April 19, 2018

The Big Bed

Written by Bunmi Laditan
Illustrated by Tom Knight
Farrrar Straus Giroux
32 pp.
Ages 4-6
February 2018 

This child is going to be arguing cases before the Supreme Court; that is, before she ends up presiding over it and being appointed Chief Justice.  She is confident, articulate and, though very young, she knows what she's after and why she should get it. In this case, it's sleeping with Mom in The Big Bed.
From The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan, illus. by Tom Knight
With eloquent arguments that she purports to be "reasonable" and filled with positive reinforcement about her father's skills as a wrestler and piggyback-ride giver, the little girl opines about what happens at night.  Seems the big bed isn't big enough for herself and her parents, and it's clear who will be leaving.  As she's afraid of the dark, and her father still has his own mommy–hence no need to share hers–she recommends a solution that she is sure he will "find not only satisfactory, but also quite generous."
From The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan, illus. by Tom Knight
Bunmi Laditan, the blogger behind the very funny "The Honest Toddler" (at http://www.thehonesttoddler.com/), brings her trademark humour to this child's story.  Because it is all told from the child's perspective, from sitting her father down, arguing her case, presenting her plan to her mother (who laughs hysterically) and a culminating claim that "Mommy and I just want you to be happy", I feel like this is based on something Mommy Bunmi Laditan has experienced.  Everyone knows kids say the darnedest things and this little one does more than just say, she reasons and orates.  Supporting that perspective are British artist Tom Knight's illustrations.  His artwork, particularly that of the graphics the child herself creates, bolsters the cuteness of a child's perspective and makes The Big Bed as convincing as she is.

I truly hope her father can get some sleep on his new cot.
From The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan, illus. by Tom Knight

April 18, 2018

Swimming with Seals: Book launch (Ladysmith, BC)

Maggie de Vries


her newest picture book

Swimming with Seals
Written by Maggie de Vries
Illustrated by Janice Kun
Orca Book Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2018


Thursday, May 8, 2018

7:00-8:30 p.m.


Salamander Books
535 First Avenue
Ladysmith, BC

Ally isn't able to live with her mother. Instead she lives far, far away, on the other side of the country, with her gram and great-aunt. But one summer Ally goes to stay with her aunt and uncle in the "big city by the ocean" and gets to spend time with her mom. While exploring the shore, watching whales from the boat dipping into the salty water, Ally finds out something important: her mother loves to swim as much as she does.

This is a very personal story. Ally is based on the author’s niece, Jeanie, and Ally's mother is based on the author's sister, Sarah, who went missing from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in 1998. Jeanie is like a seal in the water, and Sarah was just the same, but they never got to swim together. In this story, they do. Swimming with Seals is a story that was written for the thousands of children who long to live with their birth parents and will never fully understand why they can't.
Retrieved from Orca Book Publishers' website at
on April 3, 2018.

April 17, 2018

Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night

Written by Rob Laidlaw
Pajama Press
48 pp.
Ages 8-12
March 2018

Today is Bat Appreciation Day and Rob Laidlaw's newest children's non-fiction book about protecting animals and animal welfare is THE book that needs to be read today and forever.  Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night takes the story of bats from tragic ecological stories to empowering children to become global citizens in helping protect this oft-misunderstood animal.
From Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night by Rob Laidlaw
Rob Laidlaw, biologist, animal activist and award-winning author (including of No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs, Pajama Press, 2011 and Cat Champions: Caring for our Feline Friends, Pajama Press, 2013), may be advocating for bats, but he knows the best way to do so is to educate young readers about these animals and dispel erroneous misconceptions first.  So, he weaves the book's information about types of bats, their biology, habitats, food, predators, and the numerous challenges to their survival with a look at those who champion their needs.
From Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night by Rob Laidlaw
Rob Laidlaw introduces young people whom he refers to as Bat Citizens who tirelessly advocate for, research on, and provide for bats around the world.  There's Christian Spaur in Ohio who championed the installation of bat boxes, and Sarah Corton who has been surveying bats for the dangerous white-nose syndrome and creating lesson plans for teachers.  And there's four- and five-year old brother and sister who raised money for the Organization for Bat Conservation by selling hot chocolate.  These young people are doing more than their share to help.  To that same end, Rob Laidlaw discusses various bat challenges, like white-nose syndrome, disappearing habitat, and human activity, but provides solutions to all, including directing readers how they can help.
From Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night by Rob Laidlaw

 The book is well-organized and colourful with numerous photographs on every page.  Throughout the book, there are information boxes about "Bat Facts", suggestions of ways to help out in "Batty Ideas" and a comprehensive glossary.  The detailed table of contents and index just top off the impressive organization of Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night, making it a strong non-fiction selection for young readers and animal advocates everywhere. And did I mention the cool poster on the reverse of the dust jacket?

