November 14, 2018

Giraffe and Bird Together Again

Written and illustrated by Rebecca Bender
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
November 2018

Friends don't always see eye to eye, or nose to beak. But, sometimes it's because of these  differences that the friendship is made even more special. Little ones who know Rebecca Bender's other books in this collection, namely Giraffe and Bird (DCB, 2010), Don't Laugh at Giraffe (Pajama Press, 2012) and Giraffe Meets Bird (Pajama Press, 2015), already understand the basis for this extraordinary friendship. And, even with a plot that has Bird missing, you know Rebecca Bender won't disappoint her readers. She helps the two find their way back to each other.

From Giraffe and Bird Together Again by Rebecca Bender
Bird loves adventures, Giraffe does not. But when Bird is absent for awhile, Giraffe begins to worry that something has happened to Bird and decides to follow the feathers. Even when he gets tangled in vines when searching through a dark forest, Giraffe is compelled to go on. Even when Giraffe goes up a craggy mountain upon which he tumbles backwards and needs the help of a couple of mountain goats, he is determined to find his friend. From his high vantage point, Giraffe glimpses a shiny sign and "a small and beaky someone next to it." Finding Bird stunned from a collision with the sign, both are happy to be reunited. Unfortunately, Giraffe fails to notice the quicksand nearby. Now it's Bird turn to help out. By distracting his friend and enlisting the help of others, Giraffe makes it home safely.

Everyone loves Giraffe and Bird. The two animals are so different yet so understanding and accepting of those differences. Giraffe stretches beyond his comfort zone to help his little friend, and Bird recognizes when Giraffe may be in need of help. Even in the end, the two find a compromise to help them continue to be friends and honour those differences. 

Bird will wander a little less...
if Giraffe will explore a little more.
From Giraffe and Bird Together Again by Rebecca Bender
One of the best elements of Giraffe and Bird Together Again is the artwork. Rebecca Bender's use of colour to place the reader in the forest, on the mountain and looking out over the plain is extraordinary. It's warm and rich in tone and evocative of a setting many of us in Canada will never experience. But, of course, it's her characters that draw the reader back every time. Generally using only body language and eyes, Rebecca Bender lets the reader see what Giraffe and Bird are thinking and feeling. Frustration, joy, distress and relief are all there in those few elements. It's impossible not to fall in love with Giraffe and Bird. Moreover with details like Bird hiding under a traditional Canadian work sock or Giraffe in knee pads and helmet or the weird assortment of detritus lodged in the quicksand, kids will seek and find and laugh.
From Giraffe and Bird Together Again by Rebecca Bender
Rebecca Bender's Giraffe and Bird was recently honoured as the selection for the 2018 TD Grade 1 Book Giveaway. That means every child in Grade 1 in Canada should have received their own copy of that special first book (unless their school board sadly opted out of the program). The enduring affection between these two unlikely friends continues to endear them to young children, perhaps seeing something of themselves in Giraffe or Bird. Whether sensitive to teasing, or homebody or adventurer, there is something of everyone in these two characters, and we're so glad that Giraffe and Bird are together again.
From Giraffe and Bird Together Again by Rebecca Bender

November 12, 2018

Tout le monde à bord!

Written by Rhéa Dufresne
Illustrated by Marion Arbona
Monsieur Ed
32 pp.
Ages 4+
April 2018

Prepare for an explosion for the senses amidst the busyness of the animals as they leave the city for vacations. Tout le monde à bord! has all the hallmarks for a holiday read for little ones with the bustling activity of locating creatures and solving shadow mysteries to keep them engrossed for the duration of travel.

A wild assortment of animals, including a zebra, penguin, giraffe, fish, and aardvark, gloriously rich in colour and shape, gather at the train station to board the train. It's mayhem as they search for their companions and squeeze aboard ready to set out.
From Tout le monde à bord! by Rhéa Dufresne, illus. by Marion Arbona
Parents will recognize the cries of the animals as they wonder if they've forgotten anything, as they urge others to hurry, as they complain that it's going to be crowded, and then the need to wait for that ever late traveller.

