December 27, 2019

Niam! Cooking with Kids

Inspired by the Mamaqtuq Nanook Cooking Club
Written by Kerry McCluskey
Inhabit Media
72 pp.
Ages 5-12
December 2019

Any time there is an opportunity to encourage children to learn basic recipes and acquire cooking skills is a chance to help youth become independent, feed themselves and others, and gain confidence in trying new things. For many, the holidays is a great time for cooking with children, whether it is baking cookies as gifts or to have at home for visitors or learning how to work in a kitchen and prepare meals for the family.  The Mamaqtuq Nanook Cooking Club, a weekly after-school program at Nanook School in Apex, Nunavut, kid-tested all these recipes to ensure hearty concoctions that were both tasty and fun to make.
From Niam! Cooking with Kids by Kerry McCluskey
The cookbook provides background on starting a children's cooking club, as well as a glossary of basic terms and measurements. The recipes cover seventeen dishes from smoothies and snacks like sandwiches, mini quiches, and palaugos, to main courses such as chili, bird fingers, jerk chicken, pizza and meatlove. Several sweet treats such as love muffins, and sugar and gingerbread cookies are also included.
From Niam! Cooking with Kids by Kerry McCluskey
Because the Mamaqtuq Nanook Cooking Club is located in Nunavut, there are some ingredients like the recommended seal or muskox meat for the ground meat in meatlove that may be perplexing to readers from away. But that just means that these recipes can be used as opportunities to teach young readers about cultural differences, bringing communities together. Community involvement is a big thing for Kerry McCluskey who finds ways to involve her own community in the club's activities. For example, an Iqaluit resident Joanna Awa talked to the kids about the importance of seals to the Inuit and a portion of this discussion is included with the meatlove recipe. Moreover, no worries if you don't have seal meat or ptarmigan in your freezer–Kerry McCluskey always uses generic ingredients like ground meat or poultry so that anyone can try out these recipes.
From Niam! Cooking with Kids by Kerry McCluskey
When people come together to cook, good things happen. Good food, teamwork, skills development, and confidence are all positive outcomes of cooking with kids. With Niam! Cooking with Kids reinforcing that premise while highlighting the specific efforts of the Mamaqtuq Nanook Cooking Club, children everywhere are encouraged to join these young Nunavut chefs in the kitchen and make a difference in all their lives, one dish at a time.

December 19, 2019

Runaway (National Film Board of Canada Collection)

Story and characters by Cordell Barker
Adapted by Sarah Howden
Firefly Books
Ages 8-12
October 2019

Cordell Barker's short NFB film Runaway was released in 2009 but its black humour and commentary on greed and self-importance will now reach a new audience of young readers with this adaptation to print medium. Though the 9-minute film has very little discernible dialogue, Sarah Howden's adaptation fills in the narrative about a cow walking on railway tracks when a train is left without its conductor.
From Runaway by Cordell Barker, adapted by Sarah Howden
Sarah Howden's narrative begins with a commentary about how uncomplicated cows are compared to humans who are "always up to something." (pg. 9) There are the wine-drinking, cigar-smoking and billiards-playing top-hatted rich men, and one lady with her black dog, in the first car behind the engine. In the next car with their livestock are the pointy-hatted folk who are crowded to the rafters and who pass the time with music and beer. In the caboose, three train crewmen sleep. As "They were all going about their business, no questions asked" (pg. 14), the little dog escapes into the locomotive. The Captain, not missing an opportunity to ingratiate himself with a rich patron, shoves back the fireman and is promptly bitten by the urchin-like canine. While the rich woman takes the Captain back into her chamber to tend to his wound, the train is left without a man at the helm. The train is now a runaway and all the more after the Fireman falls onto the levers when the cow is hit. (It's okay. The cow survives.)

