August 08, 2022

A Starlit Trip to the Library

Written by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel
Illustrated by Joseph Sherman
CrackBoom! Books (Chouette Publishing)
44 pp.
Ages 3-6
September 2022
A trip to the library is always special but a starlit one is even more so. 
From A Starlit Trip to the Library by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, illus. by Joseph Sherman
Camping out on an island near her home, Julia spends time with her forest buddies from How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read: Frieda the skunk, Abigail the groundhog, and Scotty the squirrel. But, just as she's about to start storytime, Julia is disappointed to find her storybook missing from her backpack. Fortunately, their bear friend, Bertrand, arrives via houseboat, and invites them to join him on a book-scavenging adventure to the "perfect place to dig for page-turners, sublime rhymes and other treasures."
From A Starlit Trip to the Library by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, illus. by Joseph Sherman
Using the stars to guide them, the reading adventurers head to town and to the library. But, because it's late and not all of them are permitted to have library cards, the group heads behind the library. There they meet up with the night librarian, Olga the owl, who shows them the many boxes of donated books which she organizes.
From A Starlit Trip to the Library by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, illus. by Joseph Sherman
Olga offers assistance in finding just the right book but it's a tall order as they all want something specific in the book, something that reflects their own lives. Of course, like the wonderful librarian that she is, Olga finds the perfect story to make everyone happy.
From A Starlit Trip to the Library by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, illus. by Joseph Sherman
Readers know the joys of connection that come with finding the right book and sharing that reading with others. In both their Julia books, Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel focus on books and the richness that comes with the reading. They show us the inspiration that comes with connecting with others, or seeing oneself reflected in the stories, or learning new things, or getting lost in new worlds. But this time, Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel also highlight the library and librarians and the bounty that comes from engagement with both. Reading is paramount but only if you have the book that fits your needs at that time. Thankfully, there are loads of books available at our public libraries, and school libraries too, and qualified staff to advise, recommend, listen, read and share their expertise with readers of all ages.  And Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel celebrate them and their readers both in A Starlit Trip to the Library. (And if that's not enough, there's also notes about animals in the constellations and a very catchy song, sung by JUNO Award-winning Taes Leavitt of Splash’N Boots.)
Joseph Sherman, a Gemini Award-winning animation designer as well as illustrator, uses colour and shape to bring that celebratory luminosity to A Starlit Trip to the Library. Though the setting is night, the stars are out in the sky and there's a brightness to the characters and their landscapes. Illumination, through books, stars and constellations, and friendship, is aptly evoked through Joseph Sherman's artwork.

There's magic in books, as every reader knows. There's the magic of searching for the right book, of sharing a story with friends, and of the adventure that comes from within. Julia and friends find their newest bit of magic under the stars and behind a library and, by telling us their story of A Starlit Trip to the Library, Andrew Katz, Juliana Léveillé-Trudel and Joseph Sherman get to share some of that allure with us.


          Music and lyrics by Andrew Katz
          Produced and engineered by Peter Katz
          Performed by Taes Leavitt

Posted on Bibliovideo on February 24, 2022 at YouTube.


Tomorrow I interview co-author (and songwriter) Andrew Katz about A Starlit Trip to the Library, so look for that here.


August 06, 2022


Written and illustrated by Nancy Vo
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 3-6
August 2022

You will be forgiven if you think Boobies is about the marine bird known as the blue-footed booby. It is, after all, on the cover of Nancy Vo's latest picture book. Ah, but look a little closer at the bird and the placement of the double o's in the title and you'll realize the real story behind Boobies.
From Boobies by Nancy Vo
While Nancy Vo introduces the blue-footed booby ever so briefly, she makes it clear that this bird species has no boobies because it is not a mammal. And with that, she opens up a discussion about mammals with boobies, from a dog and a cat to an opossum, and clarifies which do not, like fish.
From Boobies by Nancy Vo
The variety of human boobies and their functionality for feeding young is explained cheekily but accurately–hence, the essential inclusion of Boobies in STEM book lists covering the human body–as is some natural and art history depictions of these organs.
From Boobies by Nancy Vo
Though this picture book won't be released until the end of August, World Breastfeeding Week is August 1st to August 7th so reviewing it on CanLit for LittleCanadians now seems highly appropriate. While Boobies isn't really a "story" with a beginning, a middle and an end, it is a unique and charming approach to the science behind breasts and will educate as well as engage. Kids may go home and start checking every living thing for boobies but they'll have learned a little bit more about animal classification (mammal vs. non-mammal), about links between morphology and function, and how breasts have been recognized in culture.

