September 20, 2018

The Reptile Club: Book launch (Winnipeg, MB)


 Maureen Fergus

for the launch of her newest picture book

The Reptile Club
Written by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Elina Ellis
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2018 


Saturday, September 29, 2018


1 p.m.


McNally Robinson Booksellers
Grant Park Shopping Centre
Winnipeg, MB

See my review today about this clever picture book about reptiles, passions, friends, and acceptance and then take in the book launch next week for The Reptile Club.

The Reptile Club

Written by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Elina Ellis
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2018 

There are a lot of clubs at Rory's school including glee, ballet, knitting, karate, theater, astronauts, prancing unicorn (!), extra math homework and cooking, but none speak to his passion so he starts his own reptile club. But who shows up to see his plastic reptile collection and eat his lizard-shaped cookies? Reptiles! After all, it is the Reptile Club.
From The Reptile Club by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Elina Ellis
There's Raoul the massive crocodile, Miriam the anaconda and Pierre the gecko, and they all introduce themselves as does Rory with interesting tidbits about themselves before the meeting transitions into discussion, play and food.

Once the other kids see what the Reptile Club is all about, they want to join too, and Rory has to convince the reptiles that "it wasn't nice to be prejudiced against others just because they had hair and could regulate their body temperature." (pg. 21) The Reptile Club flourishes with new members and activities like the game "Guess What I Just Ate?" until weeks later when the reptile members announce that they must say goodbye as winter is coming. But what of the Reptile Club?
From The Reptile Club by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Elina Ellis
Time and time again, author Maureen Fergus has shown her prowess at word play and seeing stories from unusual perspectives. Her picture book The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten (Kids Can Press, 2013) has a kindergartner affectionately chastizing her mother for her inappropriate behaviour at school. The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold (Tundra, 2016) twists the idea of children questioning the existence of the jolly old man to Santa wondering whether a particular child is real. In The Reptile Club, Maureen Fergus does the same, presenting a club that draws its members from the Class Reptilia not just those who are passionate about them. It makes for a funny story. But the story isn't just a clever take on school clubs. It's about honouring your passions, making friends and accepting others, regardless of their differences. When the reptiles are reluctant to let the other human kids into the club, Rory has to help them see that the differences aren't that big a deal since they already accept him, a lowly mammal. And if the humour throughout the book doesn't tickle a child's funny bone–I wonder if reptiles have funny bones?–then the illustrations of the UK's Elina Ellis with their youthful lightness in colours and shape, perfect for a school setting filled with children and animals, definitely will.
From The Reptile Club by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Elina Ellis
While I won't give away Maureen Fergus's surprise ending that will definitely get readers smiling, I can say that school clubs have never been so much fun and engaging and The Reptile Club is one to join for a chance at learning, laughing and literacy. 


September 19, 2018

Rosie's Glasses

Written and illustrated by Dave Whamond
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2018

Many of us know that feeling of waking up with a black cloud hanging over our heads. You've woken up late, it's raining outside and everything is grey.  Life has no colour. If anything can go wrong, it does. How does a child pick themselves up to see beyond the noise and strife and bad luck and gloom that pervades everything at home, on the street and at school?
From Rosie's Glasses by Dave Whamond
If you're little Rosie, you're fortunate to spot a colourful butterfly which leads you straight to a pair of round pink glasses that offer you a rosier perspective on your world. The blasé street scene now reveals flowers and bees and families with ice cream and singing birds and multi-coloured balloons. The park is filled with friendly chatter and play and joyful wildlife. At home, there's a new puppy.  
From Rosie's Glasses by Dave Whamond
Now waking up is vibrant and enthusiastic and Rosie, the darling with the rabbit-eared pigtails, sees rainbows and music and colour everywhere.  But, Rosie's new perspective may be in jeopardy when she loses her new glasses. Or is it?
From Rosie's Glasses by Dave Whamond

Rosie's Glasses may play on the premise that rose-coloured glasses tend to make life look better than it really is but Dave Whamond would not give Rosie the perspective of optimism without a bit of reality.  Her day really does start out poorly and things are dreary and unfortunate. Her pigtails even droop! But the magic that comes from those glasses is extraordinary, helping Rosie see the goodness in her reality, not just the bad.  Even when she has lost the glasses, Rosie has been infused with a dose of encouragement–the new puppy helps too–that will help her see the good and the bad, even on inevitable grey days of her future.

I know I always go on and on about Dave Whamond's illustrations from his picture books like Oddrey (Owlkids, 2012) and My Think-a-Ma-Jink (Owlkids, 2009), his first graphic novel Nick the Sidekick (Kids Can Press, 2018) and, of course, his syndicated cartoon Reality Check (see samples at his website at but the art is fabulous! It draws the eye everywhere to reveal details in faces and in buildings, in scenes and in actions. With Rosie's Glasses being a wordless picture book, readers, children and adults alike, will be able to linger on illustrations and find more and more to discuss and contemplate. 