As the Fireman searches for the Captain, the oblivious patrons continue with their preferred activities. The train loses its caboose on a wild ride down a mountain and destroys a bridge after passing over it but the worst is when there is insufficient fuel to get the train up the slope on the other side of the bridge. Will the passengers work together to find a solution?
From Runaway by Cordell Barker, adapted by Sarah Howden
How the story in the print edition of Runaway ends is up for interpretation though the cow does live to see a glorious sunset. The rich people do take advantage of the common people, promising them money for their clothes to be used for fuel, and then unhitch their car and take back the money. The Captain and lady and her dog eventually reappear and get caught up in the efforts to save the train. But how much can they do when a train is hurtling up and over hills out of control?

Cordell Barker's story takes the reader on an alarming ride of both a train without a conductor and a culture without goodwill. A little benevolence and the tale of this train and its occupants could have had a far different ending. But, with greed and self-importance overriding all common sense, this train is doomed. Regrettably, Runaway is a stark metaphor for our narcissistic world, even more so than in 2009, by reflecting a society that emphasizes taking care of the self before all else. Only the Fireman can see the need to put self aside but even he cannot prevent the disaster when all work against the whole and think only of the self.
From Runaway by Cordell Barker, adapted by Sarah Howden
As in any graphic novel, the art helps tell the story. The art in Runaway is strong in its depiction of the different classes of people, with the rich in their train car decorated in rose with food artwork and the commoners in their earthy-coloured attire living with their food animals. Even the conductor, expecting to be called Captain, aspires to more in his highly-decorated bicorn hat and jacket festooned with golden epaulets. But the art also tells us what the Fireman is thinking, how the cow conducts herself as she needs, and that the rich on the train take glee in taking advantage of the poor and even delight in their demise.

Because Cordell Barker uses dialogue sparingly in the short film, Sarah Howden needed to "fill-in-the-blanks" for young readers for whom the complexity of the circumstances might not be evident. They will understand the story, just as they might understand a fairy tale, but to give them insight into the greater picture of Runaway, Sarah Howden highlights the humans' actions from a distant perspective, trying to understand what they do and why, all which will help explain the outcome of the story. Her words give landscape to the story without explaining everything, allowing young readers to apply their own visual literacy skills and interpretation to the allegory of what can go wrong when self and greed override all.


The original short film is available on the NFB's YouTube channel at and is an accomplishment of movement, tension and social statement. Just be prepared: it's only a happy ending for the cow in this version.

Uploaded by NFB to YouTube on May 26, 2017.

December 18, 2019

The Three Spartans

Written by James McCann
Crwth Press
160 pp.
Ages 8-12
October 2019
"This is our war!" I yelled, pumping my fish in the air. "It's our turn to take back our freedom! No more are we the weak children alone in the water park, fearing the Immortals. Today, we are warriors. Today, we are Spartans!" (pg. 64)

The Spartans may have fought the Athenians and the Persians in ancient Greece but their legacy is valiantly upheld by Art and Lea as they come together in Birch Bay to challenge rich kid and bully Zeke for the freedom to enjoy the local water park and private beach.

Summers for Art and his parents have meant visiting the family cabin at Birch Bay and, for Art, enjoying the friendship of local and year-rounder Lea. The kids have their routines of exchanging books at the bookshop, eating at the Fish Shack and playing video games. This summer, they're playing Zero A.D., a game which Art's dad helped develop about ancient Greece. The two kids, lovers of ancient history, are all into the game and Lea even shares with other kids how to get onto the game's server. After Art is humiliated at the local water park when a video of him throwing up at another water slide is revealed and Zeke makes sure to share it with everyone, Art finds solace in playing Zero A.D. That is until Zeke too gets onto the game, building an army of Persians, and threatening Art and Lea's dominance. 

When they challenge Zeke to a game of environmentally-friendly paintball with the local tree house as the target for Art and Lea to defend against Zeke, the kids hope to win back access to the water park and a private beach without Zeke impeding who is allowed in. Wearing colourful helmets adorned with crests of feathers, just like the Spartans, Art and Lea are joined by another local, George, and other kids tired of being bullied by Zeke. Unfortunately Zeke has likewise added to his army mostly with kids who want to stay on his good side. With so many players, many of whom are unknown to Art and Lea, it's hard to tell who to trust and how to stay safe.