I may be reviewing Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night today because of the day's designation but this title is sure to be saved and read and referred to beyond April 17 because it is more than an encyclopedia about bats.  It is a book about being a citizen of the animal world, our world, and about celebrating young people who already understand that and have stepped up to defend those whose world we share.

April 15, 2018

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book: Book launch (Saskatoon, SK)

A tea party and a book launch!

 Alice Kuipers

is launching her new

illustrated chapter book

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
Written by Alice Kuipers
Illustrated by Diana Toledano
Chronicle Books
120 pp.
Ages 6-9
May 2018


 Sunday, April 22, 2018 

 2:30 p.m.


McNally Robinson
3130-8 St E.
Saskatoon, SK

This family and kid-friendly event 
will include 
activities for kids
refreshments from Prairie Ink Restaurant and Bakery.


I have read this darling book about imagination, writing, word play and magic and will review it on May 1, 2018.  The following day, author Alice Kuipers has kindly offered to share a guest post about children writing, having created an free online course (available May 1) on her website for children who want to learn to write or to become better writers.

Before that review comes out, here is a bit about the book from the publisher's website:

Polly loves words. And she loves writing stories. So when a magic book appears on her doorstep that can make everything she writes happen in real life, Polly is certain all of her dreams are about to come true. But she soon learns that what you write and what you mean are not always the same thing! Funny and touching, this new chapter book series will entertain readers and inspire budding writers.
Retrieved from

April 12, 2018

What Happens Next

Written by Susan Hughes
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Owlkids Books
40 pp.
Ages 4+
March 2018

Carey Sookocheff's understated illustrations may give the impression of a simple story but Susan Hughes' What Happens Next is nothing less than a compelling revelation about the secretive and debilitating nature of bullying and the sharing of an inspired strategy for resolution which begins with empathy.
From What Happens Next by Susan Hughes, illus. by Carey Sookocheff
The story of What Happens Next follows a child who is bullied by another child at school with name-calling ("Weirdo") and hurtful comments and physical acts like blocking their way and shoving at their books.  Sadly, there are children who are bystanders who either laugh or ignore the bullying.  Even though the child who is bullied has many positives at home like a playful and loving dog and a caring parent, this child carries the burden of the bullying which affects their sleep and behaviour. 
From What Happens Next by Susan Hughes, illus. by Carey Sookocheff
Finally the child, encouraged by their love of books and science, feels strong enough to share with Mom what has been going on with Bully B.
What I Say about Bully B. When Mom Comes to Kiss Me Good Night:

What Mom Says:
That I'm brave for telling her.
That she's sorry I feel scared and hurt.
That she'll help.
But it's the mother's intensity of empathetic insight that should be included in every handbook on dealing with bullies.
What Mom Says Next:
That everyone has their own way of looking at things and people.  That each person's way of looking is made up of where they're standing and how they got there.  It's made up of what's in their mind, what's in their heart, and what's in their imagination.
From What Happens Next by Susan Hughes, illus. by Carey Sookocheff
And with that, Mom shows her child that, by sharing things they like with Bully B., they may be able to help change Bully B.'s way of looking. With courage and some trepidation, and ignoring Bully B.'s habitual meanness, the child tells Bully B. about genomes, water on the Earth's surface and Earth in the orbit around the Sun.
What's Different Now:
Not everything. But enough.
In fact, I'll let you read What Happens Next for yourself to see that enough is pretty darn good.

You'll notice that Susan Hughes' text takes on a form similar to a script with bolded directives and plain-text responses that gives an organic texture to the story.  In fact, when the child is being bullied or worried about the bullying, the text is very terse, like punches.  When involved with their books and the science within, as well as when Mom shares her insight into bullying, the text is softer, like blankets.  Illustrator Carey Sookocheff's artwork reflects this imbalance through her choice of colours and simple lines and shapes.  Everything is understated from her limited palette of pale grey and yellow with white, against grey-blue, green and red-orange to her simple scenes at home and playground.  But simple here is meaningful, as substantial as a careless case of  bullying.