Rosie's Glasses is a story that offers encouragement on observing life from different perspectives and it's a buffet of colour and activity.  Teachers and parents will undoubtedly, as they should, take advantage of the book's value in teaching visual literacy but there's much more to the story and the art. So, be sure to smell the roses along that pedagogical path because there's much more here than a lesson. There's life: the good, the bad and the rosy.
From Rosie's Glasses by Dave Whamond

September 18, 2018

Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On

Written by Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming
Illustrated by Peggy Collins
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
June 2018

It's Science Literacy Week in Canada and Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming use rhyming verses and inclusive and diverse perspectives on biology, chemistry and physics in Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On to help children see the science in everything.

There are poems about geology, structures, life cycles, chemistry at work, seasons, magnetism, brain waves, senses, botany, force and differentiating between living and non-living things. It's the primary curriculum plus in a fun package of poetry and dynamic illustrations by Peggy Collins. And everyone is doing science: girls, boys, monsters, armadillos, physically-challenged individuals, kids with braces, kids with glasses, and kids of all hues and abilities.  It's science learning at its best and most lively.
She's hungry for science.
Her hunger's so great.
Stirring her mixtures
who'd guess that she's eight?
It's the manner in which the concepts are shared that makes Hungry for Science so entertaining. The life cycle of a flea in "An Ode to Flea" details the birth and death of Little Miss Pesky Flea who
Lived three months and caused such strife
a doggone long and itchy life!
Captain Chemistry helps unclog a sink drain with an all-purpose cleaner of baking soda and vinegar, and Scary Miss Mary shares how her odd garden of "carnivorous snappers and large creepy wrappers and that stinky, zombie-faced rose" grows.
From Hungry for Science: Poems to Munch On by Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming, illus. by Peggy Collins
With a glossary and descriptions of the concepts taught in each poem, Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming complete Hungry for Science with the expository text perfect for a book on science. Peggy Collins, who also illustrated Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming's earlier STEM picture book, Hungry for Math: Poems to Munch On (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015), ensures the lightness and brightness of tone is reinforced in her artwork, adding quirky creative details like a rainbow of plumes from the primary sense organs and an evil below-ground carrot in Scary Miss Mary's garden.
From Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On by Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming, illus. by Peggy Collins
Have some fun with teaching simple science concepts to children with Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On and inspire a child to become a scientist everyday.

September 17, 2018

Bright Shining Moment

Written by Deb Loughead
Second Story Press
178 pp.
Ages 9-13
September 2018

Twelve-year-old Adèline (Aline) Sauriol is ashamed that her family is poor. Even though they have a roof over their heads and food on their table and her clothes are always clean and mended, she is humiliated that she never has coins for the charity box on Sister Madeleine's desk or magazines at home from which she could cut pictures for a scrapbook. And she's especially abashed that Jeanine Bonenfant, her tormentor and a school troublemaker who is always getting the strap (this is 1940s Ottawa), often contributes. This is especially frustrating as it is evident that Jeanine's family is far poorer than Aline's and there are rumours that Jeanine's father is a drunk who beats his children and that Jeanine steals from her ill mother.
I like my house, even though we can only use half of it now and tenants will be living in the other half soon. I like my bed, even though it's in the living room now. I wish we weren't poor, though. I wish Papa didn't scowl so much. I wish we had bright shiny new things like some others do. I wish for a lot of things that I know will never come true. Especially the one for an "English" nose. (pg. 54)
Aline wishes for many things to be different but, in a time of economic hardships, there's not much she can do. And then she steals a dime–she intended to only take a penny–for the charity box only to find it has already been collected from the class. As her guardian angel and the devil–she is a good Catholic girl after all–try to sway her, the girl spends it all on candy for herself and her cousin Lucille, purchasing more than they can possibly eat and hiding the rest. While a shameful reminder of her indiscretion, that bag of candy helps Aline make things right for a number of people, family and not, during times of tragedy and joy.

As with most children, Aline sees what she perceives others to have as better than what she has, whether it be money to share for charity, a big house and hot water as her friend Georgette has, or a radio, beautiful clothes and a Christmas tree as their new tenants, the English-Protestant Coleman family, have. In her home, Aline knows how fortunate she is, proud of her mother's baking and care of her family, or her father's hard work and telling of Ti-Jean stories, and her siblings who bring life to her family. But when at school or on the street or visiting the Coleman's apartment or Georgette's house, she is envious of all they seem to have. Of course, Deb Loughead makes sure that Aline realizes that the grass is not always greener and that there are those who are happy to share their bounty. Fortunately, Deb Loughead's touch in Bright Shining Moment is subtle, never moralizing, always recognizing that people's stories are far greater than outward appearances may suggest. There is an appreciation for those who struggle and understanding for those who put on façades while still recognizing that there are those who are more fortunate and still charitable.

Aline may be searching for bright shiny new things, but Bright Shining Moment is one in itself, with its setting effusive with the times and the lessons both discreet and smart. Amidst her personal struggles with envy and shame and wishes for more, Aline eventually finds that brightness and it comes from the familiar. It comes from home.