The Three Spartans is about taking on a challenge to defeat an enemy but, by basing the story on the ancient history of the Spartans and blending it with a video game and paintball, BC author James McCann has translated it into a contemporary conflict with which middle-graders will be familiar. They know bullies and being embarrassed and being afraid of colossal water slides and gossip and viral videos and gaming. They get jealous when friends spend time with other friends and when some kids think they can do whatever they want. They know how to do things under the radar of their parents but also know when to enlist the help of an adult. And they know about making mistakes. Told in their voices, The Three Spartans will speak to them about being kids and managing bullies and life's challenges, sometimes with a trashcan lid as a shield and a feathered paintball helmet.


A book trailer for The Three Spartans was posted by publisher Crwth Press at

Uploaded by Crwth Press to YouTube on October 17, 2019.

December 17, 2019

And Then the Seed Grew

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2019

Above ground, a seed falls onto the soil and, observed by a green sprite and a gnome, begins to grow. But its impact below ground is as impressive as what the world sees sprouting above for And Then the Seed Grew is as much about a plant's life cycle as it is about community.
From And Then the Seed Grew by Marianne Dubuc
In a garden above ground live little Jack and Mr. Gnome, though the inhabitants below ground–Yvonne the mole, the Field Mouse family, Paulie the earthworm and Colette the ant–often make their way up there too. When a new seed begins to grow, it sends its root into the bathroom of the mole's home–she has a multi-chamber abode–and blocks Colette's path. Though Yvonne sets to work with her tools to repair the damage, the root continues to grow, repeatedly blocking the ants' paths and even interrupting Susie's birthday party at the Field Mouse home.

The below-ground animals are not pleased with the changes they have to make and are exhausted in trying to deal with the encroaching plant. Yvonne can no longer use her bathroom, the Field Mouse family have to move and the ants are dizzy with the detours they've had to make. Even Mr. Gnome is impacted by the growth of the plant's stem and leaves and now yellow flowers, all virtually trapping him in his house. At an emergency meeting, they agree to cut the plant down. That is, until little Jack helps them see the plant's value in shade, in sight lines and in its newly formed fruit.
From And Then the Seed Grew by Marianne Dubuc
Teachers will find And Then the Seed Grew a charming way to teach a plant's life cycle. From the breaking of the seed coat to the first root and leaves to the flowers and fruit and then seed again, young readers will learn about how a plant grows. And though there are supernatural elements–I have yet to see a sprite or gnome around my tomato plants–there are important lessons about the interrelationship of living things and the complexity of ecosystems below ground. Marianne Dubuc's cutaway illustrations make a segment of the natural world, albeit a fantastic one, up-close and revelatory. But there is so much more to And Then the Seed Grew than just a science lesson.

Marianne Dubuc's story, originally published in French as Le jardin de Jaco (2018),  does much to support Ralph Waldo Emerson's idea that a weed is but a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. All the creatures of this community are feeling the impact of a new arrival, so different than anything they've known, but they all benefit from its presence, not the least of which is the building of that community to one of friendships. I know it's just a tomato plant and just a few mythical and some earthly creatures, but And Then the Seed Grew could be an allegory of accepting new members into our community who may be unfamiliar and even initially unsettling because of our own perceptions of their impacts. But, the creatures of And Then the Seed Grew recognize in time that with tolerance comes fruitful blessings. It's a universal lesson of acceptance.
From And Then the Seed Grew by Marianne Dubuc

December 16, 2019

Totsapalooza: 12th Annual Festival (Toronto, ON)

Need a Christmas gift for children 
that is fun, literary, interactive and more?

Get your Early Bird tickets before they sell out 
–they always seems to do so–


Small Print Toronto's

annual kids' festival of books, music and crafts


Saturday, February 1, 2020

 2:00 -4:00 p.m.