Even as the train winds and weaves its way through forests and hills to the sandy desert into the snowy mountains, jungle, sea and marsh, different shadows of creatures appear.  Young ones might think they can identify each animal behind the clouds of dust or hot chocolate steam or whale blowhole stream, but they'll probably be wrong every time. (The shadow creatures in the illustration below certainly look like birds with webbed feet and beaks, but don't be fooled.)
From Tout le monde à bord! by Rhéa Dufresne, illus. by Marion Arbona
And as they travel, the hilarity of their dialogue and outbursts reveal family squabbles, worries, joys, and more. From the penguin chastizing her mate-Je t'avais dit qu'on aurait mieux faut d'aller chez ma mère au Pôle Nord ("I told you it would be better to go to my mother's at the North Pole")–to the vendor selling plankton ice cream at the sea, Tout le monde à bord! is rich in dialogue and commentary. And with Marion Arbona's wonderfully stylized creatures and the assortment of travel spots, Tout le monde à bord is a trip for the visual senses and geographical sensibilities.

Rhéa Dufresne and Marion Arbona are both stars in the Quebec children's literature world. Having collaborated on award-winning titles like Arachnéa (Éditions de l'Isatis, 2012) and La nuit (Éditions de l'Isatis, 2015), as well as on books separately, they are well-known amongst French-language youngCanLit creators and to young readers. But, even though Tout le monde à bord! is a French-language picture book, the simplicity of the story and the bounty of its illustrations make it accessible to both French speakers andthose learning the language. (Teachers, it would also be a superb book for developing visual literacy and using the artwork to help translate the text.)

Whether a holiday in the summer or a winter vacation, take a trip with this motley crew of animals on their vacances. There's lots to experience throughout their journey and your reading of Tout le monde à bord!

November 08, 2018

Dr. Jo: How Sara Josephine Baker Saved the Lives of America's Children

Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
Tundra Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
October 2018

Sara Josephine Baker (1873-1945) had always been an unconventional person. She didn't hold by conventions that only boys played ball and climbed trees and became doctors. Fortunately, the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary had been established in 1868 and accepted her as a student of medicine. But, after setting up a practice with a fellow female physician, Florence Laighton, in 1898 and providing excellent care to her patients, Dr. Jo realized she did not have enough patients to stay in business and instead she became a health inspector for the city of New York.

Working in the neighbourhood of Hell's Kitchen, Dr. Jo was saddened to see so many immigrant families living in harsh conditions and subject to terrible illnesses and health issues, especially the children. She helped establish courses for midwives, nurse visits for new mothers, milk stations, and antiseptic beeswax containers for silver nitrate drops used on newborns. She even designed infant wear that was less restrictive and could regulate temperature–preventing heatstroke from typical swaddling–in babies. Her efforts on behalf of the children helped reduce New York City's infant mortality rate to levels not seen in other major American cities.
From Dr. Jo: How Sara Josephine Baker Saved the Lives of America's Children by Monica Kulling, illus. by Julianna Swaney
Monica Kulling always tells a good story in her illustrated biographies. (Check out all the books in her Great Ideas series including Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni's Ice Machine and Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge) She knows the right balance of information and text to educate and enlighten. Although she provides a brief page "More about Dr. Jo" with a few more details, Monica Kulling never makes the information read like an encyclopedic notation about the doctor's accomplishments. Instead, it focuses on Dr. Jo's motivations and achievements in terms of service to others, specifically children. Young readers will know about pediatricians, hopefully through their own health care, but will be surprised to learn that Dr. Jo was the first. Moreover, they will learn about a time and place when health was not a given, and the most vulnerable, children such as themselves, needed someone to advocate for them and care enough to help. Personally I appreciated hearing about a woman who broke down barriers in the medical field while managing to do extraordinary things.
From Dr. Jo: How Sara Josephine Baker Saved the Lives of America's Children by Monica Kulling, illus. by Julianna Swaney
Monica Kulling's stories come to life with exceptional illustrators like American artist Julianna Swaney who balance the real with the fictionalized. Images depicting the conditions of Hell's Kitchen would have been tragic yet Julianna Swaney shows the reality with a subtle touch of colour and shape. It is honest without being scary, and bright without being saccharine.