Vancouver's Nancy Vo never becomes coy about sharing valuable information about breasts but she does adjust it for younger children for whom lessons regarding their bodies would be relatively new. But, using stencil art with matte acrylics and pen on paper, Nancy Vo takes a convivial approach to an educational topic which some adults may be reluctant to broach, presuming incorrectly that it could be emotionally awkward or insensitive. It is neither. It is science and will give children a better way to communicate about their bodies and to care for them more completely.

I suspect that Boobies may be the first book in a series of non-fiction picture books about various body parts, judging by the book's conclusion when Nancy Vo tells us, "Butt, that's another book." I can't think of a better way to educate and enthrall than through Nancy Vo's art and humour whether it be about boobies, butts or some other body part.

August 04, 2022

Jasper's Road

Written by Susan White
Acorn Press
164 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2022

There are families by birth and those by invention. And sometimes, because of the families of birth, better families are created from disparate parts. The story of Jasper's Road is about such families.
When Jasper's Road begins, a large extended family is gathering to celebrate Amelia's day. Amelia Walton, who passed five years earlier, started taking in kids after she was struck with a neurological disease which motivated her to become a recluse. Opening her home to more than 100 kids over the years, for short- or long-terms, Amelia Walton left her mark with her heart, her wisdom, and her compassion. Now each year, many of those she fostered along with their own families gathered to share food, memories and trivia as Amelia would have liked.

Thirteen-year-old Jasper, who'd come to Amelia as a baby and now was part of Jodie and Zac Williams's family, had always felt welcomed but, because of a recent fostering of fourteen-year-old Jake Turner by his Aunt Rachel and Uncle Ryan, Jasper is feeling more vulnerable, especially about a facial abnormality that Jake ridicules as "Zipper Lip." But as Jasper tries to figure out how to deal with Jake, Jake himself is struggling with finding himself as a part of yet another foster family and without his little brother Tommy. Then near tragedy strikes and Jake forces Jasper and Jasper's 12-year-old brother Anderson to lie. Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and the April 2020 mass killing in Nova Scotia and it would seem that everyone has some baggage that they're carrying around that confuses and confounds their relationships with partners and with their families, foster and birth.

New Brunswick writer Susan White, who has written YA and middle grade books including The Year Mrs. Montague Cried, winner of the Ann Connor Brimer Award, brings us into a complicated world of foster children, past and present, as they struggle and learn to make lives for themselves in the context of ever-changing relationships. Whether from abandonment or abuse, neglect or health concerns–including death of a parent–children enter foster care for a variety of reasons and just as varied is the care that they may receive. Some will find forever homes through adoption while others will bounce from one residence to another. In Jasper's Road, those fortunate enough to be taken in by Amelia Walton and subsequently by her "heirs" became part of something significant. And while it took me awhile to figure out all the characters and their relationships, including which were biological or otherwise, I realized it really didn't matter. Susan White gave us a rich community much like the one Amelia endeavoured to create, both complex and natural, saving herself and others in the process, and building something bigger than just a joining of individuals.

While this journey down Jasper's Road is complete, for now, I suspect that there are more travels ahead for Jasper, Jake, Tommy and their families, perhaps in New Brunswick or not, and I really hope that Susan White takes us down a few more of those roads by gifting us with their stories too.

August 02, 2022

The Ugly Place

Written by Laura Deal
Illustrated by Emma Pedersen
Inhabit Media
28 pp.
Ages 4-7
July 2022

When our negative moods take over, everything becomes ugly: places, people, ourselves.  
There is only one way to get to the ugly place, and you have to feel absolutely miserable.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen
With the wet and gloomy weather, this child recognizes that everything is pointing them to a visit to the ugly place. They see ugliness in the exposed shore at low tide, in the fish, in their own mucky footprints on the wet tundra, and the smells of the salt water and the stale seaweed. And this child wallows in that which they see as ugly and matches their ugly mood.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen

But seeing, really seeing, brings clarity. By focusing on that which is in front of them, perception is changed. heart settles when I see the seagull circle around again in effortless flight, joined by another. Their crisp white feathers are exceptionally bright against the sunless sky. They play while gliding and swooping through the air.
They close their eyes and open their senses to the sounds, the smells and the feel of the emerging sun.

Then, and only then, is when IT HAPPENS.
Small things emerge to announce their joyful presence: a stir of the water, the flip and flop of sculpins, and life in the sea, on the land, and in the air. And in the child's heart, through the art of breath.