783 College St.  (at Shaw)
Toronto, ON

Early Bird Prices:
$10 for adults
$5 for kids

Regular Prices:
$15 for adults
$10 for kids
Free for non-walkers ages 0-2 (who will not be participating in crafts)

Activities and guests include:

Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford who have adapted their hit CBC-Kids TV show Scout and The Gumboot Kids into a set of four picture books which they will launch with Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Jessie Farrell and full-sized mascots of the show's stars, mouse duo Scout and Daisy;
Gumboot Kids Nature Mysteries:
The Case of the Growing Bird Feeder
The Case of the Story Rock 
The Case of the Wooden Timekeeper
The Case of the Vanishing Caterpillar
by Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford
Firefly Books

● author James Gladstone and illustrator Gary Clement who will present their  new picture book My Winter City;
My Winter City
Written by James Gladstone
Illustrated by Gary Clement
Groundwood Books

• co-authors Susan McLennan and Mike Erskine-Kellie who will present their upcoming debut picture book I Got You A Present!;
I Got You a Present!
Written by Mike Erskine-Kellie and Susan McLennan
Illustrated by Cale Atkinson
Kids Can Press

● drag performers and arts educators Fay Schlift and Fluffy Soufflé who are hosting and running their wildly popular, interactive reading program Drag Queen Storytime;

music by indie-folk singer-songwriter Pete Moss;

● city-building project Mouse City will let kids create a city within a valley out of craft materials and recyclables;

Wanda’s Pie-in-the-Sky pop-up bakery will be selling healthy, handmade snacks; and

books for sale and signing by authors and illustrator will be available.

Be sure to get your tickets before they are sold out 
(and sold out they will be!) 


December 11, 2019

When Molly Drew Dogs

Written by Deborah Kerbel
Illustrated by Lis Xu
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
September 2019 

On the night before the first day of school, a pack of stray dogs moved into Molly Akita's head.
Deborah Kerbel's story of a little girl's anxiety manifesting as a pack of dogs is both gripping and reasonable, especially as the dogs are both her distress and her salvation.

From When Molly Drew Dogs by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Lis Xu
Like anxiety, the dogs make their way into her thoughts and her sleep, "restless, they scratched at her brain, begging to be let out." So Molly drew the dogs, everywhere and all the time. "When Molly drew dogs, her heart sat up and smiled." But her art was not always appreciated, especially by her teacher Ms. Shepherd who believed Molly needed to focus on her work and restrict her drawing to art class.  Even her after-school tutor demands that no dogs be allowed when Molly's math problems became drawings of dogs.

From When Molly Drew Dogs by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Lis Xu
Distraught, the child runs away, knowing that "she couldn't erase them, even if she wanted to." Getting lost, Molly finds shelter from the rain in a garden shed and uses her chalk to draw her dogs. But she does more than draw the dogs. She gives them life and concerns herself with their well-being, giving them coats so they aren't cold, as she is, and food, as they were all probably hungry like Molly. The dogs don't nip at her or attack but rather curl up and give her solace. Moreover, when discovered the next morning by her teacher, Molly learns that a pack of dogs in coats had chased off a robber in the neighbourhood and finally Ms. Shepherd realizes the inherent value of Molly's dogs to the little girl.

From When Molly Drew Dogs by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Lis Xu
It's an apt metaphor to use dogs as an expression of anxiety.  Dogs can be demanding and relentless with their need for attention and care but, on the flip-side, they are companionable and comforting and even inspiriting. Deborah Kerbel's text is astute but profound, recognizing the immensity of Molly's distress and lack of control over her anxiety until she tends to her "dogs" as a coping strategy. By caring for them, she tames them and they abide by her needs, not their own, and offer her safety.

Toronto artist Lis Xu's illustrations, soft and understated in pencil crayon, give Molly's story a delicate texture that reminds us that this is a child's world.  It's a world in which the dogs may be very real or completely imaginary, not unlike her worries and angst. At night the dogs are smoky dark–and aren't worries always worse through the night?–but by day they are pink and yellow, blue and orange. That is, until Molly takes care of them in the garden shed and the dogs are all in comforting shades of brown. In other words, the dogs become as real as Molly needs them to be.

Molly's anxiety, like that of many, is a debilitating disorder that interferes with her daily life. It's affecting her sleep, her learning, and her interactions with others. Her anxiety is real. But she has found a way to cope with that anxiety and that includes drawing dogs and ultimately embracing them as protection.  By acknowledging them and accepting them as friend not antagonist, she will survive and do much better when others recognize her coping strategy as effective for her.