What Happens Next is like nothing I've ever read for opening up discussions about bullying with our youngest readers to those in middle grades. To that end, Owlkids Books has created discussion guides for using the book with children. There is one for Grades 1-3 and one for Grades 4-6 and both are available at the Owlkids Books website. I encourage everyone, from educators and school administrators to parents and child and youth care workers to make What Happens Next a part of their programming to encourage meaningful lessons and dialogue about this perennial issue.


Copies of the illustrations from within What Happens Next were retrieved from Carey Sookocheff's website, specifically at http://careysookocheff.com/what-happens-next/ on April 9, 2018, as they afford clarity of image that my own scans of the book could not.

April 10, 2018

Wash On!

Written by Michèle Marineau
Illustrated by Manon Gauthier
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
April 2018

Though most of us wash off any dirt and colours that stain our skin, a little twist of words and fate have colour splotches washing onto little Petronilla in Quebec author and translator Michèle Marineau's newest picture book Wash On!
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Petronilla is known in her family to have "a talent for chaos" and probably more so when compared to her perfect sister Babette.  But nothing could have prepared her mother for the twist of process when colours from the washcloth during a bath begin to transfer to Petronilla's skin and then her mother and the whole bathroom.  Joyously, Petronilla continues to exclaim, "Wash on! Wash on! Wash on!' regardless of her mother's demands she say "Wash off!" When her father, Babette and dog come to see what's going on, the colours continue to transfer from one object to another.  Although the family thinks they'll just stay in the house until Petronilla drops her new mantra, no one could foresee the weeks that would pass as the child refuses to relinquish her powerful chant.
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Finally, the family visits the doctor who declares a case of acute coloritis, a condition so contagious that the whole planet becomes infected.  But, as lovely as all the colours are, everything blends in with everything else and no one can differentiate between objects. Even their dog is hard find except when his bark alerts them to his feeding time.  That is, until they can not locate him because there is no bark.  It is only then, when she is desperate to find their dog, that Petronilla changes her tune and finds "Wash off!" just as useful in enacting change in her home and around the world.
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Wash On! may be based on a silly situation in which colours are transferred rather than cleaned off but the story actually has several powerful messages hidden in that imaginative scenario.  First, Wash On! focuses on the joie de vivre of a world filled with colour. We all need a little colour in our lives, though some people need more and some need less.  But like anything, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, as everyone learns, including Petronilla.  Once the colours explode and there is no contrast and no way to differentiate objects, that joy is lost, like the dog, in an overabundance of stain.  Splashes of colour are wonderfully invigorating and therapeutic but excesses are debilitating and even harmful.  Second, Governor General award-winning author Michèle Marineau recognizes the power of children in defining the world and their need to manage their own circumstances.  Her family may think of Petronilla as chaotic but she seems to just want a hand in determining the life she will lead.

Michèle Marineau tells powerful stories in her native French language and this translation by Pajama Press's Erin Woods highlights that poignancy with merriment and spirit.  That same boldness is depicted with daring by Manon Gauthier's mixed media illustrations. Manon Gauthier, whose artwork I've raved about in Pajama Press's Elliot (Julie Pearson, 2016), All the World a Poem (Gilles Tibo, 2016), Good Morning, Grumple (Victoria Allenby, 2017) and Middle Bear (Susanna Isern, 2017), continues to do amazing things with gouache, pencil and paper collage, ever different and totally wonderful.

Wash On! may say a lot about living a life in colour but it also reminds us about moderation and having control over the lives we lead.  Young readers will laugh at the silliness of the family's situation but we can all learn a lesson or two from Petronilla and her splashy world.

April 06, 2018

Forest of Reading Kid and Teen Committees: Applications due April 20

Do you 💜 reading?
Are you in Grades 4-8 or in high school?
Do you live in Ontario?
Do you want to help choose books that other kids will want to read?

the Ontario Library Association's
Forest of Reading
has a committee for you!

Last year's Forest of Reading Kid Committee brought readers in Grades 4 through 8 together to talk books and produce an exceptional summer reading list for those readers of the Silver Birch and Red Maple reading programs.