Learning about great people through illustrated biographies is always a winner for children. There's history being told but at a level relevant to them. I'm especially delighted that Monica Kulling has shared one about a female physician who never let societal conventions hold her back and was able to achieve much good by not doing so. It's an important lesson for all of us.

A free educator's guide for Dr. Jo is available from Tundra Books at

November 06, 2018

How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read: Book launch (Toronto)

Join author Andrew Katz 

for the Toronto launch of his picture book

How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read
Written by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel 
Illustrated by Joseph Sherman
CrackBoom! Books 
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
November 2018


Sunday, November 11, 2018

2 p.m.


Queen Books
914 Queen Street East
Toronto, ON 

There will be:
 • a reading of the book by Andrew Katz 
(with music provided by singer-songwriter Peter Katz) 
• book signing by author Andrew Katz and
illustrator Joseph Sherman

The event is detailed as follows:
Queen Books invites you to join a spunky girl, her forest animal friends, and a book-loving bear for a reading by Montreal author Andrew Katz of his new picture book How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read (ages 4-7), co-written with Juliana Léveillé-Trudel. Special musical guest, JUNO-nominated and Canadian Screen Award-nominated singer-songwriter Peter Katz, will be lending his guitar to the storytelling, and Gemini Award-winning illustrator Joseph Sherman will be there as well for a book-signing following the reading.

Bear- and book-lovers of all ages are welcome!

Details here.

November 01, 2018

Out of the Blue

Written and illustrated by Wallace Edwards
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
August 2018

The message of Wallace Edwards's newest picture book, a story deceptively simple but unusually rich in context and imagery, is all about differences and finding commonalities to evoke compassion. Out of the Blue may be aimed at ages 3 to 7 but it's a directive that should be picked up by all of society.

Ernest is a rhino (Wallace Edwards does illustrate great rhinos, as well as elephants, zebras, lions, cats, mice, etc.) who gets his kite stuck in a tree.  While he contemplates a solution to his problem, he gets a fleeting glimpse of an aerial object (really it's a UFO) and hears a loud noise in the sky. Worrying that someone might need his help, Ernest embarks on a trek, with the help of a large egret, across the plain and then alone up a treacherous mountain. When he discovers the space ship and bumps into a green amorphous alien, both he and the creature are terrified of the monster each sees in the other.
From Out of the Blue by Wallace Edwards
When they both venture out to eye the other, they attempt to communicate. But, as with all whose languages are different, Ernest and the creature endeavour to find commonalities, whether in the shape or colour or emotion of their communiques.
From Out of the Blue by Wallace Edwards
Displaying their dialogue bubbles as puzzle pieces that struggle to find the means to fit, Ernest and the creature finally discover that they may each be familiar with different things but they both love. And what the alien needs help with is his transport which has lodged in the ground. Ernest is happy to help his new friend who, in turn, offers his support, courtesy of some extraordinarily malleable appendages, before waving goodbye.
And there were no more monsters, only friends.
Because Out of the Blue is about communication and perception, Wallace Edwards was astute to have little text in the story.  The reader is given the opportunity to interpret the story and the dialogue between the two creatures, familiar and not, while still recognizing their fears, troubles, and helpfulness. Moreover, extra activities from Scholastic include What Would You Say? and Take Turns Telling the Story offering children the opportunity to create their own discussions between Ernest and the alien.
Scholastic Canada's extra activities for Out of the Blue by Wallace Edwards
Wallace Edwards's stories always have a surreal quality to them, particularly in the art that brings the familiar, like rhinos and trees and mountains, into the realm of the fantastic. Yet Ernest, who is very earnest in his endeavours to help and communicate with the other-worldly creature, is very real and down-to-earth in his efforts and his feelings. Fortunately, he sees beyond the monster he assumes the unfamiliar being is and instead finds a friend. 