From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen
Everything becomes part of an orchestral piece of music with the child conducting. It's up to them to see the virtues of every piece of their place and harmonize them for the big finish. And that grand performance is what finally takes the child from the ugly place to one where smiling is possible and the despair of the person and place disappears.
Getting to the ugly place is not hard when negative emotions overwhelm. Whether it is anger or fear, anxiety or disappointment, misery makes for an efficient vector to joylessness and the blindness to that which would normally inspire gratitude and bring comfort. While Iqaluit's Laura Deal may envision a literal ugly place to which this child visits, with scowling rocks and clouds, the ugliness is actually within and carried by the child, creating the foulness they experience within their landscape. But children, not unlike many adults, don't realize that they carry that ugliness with them to place and people. Fortunately, they also carry the possibility of finding joy both within and without, as this child discovers with some mindfulness in an natural environment. Laura Deal, whose earlier picture books In the Sky at Nighttime and How Nivi Got Her Names share a northern perspective of culture and place, again takes us to a community of the tundra, of rocky terrains, gulls and Arctic sealife. It's a place where a child can walk for great distances from town, ponder their moods and take the time for mindful appreciation beyond themselves. It's a place for insight and reflection, thoughtfulness and solitude, all of which reverberate in Laura Deal's text.

Likewise, Toronto illustrator Emma Pedersen mirrors the moods of the child as they experience the ugly place and shift to acknowledgement of the beauty evident. The furrowed brows and hunched shoulders of a child among the harshness of a landscape teeming with grimacing components reflects the bitterness of their feelings and the gloom of the weather. But all is transformed with light and softness as joy returns. 
Misery and despair will happen in our lives. But, it can and will give way to calm and joy given the opportunity for mindfulness of self and nature, a lesson for all who feel.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen

July 28, 2022


Written by Mariko Tamaki
Roaring Brook Press
240 pp.
Ages 12-18
February 2022

He was already getting used to being so much less than he was when he was alive. Maybe because there's something in death that makes being nothing feel natural. Maybe because he had somehow always been a sort of figment. (pg. 49)
On a cold January night, seventeen-year-old Todd Mayer died, naked except for a pair of hand-knitted pink mittens, and found in Rosemary Peacock Park by a dog the next morning. Now a ghost, Todd watches and remembers as his death is investigated by Detectives Greevy and Daniels, seemingly disregarded by classmates at his private boys' school, and considered by Georgia Walker who never even knew Todd. 
Georgia hears of Todd's death from Carrie Harper, a new friend who was the former friend of the uber popular Shirley Mason. The girls are still negotiating their newfound friendship and one thing they spend time talking about is Todd's death. In fact, they go to the scene of the crime, discuss alibis and such. But Georgia begins to get a bad feeling when she realizes Todd went to school with her older brother Mark and may have even visited their house. So, as Georgia starts to question her brother and others to learn more about Todd and perhaps his death, Todd, as a ghost, watches as detectives question his virtually-silent peers and his teachers, including Mr. McVeeter, a social studies teacher who offered Todd support and refuge from bullies. But, as he watches and recognizes the mistakes he made and the complexity of his choices and of his feelings, Todd remembers all that led to his death and those involved.

Told in the alternating voices of Georgia and Todd as Todd's death is revealed and investigated, Cold takes a hard look at how the lives of two teens unknowingly come together. Both had recognized they were gay and were finding ways to deal with it for themselves, sometimes with support from others. Still, they were struggling: Todd at a private boys' school where those who were deemed different were persecuted, and Georgia with her mother, a children's book author who tactlessly used her children as the basis for her stories. That may be their only obvious commonality, other than seeking to fit in and avoid harassment, a goal of many school-age young people, but it's their endeavour to find the truth and share that truth that supersedes all. Georgia needs to find out what happened to Todd and how her brother may or may not be involved. Todd needs to take responsibility for his actions which may or may not have led to his death and make things right for those who had trusted him. In Cold, Mariko Tamaki, who has never shied away from weighty issues of young people coming of age, including conflicts in friendship, questions of sexuality and balancing family with friends, tells a complex mystery wrapped in a story of trying to survive challenging social circumstances. While the solution to the mystery of Todd's death is never fully realized until the end, Mariko Tamaki has kept the teens' circumstances so familiar and common that her explanation sadly makes perfect sense.

The cold, hard facts of Cold are that a teen died because he was perceived as different while he was determined to make positive connections with others. He did what he could but others made choices that were ill-considered at best and thoughtless and despicable at worst. And Mariko Tamaki shows us, with hindsight, choices made, independent of intentions, have consequences and we can only hope that they hurt no one and can be endured and even survived.