This year the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading program is again asking students to apply to be on the 2018 Forest Kid Committee and on the inaugural Forest Teen Committee.

Who can apply?
For the Forest Kid Committee: Ontario students in Grades 4-8 (homeschoolers too!)
For the Forest Teen Committee: Ontario high school students

What will you do?
Come together at the Ontario Library Association's offices in Toronto with other readers to select 10-20 titles for a summer reading list. (Check out last year's lists here.) It's a full day of talking books, special treats and making new friends. And it's all about the books!

When will we meet?
Tentatively May 25, 2018 or June 1, 2018

Applications are due April 20, 2018 

Don't miss this great opportunity 
to share your 💜 of Canadian books!
The inaugural Forest Kid Committee was a huge success 
and I'm sure those committee members will be reapplying. 
 But you too can become a committee member on the 
Forest Kid Committee or Forest Teen Committee
and help your peers find great books to read.

Apply before the April 20th deadline 
for your chance 
to be part of something great!

April 05, 2018

My Teacher's Not Here!: Book launch (Burlington, ON) RESCHEDULED

Note this book launch, originally scheduled for April 15, 2018 
has been moved to April 28, 2018 due to poor weather conditions.  


Lana Button

would love you to join her for story time, crafts and snacks 

to celebrate her new picture book

My Teacher's Not Here!

Written by Lana Button
Illustrated by Christine Battuz
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2018


Saturday April 28, 2018

1:00 - 3:00 p.m.


A Different Drummer Books
 513 Locust St. 
Burlington, ON

From publisher Kids Can Press's website:
As soon as she arrives at school, Kitty knows there's trouble. “Smiling Miss Seabrooke should be here to meet me. But my teacher is missing and NOT here to greet me.” With no Miss Seabrooke, everyone should be sent home, right? But no! Kitty and her classmates line up as usual and walk into the school building. Kitty's worries build as she wonders how she will get through the day without her teacher. What will she do when her Thermos gets stuck or her jacket won't zip? Miss Seabrooke is the only one who can fix these things. Or is she?

Author Lana Button perfectly captures the fears and uncertainties of a kindergartner dealing with her first substitute teacher. She also models a way to cope, as Kitty steps up to help the substitute --- a “ginormously tall” giraffe named Mr. Omar --- and discovers that sometimes change can be good. Button's playful and lively cadenced rhyming text, together with Christine Battuz's friendly illustrations of a full cast of animal characters at school, make this a terrific picture book for story time. It provides an excellent lead-in to prepare a class for their first substitute, or for a discussion about how it feels when life doesn't go as expected. A celebration of self-discovery and personal development, this book also makes a wonderful choice for character education lessons on kindness, empathy and perseverance. Educators will appreciate the heartfelt depiction of a young child's warm feelings for her teachers.
Retrieved from 
on April 5, 2018. 

The Reckless Rescue (The Explorers, Book 2): Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Author of books for middle graders and young adults

Adrienne Kress 

is launching 

the sequel to The Explorers Book 1 
The Door in the Alley
 Written by Adrienne Kress
Illustrated by Matthew C. Rockefeller
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
305 pp.
Ages 8-13

The Reckless Rescue
The Explorers Book 2
 Written by Adrienne Kress
Illustrated by Matthew C. Rockefeller
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
384 pp.
Ages 8-13
April 2018 


Saturday, April 21, 2018

3 - 6 p.m.


Bakka-Phoenix Books
84 Harbord Street
Toronto, ON

From Penguin Random House Canada website: 

More mystery, more bravery, more danger, and one amazingly reckless rescue await in the second book in the Explorers series! The perfect read for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society!

Reader! Your attention is greatly needed. We have left things unresolved! What began as your average story of a boy stumbling upon a pig in a teeny hat and a secret international explorers society has turned into an adventure of epic proportions.

  *  The bad news: The boy (Sebastian) has been kidnapped by a trio of troublesome thugs.
  *  The good news: His new friend Evie has promised to rescue him!
  *  The bad news: Sebastian has been taken halfway around the world.
  *  The good news: Evie has famous explorer and former Filipendulous Five member Catherine Lind at her side!
  *  The bad news: There's still the whole matter of Evie's grandfather (and the leader of the Filipendulous Five) somewhere out there in grave danger.
  *  The good news: Pursuing Sebastian will lead Evie and Catherine to another member of the Filipendulous Five, who might be able to help!