December 09, 2019

My Story Starts Here: Voices of Young Offenders

Written by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books
224 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2019
Reviewed from advance reading copy

Deborah Ellis's opening words "There but for the grace of God go I" from John Bradford are prophetic ones that resonate throughout her latest young adult non-fiction book as young offenders, recent and not, and others unmask family histories, criminal offences and misdeeds, judgements and outcomes. They are stories that could be anyone's but these are their own voices, told as they lived or recall, and they deserve to be heard.

Over twenty young people, named only by their first name and age, were interviewed by Deborah Ellis, a process which she explains in her introduction. Their stories include domestic abuse, poverty, addictions, bullying, foster care, loss, mental health struggles and family dysfunction. Their stories are as diverse as the individuals profiled and we learn a lot about each person beyond the crimes that drove them into the criminal justice system. But there are the crimes, from theft to assault, vandalism and arson, and trafficking of drugs and weapons. Still Deborah Ellis gives these young people the opportunity to explain. To explain where they came from, what they were thinking, what they were feeling, and how justice may or may not have been served. Many are hopeful, trying to see beyond their pasts and their pains and their crimes, and make futures for themselves and their families for which they might be proud. They're not perfect, but then none of us are, and some minimize their responsibilities for choices made while others own their decisions and circumstances.
I don't know if I'll ever get rid of the pain I'm carrying. Maybe I can turn it into something not so heavy. (Lindy, 19)
But Deborah Ellis does more than just give voice to these young offenders. She offers background information about anger, foster care, abusive relationships, witnessing abuse, restorative justice and the importance of a high school diploma. In a question accompanying each young offender's story, she makes the reader think about how they might address the issues which these young people have experienced and makes suggestions about how to make things better in her "Taking Steps" sections. Still the best advice often comes from the young people themselves.
That little thing that's in the back of your head, that says, "Don't do this!"? Listen to it the first time. (Beth, 19)
In addition to the twenty plus young people she highlights, Deborah Ellis also gives voice to past offenders and those who work with young offenders–these are each identified as a "Voice of Experience"–and family members of offenders. Their perspectives, from the distance of time and the other side of the justice system and from the heartfelt viewpoint of family, give different frames of reference to the hardships with which these young people have been dealt or are dealing. 

Deborah Ellis has always sought justice in letting those whose voices are rarely heard speak freely. From Three Wishes (2004) and Off to War (2008) to Kids of Kabul (2011) as well as Looks Like Daylight (2013), Deborah Ellis has let us hear what Palestinian and Israeli children, children affected by AIDS, soldiers' children, Iraqi refugees, and Indigenous kids have to say. She holds true what Maya Angelou acknowledges so eloquently in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

With My Story Starts Here, Deborah Ellis has released the untold stories of young offenders and hopefully provided them with another step forward to healing.

December 05, 2019

AlphaBit: An ABC Quest in 8-bit

Written by Chronicle Books
Illustrated by Juan Carlos Solon
Chronicle Books
36 pp.
Ages 2-5
August 2019

