in life is not an easy task and one which many of us never find. Imagine being a hamster in a cage in a pet store and wondering about what life holds for you. Is it just anticipating fresh bedding? Is it waiting for extra peanuts? Is it to find a forever home? Is it to be free?  But with the hamster’s adoption by nine-year-old Jeannie, the hamster, first known as Harvey Owens and then Sapphire, looks for that meaning and finds it with the help of a rich collection of characters and a few nibbles on fingers.

Told in the alternating voices of Sapphire and Jeannie, Beverley Brenna begins Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life with a long-awaited trip to the pet store for Jeannie’s promised Christmas gift of a hamster.  Though the visit almost doesn’t happen as Jeannie’s mother deems her daughter’s behaviour at the mall as inappropriate, Jeannie picks out the white hamster with the navy blue eyes and purchases all the materials to make his home perfect. But the hamster, whom she originally names Harvey Owens after her father who has moved out of the house, is frightened by the new sounds, smells and temperatures and lashes out by biting, even more so after they are involved in a car accident. Jeannie, who is dealing with her own stresses that include not being heard, a father who seems to be off with a new life and a mother struggling with two young children and trying to deal with her own grief and anger about her marriage, recognizes that the little guy bites when scared or surprised, and helps educate all who come near him to be considerate. And since he is such a great comfort to all of them–Jeannie, her brother Alistair, her mom and others–once they learn how to be kind to him, he has much to offer them back. And it makes no difference when he is identified as a her.

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life is far greater than a story about a girl getting a pet hamster. It’s about struggling to find your place. Jeannie is a pretty good caregiver for Sapphire but she’s trying to figure out why her father isn’t keeping in touch, whether her parents are “getting put back together” (pg. 40), why her little brother seems stressed, how to be a friend, why her Mom’s new friend Anna Conda seems reserved though really cool, and the questions that kids want answered but no one will respect them enough to tell them the truth. Meanwhile Sapphire is recognizing how nice her new home is, singing when pleased, and beginning to understand freedom, especially after a dangerous escape outdoors in frigid January.
It seems to me that Free is just a little bit too big to think about for very long. (pg. 67)
It’s perfect that Jeannie’s story and Sapphire’s come together to become something bigger and better. Just as the two are better for having each other in their lives, Beverley Brenna’s text is enhanced with the adorable illustrations by Tara Anderson which head each of the forty-two chapters. Her pencil sketches of Sapphire make up the majority of these illustrations and show the little hamster eating, playing, sleeping, hiding and just being all-around cute. I had some trepidation about an animal story, especially one which begins in a pet store, but Tara Anderson’s charming artwork reassured me that Sapphire’s story would turn out well.

A perfect early reader for kids who love animals, Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life is actually more about giving significance to managing our own stories. It may require a nip or a bite or some yelling to be heard, or perhaps a snuggle or a quiet voice might be in order, but it's about finding the meaning of your own life, even if only for the time being.
From Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna,               illustrated by Tara Anderson

March 11, 2019

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired

Written by Lucile de Pesloüan
Illustrated by Geneviève Darling
Second Story Press
48 pp.
Ages 12-18
March 2019

I know last Friday was International Women's Day. I was certainly flooded with notices about books celebrating women and their day. But I didn't want to post this review on that day because I didn't want it to get lost in that flood. I think What Makes Girls Sick and Tired deserves to be recognized beyond that day as all women should be.

The girl's frustrated look on the cover says everything about What Makes Girls Sick and Tired. She certainly looks disgusted and weary and, with the plethora of problematic situations which girls must endure, it's no surprise.
From What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan, illus. by Geneviève Darling
From how girls are told they should behave and how their societies and cultures treat them, any compassionate human should cringe. Lucile de Pesloüan is candid about how women are treated and the unrealistic and ridiculous expectations settled upon them. From domestic roles and judgements placed upon them to emphasize their appearance and not their substance, women are regularly faced with discrimination and criticism. Worse yet, Lucile de Pesloüan shares devastating stats from the likes of the United Nations UNITE Campaign and the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017 about inequities in wages, vulnerabilities in war and with illness, and more. For those who don't believe that injustices are levelled against girls and women, the numbers don't lie.

From What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan, illus. by Geneviève Darling
In graphics of faded lavender, a little grittier than the pinkish purple of the floral, Montreal artist Geneviève Darling provides unique visuals that depict all women. Women of different ages, shapes, colour, relationships, cultures, and circumstance. Everyone is here. She makes sure to ensure inclusivity and diversity. By representing everyone, girls can see their story within, even if those stories are uncomfortable or troubling.
Girls are sick and tired because sexism affects everyone, every day, in ways that are both obvious and subtle and both simple and complex. (pg. 2)
And that's why girls are sick and tired and why they have every right to be.
From What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan, illus. by Geneviève Darling
Girls are less sick and tired when they are encouraging, supportive, and united in solidarity with one another. It's one of the best parts of feminism.  (pg. 47)
Here's hoping that every day there will be fewer and fewer girls who have reason to be sick and tired. What Makes Girls Sick and Tired is a fair and equitable portrayal that makes a great start at informing the world.

March 07, 2019

Moon Wishes: Book launch (Toronto, ON)


Patricia and Guy Storms


Milan Pavlović

in celebrating the launch of 

Moon Wishes

Written by Guy and Patricia Storms
Illustrated by Milan Pavlović
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2019
Reviewed here


Sunday, March 10, 2019

10:30 - 11:30 a.m.


TYPE Books Junction
2887 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON

This free event for all ages
cookies, music and fun!