This missive is a call to action and an invitation to join in mystery, bravery, and danger. There will be new people to meet, new places to see, and some dancing along the way. And one amazingly reckless rescue.

Retrieved from 
https://penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/534143/explorers-reckless-rescue#9781101940099 on April 3, 2018.

April 04, 2018

Harry's Hiccups: Book launch (Guelph, ON)

Guelph author

Jean Little 

 will be launching 

her new picture book 

Harry's Hiccups
 by Jean Little
Illustrated by Joe Weissmann
Orca Book Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2018


 Sunday, April 15, 2018

1:00 - 3:30 p.m.


Three Willows Church
577 Willow Road
Guelph, ON
N1H 7H3

Harry tries and tries to get rid of his hiccups. He tries drinking a glass of water upside down, he tries putting an ice-cold key down his back, he gleefully tries eating a spoonful of sugar. But nothing works!

In this charming picture book, written by children's literature legend Jean Little and illustrated by award-winning illustrator Joe Weissmann, Harry is afflicted with a case of the hopeless hiccups. It's not until Harry has a surprise encounter with a different sort of neighbor that it seems like Harry might finally get some relief...hiccup, hiccup...
Retrieved from publisher's website at 
on April 3, 2018.

The launch

will also feature

Maggie de Vries

with her newest picture book

Swimming with Seals
by Maggie de Vries
Illustrated by Janice Kun
Orca Book Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2018

Ally isn't able to live with her mother. Instead she lives far, far away, on the other side of the country, with her gram and great-aunt. But one summer Ally goes to stay with her aunt and uncle in the "big city by the ocean" and gets to spend time with her mom. While exploring the shore, watching whales from the boat dipping into the salty water, Ally finds out something important: her mother loves to swim as much as she does.

This is a very personal story. Ally is based on the author’s niece, Jeanie, and Ally's mother is based on the author's sister, Sarah, who went missing from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in 1998. Jeanie is like a seal in the water, and Sarah was just the same, but they never got to swim together. In this story, they do. Swimming with Seals is a story that was written for the thousands of children who long to live with their birth parents and will never fully understand why they can't.

Retrieved from Orca Book Publishers' website at 
on April 3, 2018.

April 03, 2018

Siuluk: The Last Tuniq

Written by Nadia Sammurtok
Illustrated by Rob Nix
Inhabit Media
28 pp.
Ages 5-8
April 2018

The Inuit stories about the Tuniit are of a legendary people akin to friendly giants.  They were considered to be immensely strong, massive in size and gentle in demeanour. It was not surprising then that Siuluk, a very large man of considerable strength who lived quietly by himself, should be considered the last Tuniq by his Inuit neighbours. 
From Siuluk: The Last Tuniq by Nadia Sammurtok, illus. by Rob Nix
When several of the Inuit men taunt Siuluk about his size and strength, he knows they are being mean but he responds with a challenge for them to lift a sheet of rock.  Of course, none can lift the massive rock except Siuluk who lifts it with ease and leaves his legacy in a message he carves into the stone.
From Siuluk: The Last Tuniq by Nadia Sammurtok, illus. by Rob Nix
Though you can read about the Tuniit in Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley’s Tuniit: Mysterious Folk of the Arctic (Inhabit Media, 2015) and in How Things Came To Be: Inuit Stories of Creation (Inhabit Media, 2015),  Siuluk: The Last Tuniq takes a different perspective on the Tuniit.  Nadia Sammurtok tells a very simple story about teasing and differences in which a man finds a straightforward but elegant response to dismiss his intimidators.  So while children will learn about Siuluk and his status as the last Tuniq, they will also learn that anyone can be ill-treated by others and still  handle that treatment with self-possession and poise.  Siuluk, who is given graphic life by American illustrator Rob Nix, could have hurt the men who teased him about his size and strength but instead he demonstrated his brawn in a quiet but impactful manner, and even left a message for generations to come.
From Siuluk: The Last Tuniq by Nadia Sammurtok, illus. by Rob Nix

The best part of this story is revealed in Nadia Sammurtok’s afterword in which she reveals that her father had been told as a child a story about a man purported to be the last of the Tuniit who'd allegedly lived close to Chesterfield Inlet in Nunavut.  In fact, there’s a photo of her father, Tom Sammurtok, with Siuluk’s rock.  So it seems that Siuluk: The Last Tuniq, which is also available in Inuktitut, may be a traditional story about the last remaining Tuniq from the oldest community in Nunavut but it’s all the more special for the evidence of its veracity and the life lessons it encompasses.