Out of the Blue shares a positive message that fits into our troubled times of suspiciousness and antagonism. Too many see the differences as strife when it would seem that we're more alike than we often know. Thank you Wallace Edwards for reminding us of this.

October 30, 2018

2018 TD Canadian Children's Book Awards: Winners

Last night, the TD Canadian Children's Book Awards (English-language) were handed out in Toronto. (The French-language awards, Le Prix TD de littérature pour l'enfance et la jeunesse canadienne and Prix Harry Black de l'album jeunesse, will be awarded on November 19 in Montreal.) In addition to these awards, the selection of the TD Grade One Book Giveaway was announced.

Congratulations to all on these awards and recognitions!


TD Grade One Book Giveaway
Giraffe and Bird
Written and illustrated by Rebecca Bender
Pajama Press

Fan Choice Contest Winner

Picture the Sky
Written and illustrated by Barbara Reid
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)

TD Canadian Children's Literature Award

Town is By the Sea
Written by Joanne Schwartz
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award 

When the Moon Comes
Written by Paul Harbridge
Illustrated by Matt James
Tundra Books

Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women
Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
Annick Press

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People 

The Assassin’s Curse 
(The Blackthorn Key, Book 3)
Written by Kevin Sands

John Spray Mystery Award

The Hanging Girl
Written by Eileen Cook
Houghlin Mifflin Harcourt

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

The Marrow Thieves
Written by Cherie Dimaline


October 29, 2018

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes

Written by Wab Kinew
Illustrated by Joe Morse
Tundra Books
40 pp.
Ages 5-9
September 2018

Although there are far too many Indigenous heroes to include in an illustrated collective biography and book of inspiration, Wab Kinew manages to honour thirteen figures from history including athletes, physicians, authors, military and leaders who marked history with their efforts.  These are their stories, told in emotional free verse by Wab Kinew and illustrated by Joe Morse with power and strength. But beyond these stories, Wab Kinew urges all readers to be inspired to learn and be more.
From Go Show the World by Wab Kinew, illus. by Joe Morse
Wab Kinew begins with a verse about the beginnings.
There's a power in these lands,
one that's been here many years,
strong enough to make you stand
and forget all of your fears.
It started in the past with a blast of light and thunder;
ancient ones looked up and beheld the sky with wonder.
From Tecumseh, Sacagawea and Net-No-Kwa to contemporary heroes such as Carey Price, Beatrice Culleton Mosionier and Dr. Evan Adams, Wab Kinew recognizes the achievements of those who showed the world that they were and are persons who matter. They led explorers, they faced discrimination, and they achieved beyond the limitations put on them. Knowing their stories, upon which Wab Kinew elaborates in a "Biographies" appendix, is but the first step of recognition which heralds appreciation, emulation and achievement.
We are people who matter.
Yes, it's true.
Now let's show the world what people who matter can do. 
From Go Show the World by Wab Kinew, illus. by Joe Morse
Joe Morse may be more familiar as an artist to his commercial clients but his striking illustrations, which I first noticed in his Visions in Poetry edition of Casey at the Bat, bombard the reader with powerful images. While I'm captured by his backgrounds of forest, sky and water, it is the hero of the double-spread who is always showcased. They are detailed in dress and expression and on a landscape reflective of their story. Most remarkable and unmistakable is the countenance of their expressions. It says that they do matter and are determined to Go Show the World, elevating Wab Kinew's message while illuminating it.
From Go Show the World by Wab Kinew, illus. by Joe Morse

For teachers, a discussion guide is available at the publisher's website at