Most concept books like those that teach the alphabet struggle to find a unique theme on which to hang that instruction.  But AlphaBit is like no other alphabet book, embedding the teaching of the letters and words that start with those letters in some classic video/arcade game scenarios. It's a trip down memory lane for many and, for young children, it will a new and fresh design motif that links with technology without the complications.
From AlphaBit, illus. by Juan Carlos Solon
For each of the twenty-letters, displayed in large yellow font, common words like apple, banana and castle are posted in a text box. Chronicle Books may have created the lists of words for each letter, but it is Toronto's Juan Carlos Solon, video and gaming artist as well as illustrator, who gives the context for the words. The illustrations, reminiscent of old video games, display indoor and outdoor settings to showcase the words and more. Up to six words may be listed but many more words are illustrated for children to discover. For example, for the letter B, the words bird, bed, banana, buttons and barrels are posted but in the illustration, children will also find books, bowl, bookcase, bell, and bear.
From AlphaBit, illus. by Juan Carlos Solon
The pixel art, so much like the old 8-bit devices, is currently very trendy. You can find online pixel art generators and apps that help anyone create pixelated art. But Juan Carlos Solon goes beyond just illustrating "things" and designs complex scenes in which those alphabet objects are inserted, all based on a quest. From the first double-spread for letters A and B which depicts where the protagonist lives, to stepping outside and discovering a treasure map, our hero embarks on a quest to locate a diamond. There are obstacles from robot enemies and rope walkways over swamps, to ghosts and invaders. And as our hero advances, reaching the diamond, the story finishes off with an X-cellent! Yay! Zoiks! Or does it? Is the quest ever really over?
From AlphaBit, illus. by Juan Carlos Solon
Since everything old–or should I say retro?–is new again, young kids will love sitting down with AlphaBit as much as the adults who will be reminded of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders from forty plus years ago. I don't know if young children will be familiar with these classic video games but if the Press Start font and Juan Carlos Solon's graphics don't get them curious about them, then hopefully they'll at least enjoy a quest of alphabet discovery.

December 04, 2019

Second Story Press: 30th Anniversary and Contest

Second Story Press has been celebrating 30 years of publishing children’s fiction, nonfiction and picture books, along with young adult and adult fiction and nonfiction. They've championed feminist rights and social justice stories from the onset. Their books have been honoured with many awards and accolades and they continue to produce outstanding series like Janet Wilson's Kids Are Making a Difference and their Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers as well as a diverse collection of titles for all ages. While I have not been able to review all the children's and YA books from Second Story, I have reviewed quite a few in the last few years including:

If you have a favourite, you might want to get in on Second Story Press's social media contest, another part of their 30th anniversary celebrations.

What do you have to do?
Post on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (using the hashtag #SSP30Years) a photo of your favourite book from Second Story Press and why you love it

Until 11:59 p.m. on December 13, 2019

Open to Canadian and American of legal age (sorry young readers!)

Full contest rules are posted here

Also part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, Second Story Press has asked ten guests to share their favourite books. I was honoured to be one of these ten individuals and share with you below the posts that Second Story Press sent out on December 2, 2019.

Read my original review of Stolen Words by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard at

Happy 30th Anniversary, 
Second Story Press! 

December 03, 2019

Sounds Like Christmas

Written by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
October 2019

Christmas should be a time of love and giving and family and celebration. But for many this seasonal holiday is a time to consume and outdo others in gift-giving and in displays of lights and such.  In Sounds Like Christmas, Robert Munsch with his celebrated illustrator, Michael Martchenko, takes on the competitive sibling rivalry of Lincoln and Georgia as they decorate the family Christmas tree with an odd assortment of unconventional ornaments that create noise, each child trying to outdo the other in their selections.
From Sounds Like Christmas by Robert Munsch, illus. by Michael Martchenko
After Grandma, busy with her baking, asks her two grandchildren to get off their devices and decorate the tree, the two set to work with lights and garland, candy canes and balls. But when Georgia adds a raucous woodpecker to the tree, it sets off a competition between the siblings for bigger and louder. Lincoln adds his large sound effects key chain, and Georgia her talking doll. Lincoln adds the neighbour's barking dog and Georgia grabs her exasperated, and hence loudly yelling, Grandma and sticks her on the tree. The tree becomes a cacophony of
Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!
Bzap! Bzap! Bzap!
Ma-ma! Ma-ma! Ma-ma!
Woof! Woof! Woof!
From Sounds Like Christmas by Robert Munsch, illus. by Michael Martchenko
But before things can be put to right, their grandfather with his snow blower, both making a clatter, get perched on the tree top and Michael Martchenko displays it all on a double-spread that requires the reader to turn the book sideways to appreciate the vastness of the noisy tree.
From Sounds Like Christmas by Robert Munsch, illus. by Michael Martchenko
With their Grandpa's familiar threat to many children at Christmas about no presents, and most of the noisy "ornaments" quietening down, Lincoln and Georgie withdraw to the kitchen to do their own Christmas cookie baking, sure in their knowledge that Santa Claus is the one to bring gifts. A final illustration reveals a surprise for all except for Lincoln and Georgian, undoubtedly safely tucked away in their beds.