April 02, 2018

Krista Kim-Bap

Written by Angela Ahn
Second Story Press
176 pp.
Ages 9-13
April 2018

Everyone wants to fit in.  They want to be accepted by their peers and appreciated by their family.  And eleven-year-old Krista Kim wants the same.  Fortunately she has a best friend, Jason, who is a close as a brother.  In fact, he’s even better since he appreciates her Korean heritage, especially all the delicious foods, more than Krista’s teen sister Tori who strives not to be seen as Korean.  Sadly Krista’s very Korean grandmother adores Tori and doesn’t seem to appreciate Krista’s tomboyish ways or her friendship with Jason.

But everything starts to change after a classmate, Madison, invites Krista to her “Red Carpet” birthday party and Grandma takes Krista to a salon for hair, makeup and eye taping (to create the impression of a double lid) and Tori recreates a Korean hanbok for Krista to wear to the event.  Soon Krista is eating lunch with Madison and the more popular girls, and Jason, her dear friend who was like a part of the family, is relegated to her background.

Meanwhile, Krista and her classmates are working on family heritage projects and Krista decides to focus on the foods with which she is familiar.  But it’s her Grandma who makes the kimchi and kimbap and the authentic Korean dishes that she loves.  So, Krista asks her Grandma to teach her how to cook.
This food that all Koreans eat is in our hearts.” (pg. 124)
As Krista learns more about her heritage, particularly through its cuisine, she’s actually learning more about her grandmother, what it means to be Korean for all her family, and what it means to be a friend. 

Angela Ahn takes us into the heart of a second- and third-generation Korean family in Vancouver and gives readers a taste of a culture with which many of us are not familiar.  Kids growing up in families such as Krista’s will undoubtedly recognize the customs and traditions, the social relationships, and those distinctions that make being Korean different than other cultural heritages.  By making Krista’s heritage the background for her maturing acceptance of who she is and what friends she wants in her life, Angela Ahn has rolled this middle-grade novel into a special bundle of substance and flavour, not unlike the kimbap she learns to prepare with her grandmother.

March 29, 2018


Written by Ian Boothby
Art by Nina Matsumoto
Color by David Debrick
Scholastic (Graphix)
200 pp.
Ages 7-10
February 2018

Knowing the universal acceptance of dogs as heroes, a cat named August invents a robotic dog suit in which he and feline friend Charlie undertake daring rescues like saving babies from wells, children from tornadoes, and families from fires. The suit also helps keep August from touching the grass (a major phobia since an escape outdoors as a kitten led him to nasty testing at an animal lab) and keeps the cats anonymous from prying reporters and those who might disturb their comfortable lifestyle. However, unbeknownst to them, an evil genius in the guise of a baby named Princess is setting up accidents that require the rescue dog dubbed Sparks to leap into action.  It seems Princess believes that Sparks might be the dog that other animals, under the baby's control, would follow, allowing the heinous alien-infant to conquer the world.
From Sparks! by Ian Boothby, art by Nina Matsumoto
Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto, best known as veteran creators of The Simpsons comics, will delight middle graders with this hilarious graphic novel of cats banding together to achieve heroic deeds and fighting an evil baby.  Readers will be tickled by all the characters: clever inventor August, who plays the stock market and buys a house; Charlie, who lives life with enthusiasm and has a fondness for frolicking and attention;  Steve-O, the hyper-chattering squirrel; and the storytelling robotic litter box.  Even Princess who transmits pain via agony pants worn by her pseudo-parent minions is priceless as the koala hat-wearing brain who still needs diaper changes and naps.  Princess is as controlling and scary as any human baby, albeit with creepier toys, and it's so satisfying when (spoiler!) her errant ways are chastized by her real parents.
From Sparks! by Ian Boothby, art by Nina Matsumoto
Sparks! is a fun read that fights stereotypes of cats being self-absorbed, dogs being the heroes, and babies being innocent and safe. Moreover, it provides a sad commentary on the media that creates stories, not just reports them, and the ease with which they manipulate the stories.  In fact, Sparks! is really a story that turns the concept of control on its head.  Of course, young readers might not pick up on all those messages from author Ian Boothby but they'll love the story and Nina Matsumoto's bold graphics that blend the real with the fantastic.  It's obvious Nina Matsumoto knows cats well (a photo of the real August and Charlie in the dedication attests to this).  She gets the joy of rolling in the grass or the pose of the classic butt-lick perfect but then gives an imaginative angle to the technological wizardry and provides vigorous splashes of action and disaster.  The compulsory Zzzzzap! and Ka-Pow with an occasional Ssshhlorp!, Fa-dunk and Sproing add that touch of comic book flavour that kids will enjoy.
From Sparks! by Ian Boothby, art by Nina Matsumoto
I'm pleased that Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto (who will be attending this year's Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May) have left the cat flap open for a sequel to Sparks! as I'm sure the amazing duo of August and Charlie have more acts of heroism on which to embark, whether as themselves or in the costume of their canine superhero.