September 14, 2018

Fox and Squirrel Help Out

Written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
32 pp.
Ages 2-7
August 2018

Teaching young children about empathy is not always easy because our expectations of when they should express empathy does not always jive with their feelings that empathy is necessitated. Programs like Roots of Empathy–a program in which babies visit classrooms so that students might develop their own emotional literacy–work well because children have a natural empathy for babies and those smaller and more vulnerable than themselves. That's why Ruth Ohi's latest picture book, Fox and Squirrel Help Out, her fourth Fox and Squirrel book, provides a literary model for teaching empathy while charming little ones with the honest and endearing friendship of two special friends.

From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
When something falls onto Fox's head, squeaking frantically and loudly, the two friends are flummoxed as to how to help the little creature. Though Fox sees beyond the noise and delights in the bat's warmth and softness, he recognizes the need to appease Squeak. Like a parent or babysitter trying to calm a restless baby, Fox and Squirrel try food and entertainment but it's only when Fox rocks back and forth on one leg that the little guy is calmed and comforted.
From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
Squirrel may be a little disgruntled because Fox insists on focusing on Squeak's needs but it's upon Squirrel's head that Squeak finds the coziness necessary for sleep. But that's only before his real family comes looking for him and Fox and Squirrel must say goodbye.

I know that everyone thinks they can write a picture book but they can't. I get a lot of picture books for review by writers who have not learned what it takes to make one great. Ruth Ohi knows how to do it right, with each and every book she creates. (Check out Kenta and the Big Wave and Shh! My Brother's Napping as two important examples of her work.) Fox and Squirrel Help Out checks off all the boxes: it tells a charming story, with simple but impactful text, which is enhanced with unique illustrations that tell more about the characters and their motivations than the words alone. Ruth Ohi's artistic style which blends daintiness with cartoons invites readers in to her scenes. (Has anyone ever thought of how awesome stuffies of Fox and Squirrel would be?)
From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
I could tell you that Fox and Squirrel Help Out has an important message about the empathy needed to "babysit" a young one who is away from its own family, but anyone who reads the story will get it. The book doesn't preach or need to in order to impress lessons upon the reader.  What is does do is share an anecdote of two friends spending time with another who needs their help. Sure there's acceptance of differences and appreciation of diversity of needs–Squirrel's attempts at entertaining, while adorable, just don't cut it with Squeak– but it's the two friends working together that continues to create the intimacy necessary to speak to children, here helping young ones see that they have the capacity to make things right in the world just on their own scale. It would appear that Fox and Squirrel Help Out more than just a young bat.

If you head to author-illustrator Ruth Ohi's website at, you can get a variety of Fox and Squirrel activities, including bookmarks, cut-outs for stick puppets, etc. for Fox and Squirrel Help Out, as well as the other three books in the series.

September 07, 2018


Written by Caroline Pignat
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
All ages
June 2018 

When Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale, powerhouses in word and art, come together, you know that the result will be powerful and extraordinary and Poetree is.
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
From germinating seed to young shoot and sapling and then flowering and fruiting and more seeds, Caroline Pignat shares intimate glimpses of trees and their communities through the four seasons. For each season, a two-line verse introduces the life activity portrayed. Spring is introduced with...
A sleeping seed begins to grow
     shoots and roots in the ground below. (pg. 2)
Spring is thus announced and given life with acrostic poems about seeds germinating and the onset of roots and shoots, and leaves and flowers. Summer has us feeling the breeze and the rain, and witnessing the promise of a nest (beautifully described as "nature's nursery") and the activity of a variety of insects.  Fall takes us to the bounty of harvest, particularly apples, and the changing colours and falling of leaves. 
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
Though you might be forgiven for expecting the book to end with Winter, which is advanced with...
Beneath a blanket, frosty white,
     the old tree sleeps long winter's night. (pg. 22)
and poems about snow, bareness, exposed rings of fallen trees and snow, it is not the end of Poetree. Caroline Pignat, in her infinite wisdom and artist's eye, knows that ...
Somehow each ending is not the
Scatters new beginnings.
(pg. 31)
I hope Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale will forgive my tardiness in reviewing their elegant book of verse and artistry but I think that Poetree shouldn't be lost in summer reviews when teachers are not necessarily purchasing books for classroom and school libraries. Poetree needs to be in all libraries for lessons on the seasons and acrostic poetry and life cycles in nature and for evoking the beauty of our enduring and fragile environment.

Caroline Pignat has the poet's sensibilities and command of words to convey content and feeling without the verbiage. I recommend any of her books, but particularly her Governor General award-winning YA novel in free verse and my favourite, The Gospel Truth (Red Deer Press, 2014), to relish further the finesse she demonstrates in Poetree. Pairing her verse with the art of award-winning François Thisdale is inspired.  François Thisdale, whose art illustrated picture books including The Stamp Collector (by Jennifer Lanthier, from Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2012) and Missing Nimâmâ (by Melanie Florence, from Clockwise Press, 2015), combines drawing and digital images to produce evocative scenes of fresh landscapes and micro views and underground perspectives. It's inspiriting to see how insignificant humans are–a lone man is occasionally seen in the background–to the unfolding of life in the natural world.
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
A masterful exploration of arboreal life from beginning to end and to new again through the four seasons, Poetree sustains the reader with verse and art as dramatically as the earth does our natural world.