July 26, 2022

kā-āciwīkicik / The Move

Written by Doris George and Don K. Philpot
Illustrated by Alyssa Koski
Heritage House
48 pp.
Ages 4-8
May 2022

The story of kā-āciwīkicik or The Move, a dual-language picture book, begins with an elderly Cree couple looking out from their new house in a rocky barren land, having moved from their old place beside a river close to a lake, land covered with trees, and brush and meadows. As upset as the old woman is in having to leave so much behind, her husband tells her that "There's nothing we can do to change things".  But he's wrong.
From kā-āciwīkicik / The Move by Doris George and Don K. Philpot, illus. by Alyssa Koski

Recalling the belief of her grandmother, a diviner, that the spirits would extend help when asked, the old woman first wishes for some trees so that she might have wood to smoke her fish and moose hides. With that, a group of black ash appear and root themselves in the yard. Consequently, the old man gathers some old wood and, in addition to making a smudge, starts a fire for his wife's drying racks.
From kā-āciwīkicik / The Move by Doris George and Don K. Philpot, illus. by Alyssa Koski
When the couple's daughter and two grandchildren come to visit, they reminisce about the old songs, and their activities like making maple sugar candy and weaving baskets from birch bark. With a wish, maple and birch trees then appear, along with spruce, and the elderly couple get to work tapping the trees and boiling sap, as well as cutting strips of bark and gathering roots for baskets. Moreover they can now share with their grandchildren the skills of those springtime activities.

When summer comes and the old woman remembers picking saskatoon berries for bannock and winter storage, she laments how far away they are from the berries now. With a clap of thunder and a heave of the ground, a trail appears and saskatoon berries materialize everywhere. It is finally then that the old woman looks out over their new home and land, and recognizes that, "It's good here."
From kā-āciwīkicik / The Move by Doris George and Don K. Philpot, illus. by Alyssa Koski

Though there are supernatural elements to Doris George and Don K. Philpot's story, it is a story rooted in reality and history. Their "Authors' Note" recalls the building of a dam in northern Manitoba in the early 1960s and the relocation of the Chemawawin Cree Nation from ancestral lands. It's the contrast of the old with the new but also the establishment of a new familiarity that is significant. What the Cree couple leave behind is tradition, family, culture and home. But, they are able to re-establish all, with a little spiritual assistance, to continue providing for themselves and others and build a new life. While the disruption caused by forced relocations is very real, authors Doris George and Don K. Philpot emphasize that the quality of life travels with the couple. With their resilience, they make it work.  

Alyssa Koski of Kainai Nation transitions the couple from the greyness of their stark new land to its promise. She gives us contemplation in the old woman's face, purpose in their activities, and hope in the lushness of the new greenness. By juxtaposing the real with the unreal, Alyssa Koski takes us into Doris George and Don K. Philpot's First Nation experience story of ancestry, upheaval and survival and, with colour and shape, shows us the continuity that inspires and reassures.

July 25, 2022

Sun Wishes

Written by Patricia Storms
Illustrated by Milan Pavlović
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
May 2022
It's the middle of summer and the sun is out in all its glorious warmth and brightness. But what of all the other things the sun does through each day, around world and year round? As a child imagines what the sun sees and feels, Sun Wishes lets us see all of its glory from a different perspective.
From Sun Wishes by Patricia Storms, illus. by Milan Pavlović
"If I were the sun..." is how this reflection on the sun's activities begins. From singing a gentle morning song to awaken life, including the flowers, insects and other animals, to brightening a gloomy day after a rain to accompany a grandfather and grandson fishing. In other global locations, it inspires "a vivid tapestry" in rice fields and on the African savannah, in the oceans, in the trees and among forests.
Oh, to be the sun! To swing and sway
with the mountains and trees
and dance across luminous waters.
From Sun Wishes by Patricia Storms, illus. by Milan Pavlović
Even in the winter, the sun is there to warm snow angel-making children. And always, at the end of a busy day, the child imagines itself as the sun going to rest peacefully "knowing tomorrow I would shine once more."
From Sun Wishes by Patricia Storms, illus. by Milan Pavlović
Sun Wishes is an ode to the sun through the imaginings of a child recognizing the sun's omnipresence and its many  powers. It's actually amazing how evocative Patricia Storms's text and Milan Pavlović's art are in reflecting the sun's warmth and brightness, the dreariness of a grey day or the cool wetness of an ocean. The colours and life called up in words and illustrations are tangible, cooling in the heat of our own summer days and glittering in a storm's aftermath.

Patricia Storms, along with husband Guy Storms, first collaborated with artist Milan Pavlović on Moon Wishes (Groundwood, 2019). That same partnership now takes us into a different poetic reverie, that of a child looking at a celestial entity and envisioning all that it might experience.  From play to harvest, family and solitude, the sun attends to all, in its full range of colours and vibrancy. And, as this child does, we should respect and honour that vitality, in its bringing of life and overseeing it in its many forms.