March 26, 2018

Timo Goes Camping

Written by Victoria Allenby
Illustrated by Dean Griffiths
Pajama Press
48 pp.
Ages 5-8
March 2018

It's wonderful to see a new Timo story from Victoria Allenby and illustrated by Dean Griffiths.  This early reader series tugs at my heart with each new story as the rabbit Timo learns new life lessons alongside his friends Bogs, Hedgewick, Rae and Suki.

Suki, the squirrel with the ideas, decides the group of friends should go camping.  Though Timo feels that adventures are "messy and unsafe and not at all sensible," he goes along with the plan.  However, he looks for advice at the Toadstool Corners Library, where it "smelled like paper and ink and comfort," finding good advice in a book called Camping is Fun.
From Timo Goes Camping by Victoria Allenby, illus. by Dean Griffiths
Setting out on their adventure, Timo puts his new skills to use in knotting rope, making a fire, and recalling all the lessons about canoeing and orienteering and more.  But, when little things go wrong, like a tent that won't go up or a dunking in the lake, most of the group enjoys a chuckle, though Suki's teasing and name-calling becomes tiresome to Timo who finally has to call her out on it.
From Timo Goes Camping by Victoria Allenby, illus. by Dean Griffiths
This lovely series of early readers returns an innocence and humility to children's early readers that we haven't seen since Peter Rabbit and Frog and Toad.  There are valuable lessons about friendship and self-acceptance and learning.  But, even more, Timo allows children to share in his learning about friendship and interacting with others, as well as the importance of reading.  From his first book, Timo's Garden (2015), and his second, Timo's Party (2016), the rabbit is learning how to deal with friends and his own insecurities which he is always able to put aside when he takes the opportunities to learn and gain insight from his experiences.
From Timo Goes Camping by Victoria Allenby, illus. by Dean Griffiths
As in all three of the Timo books, Victoria Allenby has made her characters so distinct that their roles in this camping adventure make perfect sense.  Hedgewick is named Chief Chef, Rae is Head Engineer, Bogs is the Toad of Tunes, Suki is the navigator (though more like the one who tells everyone where to go and what to do), and Timo is labelled the camp librarian.  Each has assets that makes the group work effectively, though I'm partial to Timo who wisely finds answers in books.  For an author to create a story rich in characters, atmosphere, plot and positive messages is an astounding achievement for any book but extraordinary for an early reader.  

The story is brought to visual life by Dean Griffiths' artwork, with its textural richness of setting and scene.  Dean Griffiths, whose art illustrates among others Bad Pirate (by Kari-Lynn Winters, Pajama Press, 2016) and Tweezle into Everything (by Stephanie McLellan, Pajama Press, 2013), knows how to adapt his style for an early reader, balancing the story, not becoming the story as it may, and rightly so, in picture books.  

Together Victoria Allenby and Dean Griffiths have made Timo Goes Camping a book that any child would love to take on their own camping adventure, as guide (see the illustration below about using a compass), insurance or pleasant diversion.
From Timo Goes Camping by Victoria Allenby, illus. by Dean Griffiths

Pajama Press has published a delightful readers' guide for Timo Goes Camping which is available for free download at http://pajamapress.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Timo-Goes-Camping_ReadingGuide1.pdf