Robert Munsch brings the ridiculous to the ordinary as he has done in so many of his  stories, whether classics like I Have to Go (Annick, 1986) or newer titles like So Much Snow! (Scholastic Canada, 2016). Here he brings Christmas together with enlisting the help of children and just reveals what many of us have known all along. Getting kids to help out may be the hard part for some parents and teachers but it's not surprising to discover that their help isn't always as you envision it. Of course most people would not tackle a job as we might–and that doesn't make it wrong, just different–but by giving a story in which two children go to extremes to ensure an incomparable tree with audio, Robert Munsch gives us a holiday tall tale based in a reality we all know.

It's always a delight to see Michael Martchenko's illustrations accompanying Robert Munsch's words. For many, there is no other illustrator for his works. Michael Martchenko's watercolour illustrations know how to meld the real with the wacky, here showing us kids playing on their technology (their body language is so authentic!) and then displaying a grandmother hanging from the tree by her apron strings. Except for the odd assortment of vocalizing adornments, this could be anyone's Christmas, for those who choose and are fortunate enough to have a tree to decorate.

Happy decorating for the holidays!


A French language edition, Vacarme de Noël, is also available from Scholastic Canada.
Vacarme de Noël by Robert Munsch, illus. by Michael Martchenko    9781443175838

December 02, 2019

Nutcracker Night

Written by Mireille Messier
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Pajama Press
40 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2019

At this time of year, many families will be planning their annual excursion to a performance of the Nutcracker, a ballet scored by Tchaikovsky. Whether your child is fortunate enough to attend or perhaps even perform in it or not, Mireille Messier and Gabrielle Grimard's Nutcracker Night will bring the magic of that performance to the page and hence to every young reader.
From Nutcracker Night by Mireille Messier, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
A young girl delights in being taken to her first performance of the Nutcracker. From the Swoosh! of the cars and the Beep! Beep! of their taxi, their journey to the ballet begins with a subtle sensory burst. Her dress goes Swish! Swish!, her dad's shoes go Clip! Clop! Clip! Clop! and the two enter the  theatre, and get to their seats while the orchestra tunes up with a Pickle-dee! Zing! Boom! Ding!

Before the ballet has even started, the reader will recognize that Mireille Messier has made this event into an onomatopoeic exploration. The sounds of the audience and the orchestra are only the beginning because soon enough Marie (or Clara) is opening her nutcracker gift on stage and her brother Fritz is breaking it. When the clock strikes midnight with a Bong! or seven, Marie envisions the Christmas tree as colossal, and the mice and the soldiers begin their battle. After a welcome intermission, the Sugar Plum Fairy dances en pointe with a Takka-takka-takka, and the flamenco dancers and Mother Ginger and the polichinelles perform, before an ending that has the crowd applauding Bravo! Brava!
From Nutcracker Night by Mireille Messier, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Though the story of the Nutcracker, that of a young girl perhaps dreaming of a nutcracker come to life, is the basis for Mireille Messier's picture book, Nutcracker Night goes beyond a retelling of the ballet's premise. Instead it expands the many audible experiences of the performance and encompasses the whole experience from beginning to end of a special father-daughter occasion. There is the travel to the theatre, the audience's reactions and behaviour, an intermission of food, play and chatter, and an affectionate thank-you from a little girl to her father. And throughout, Mireille Messier invites a read-aloud with sound and expression.

Gabrielle Grimard's artwork, created with watercolour, gouache, oil, coloured pencil and digital media, evokes the magic and the affection of the experience for all participants. From the wide-eyed faces of the children to the action of the ballet, Gabrielle Grimard takes the reader into the theatre to watch, to hear and to appreciate the Christmas ballet.

Head to the ballet with Mireille Messier and Gabrielle Grimard's Nutcracker Night for a different kind of audiovisual experience and one that is perfect for the holidays. Like the nutcracker itself, Nutcracker Night opens up a tale for the season.
From Nutcracker Night by Mireille Messier, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard