March 30, 2020


Written and illustrated by Celia Krampien
Roaring Brook Press
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
February 2020

It may be raining outside but, with Sunny around, it's never dull and gloomy.

As all the children trudge to school in the rain "while the wind crawls up your sleeves and puddles soak your boats, making your footsteps squish and squash," Sunny sees the positive: she gets to use her big yellow umbrella.
From Sunny by Celia Krampien
Others might think it scary to be picked up by a huge gust of wind and carried high above the town but Sunny, with her joyful disposition, enjoys the feeling of flying like a bird.  And when she's flung above the sea, she enjoys watching the waves before she is dropped into a boat. Then when she's catapulted by a big wave onto a rock, she "thought things weren't that bad because at least she wasn't alone."

From Sunny by Celia Krampien
But, when her gull companion leaves her alone, it's the one moment when she almost loses that sunny attitude. Fortunately, he returns with some friends and rope and they carry her and the boat safely to the school yard.
From Sunny by Celia Krampien

Now, most people would say that being late for school was a bad kind of situation.
But not Sunny.
From Sunny by Celia Krampien
Sunny may be the story of a little girl who goes on an amazing adventure that causes her to be late for school but it's really a story about attitude. Debut author-illustrator Celia Krampien contrasts the glass half-empty and glass half-full attitudes for each scenario which Sunny finds herself in. Most of us would see rain while she sees the opportunity to use her umbrella. We might see only distress but she sees joy in what she is doing and with whom she is spending time. Celia Krampien's signature colour scheme (see her website at highlights that contrast of attitudes of most versus Sunny. Sunny's yellow umbrella, rain jacket and boots stand out from the teals and turquoises, sometimes darker and sometimes lighter, of the rainy day and tumultuous sea. The balance of light and dark keeps the story grounded, never too cheery or dismal, and the right blend of imagination with reality.

In our troubling times when many are worried and upset about everything from illness to the changes in their routines and way of doing things, seeing the world as Sunny does would make it a whole lot easier to weather. She still gets to school in the end, just as we'll get through this too. It may be a different way than we had planned but, with an optimism like Sunny's, it may be more manageable.

March 25, 2020

Little Cheetah's Shadow

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Princeton Architectural Press
30 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2020

For most of us, our shadow is just something that follows us around when it is sunny and invisible when in the dark. For others, their shadow is something much more. It could be a companion, a sibling, a partner and someone that makes them better than when alone. These shadows, when absent, are truly missed. It's no wonder Little Cheetah is keenly aware when his shadow is not with him.

From Little Cheetah's Shadow by Marianne Dubuc
When Little Cheetah's shadow goes missing, he finds him saddened and sitting in a tree. When asked why he ran away, Little Shadow explains that Little Cheetah always gets to go first and always chooses where they go and then, to add insult to injury, Little Shadow's tail always catches in the door after they leave a shop.

From Little Cheetah's Shadow by Marianne Dubuc
Little Cheetah vows to change things and experiences what it has been like being Little Shadow, including his shadow's reluctance to enter the dark where he disappears. With a flashlight and sticking together, they are able to face the dark. Together they are better.

From Little Cheetah's Shadow by Marianne Dubuc
I'm always charmed by Marianne Dubuc's stories and her artwork. Though her characters are often animals such as cats or mice or lions and birds, she seems to see the world as young children might. In Little Cheetah's Shadow, the characters may be cheetahs but they are children at heart, children who aren't aware of how others perceive their actions or that their actions may actually be unintentionally harmful. Given an opportunity to show empathy and do what's right, Little Cheetah is happy to do so, learning first from Little Shadow's perspective before helping develop solutions that can work for them both.

Using pencil crayons and watercolours, Marianne Dubuc gives us a child-like glimpse at Little Cheetah and Little Shadow's world. The house is homey with its curtains, plants and furnishings, the town and its inhabitants adorable–bunny dad strolling with baby in a pram, a frog tipping his hat in greeting, and an armadillo going shopping–and the darkness oppressive without a light. It feels like a microcosm in which each part is important and contributes to the whole. Part of the wholeness is Little Shadow in Little Cheetah's life. With an awareness of Little Shadow and his perspective, Little Cheetah can ensure that his companion will always be by his side and not obscured in the darkness.
From Little Cheetah's Shadow by Marianne Dubuc

March 24, 2020

Kamik Takes the Lead

Adapted from the memories of Darryl Baker
Illustrated by Ali Hinch
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
April 2020

Young readers first met the sled dog Kamik in Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story (2012), and were then invited to follow the young pup as he got his first sled (Kamik's First Sled, 2015) and joined others in a dog team (Kamik Joins the Pack, 2016). Now he's all grown up and ready to take the lead.
From Kamik Takes the Lead by Darryl Baker, illus. by Ali Hinch
Jake has been training his own dog team for a year, under the tutelage of Akkak (uncle). Always ensuring plenty of rest and water, he lets the dogs run with his ATV for the summer. Then in the fall, they increase the dogs' load to teach them to trot rather than run full out. Jake learns to always check that the dogs are well fed and healthy, but also to treat them with affection. In the winter, Jake and Akkak take the team out on longer distances with a sled fully loaded with supplies.
From Kamik Takes the Lead by Darryl Baker, illus. by Ali Hinch
The team pulls well together and Kamik is a true leader, listening to and following commands, and Jake and Akkak know the team is ready for their first community race.

Darryl Baker, a teacher, is himself a dog musher and learned about raising dogs and training a team while growing up in Nunavut. His reminiscences about his dogs and training them are the basis for Kamik Takes the Lead and abound with the respect and affection he has for his animals. This story does not end with a win–in fact, the outcome of the race is never revealed–suggesting that it's not the end result that is paramount. What is most important is the process and the care Jake and his uncle extend to the dogs and the learning that Jake acquires that makes the endeavour a successful one.
From Kamik Takes the Lead by Darryl Baker, illus. by Ali Hinch
Kamik's story, in Books 1 through 4, all also available in Inuktitut, has been told by multiple authors, all based on the memories of community members in Nunavut. Likewise, several illustrators have helped bring Kamik to visual life. Though artist, Qin Leng, gave Kamik his original persona, Ali Hinch, another Toronto illustrator and designer, has replicated him in a similar style. In fact, with a quick look, I was sure the illustrator had not changed.  Checking out other books illustrated by Ali Hinch (here is the link for her website), it is evident that she honoured the original Kamik while staying true to her own style. The dogs may be a working team but they have spirit and individuality in their fur colour, morphologies and expression. They run, they rest, they eat and drink, and they are loved. Ali Hinch lets Kamik and his teammates take center stage but makes sure to demonstrate their relationships with Jake and Akkak and the land.

Let's launch Kamik Takes the Lead at the same time of year as Kamik and his teammates head out on their first official race and herald spring with cultural tradition, connection and kindness.

Kamik series of books

March 23, 2020

Rain Boy

Written and illustrated by Dylan Glynn
Chronicle Books
40 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2020

Rain Boy is not popular. When he's around, kids have to stop doing fun activities.
From Rain Boy by Dylan Glynn
But when the new child, Sun Kidd, arrives, everything is bright. She's very popular, especially at barbecues, at the beach and other outdoor events.
From Rain Boy by Dylan Glynn
Sadly, when Sun invites Rain Boy to her birthday party, something he'd never experienced before, the other kids freak out that he's ruining everything and shout at him, "Rain, rain, go away!" Sun Kidd is appalled by their behaviour and secludes herself in her bedroom while humiliated Rain Boy leaves. Then, "A storm began to brew."

At first the other children are negative and blaming, but as time passes, they "learned to live with wetness." They find beauty in the rain and puddles and natural world that comes alive with rain. And they find that "they were talking to each other a lot more."
From Rain Boy by Dylan Glynn
Eventually, Rain Boy, tired, peeks out, sees the world and the thunder and lightning stop. And even though there is still rain, it appears that people actually like having him around, and he is bold enough to go outside and play with other children.

Dylan Glynn is an award-winning artist of animation, illustration and fine art. In Rain Boy, the complexity of his art, rendered in watercolour, cut paper, pastels and coloured pencils, manifests in the emotional scenes and characterizations of Rain Boy and Sun Kidd who must be themselves, though they do attempt to hide away from others who label. There is anger in some illustrations, and brightness and joy in others. But when Rain Boy and Sun Kidd come together, something glorious arises.
So the next time you're feeling down and your world is dark and gray...
just look up.
Though Dylan Glynn's picture book is set for release in a few weeks, just in time for April showers, I think that it's a book we need to think about today. Many of us are trepidatious about something that is impacting the normal course of our lives. Some people are lashing out and showing insensitivity and selfishness when we should be extending kindness to everyone in these times of emotional thunderstorms and fears. Let's celebrate our differences not as challenges but as opportunities and come together to weather the storm as a united front.  And look up. Somewhere there is a rainbow.
From Rain Boy by Dylan Glynn

March 19, 2020

Teddy Bear of the Year

Written by Vikki VanSickle
Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
Tundra Books
40 pp.
Ages 3-7
January 2020

If you're trying to stay sane and safe indoors with your little ones, consider reading Vikki VanSickle's latest picture book and partaking in a few of Tundra's activities with your children's own hard-working teddy bears.
From Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle, illus. by Sydney Hanson
Ollie is Amena's teddy bear and he loves his job and being on call weekends and weekdays from 3 p.m. until after breakfast the next day. One night, a shining silver sailboat appears outside the window while Amena sleeps, and a grizzled old teddy bear named Snuggles a.k.a. The Snug invites Ollie to the Teddy Bears' Picnic, an annual event to celebrate the year in teddy-care.
From Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle, illus. by Sydney Hanson
With attention to his ABCs (Always Be Cuddling), Ollie gives Amena a hug and travels through the sky deep into the woods where teddy bears of all shapes and sizes enjoy treats, competition and some bearaoke. Then the awards are given out for exceptional teddy-care. From Boo Bear and Fang, to The Snug, teddy-bears are singled out for their dedication, nobility, and devotion. Certain he was just an ordinary bear, Ollie does not expect to receive one of the shiny stars. But he learns that
Even the smallest actions–a cuddle, a kind word, a hug–have great impact.
and is awarded Teddy Bear of the Year.
From Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle, illus. by Sydney Hanson
In these tenuous times, when we are all feeling a little anxious and need of some TLC, whether from others or ourselves, Teddy Bear of the Year reminds us that small efforts pay off in big rewards. And for children, the attention given to and accepted from any stuffie can mean the world between distress and comfort. Vikki VanSickle balances a message about these life-saving creatures in children's lives with the charm of their personalities and individual morphologies. She recognizes that Amena and Ollie are everything to each other and that surely deserves recognition.

Sydney Hanson, a new illustrator for me, knows what teddy bears mean to all. Her bears are snuggly and cuddly and diverse in their shapes and colours and attire. (I've checked out her portfolio at and she can even make scary creatures like ghosts and dragons look soft and caressible.) The art in Teddy Bear of the Year was created with coloured pencils and finished digitally, giving it both an intimate and a polished appearance that will draw young readers to grab their own teddy bears to see if they are depicted within.

Time to have your own teddy bear picnic and give out a few awards for perseverance, resilience and compassion while offering and taking a cuddle or two to make everything feel like it's going to be alright.
From Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle, illus. by Sydney Hanson
The free activity kit from Tundra Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada) is available hereThey also have activities for other books available on their website. 

March 17, 2020

My Name is Konisola

Written by Alisa Siegel
Second Story Press
176 pp.
Ages 9-12
March 2020

This is a story of generosity. Of how open-hearted strangers stepped into the life of a mother and a child. Of how remarkable coincidences, good fortune, and human connections rescued a young girl. And of how darkness became light. 

With this preamble, Alisa Siegel, a radio documentarian, begins the story of nine-year-old Konisola and her mother Abimbola as they escape an abusive situation in Nigeria and attempt to make a new life in Canada.

After an especially brutal attack by Konisola's uncle, their male guardian since the death of the girl's father, Konisola's mother stealthily grabs her child from school and they travel to Toronto. Their first bit of good luck comes when they meet Ayo, a fellow passenger, who gives them her address so they'd have something to tell the Canada Border Services agents. When Abimbola tells them "We need protection" and gives them the address, she is reassured that they will receive a notice about appearing before the Refugee Protection Division.

While staying with Ayo, Abimbola collapses and is taken to hospital. With Ayo's return to Nigeria, Konisola goes to stay with another woman who expects the girl to take care of the household and not go to school. After many weeks, Konisola contacts her mother's nurse, Colleen, and learns that her mother has advanced colon cancer. Though Konisola is ever hopeful that her mother will be with her soon, it becomes evident that Abimbola will never leave the hospital.

Colleen arranges for another nurse, Darlene, to take Konisola home with her. This is surprising to Konisola, as Darlene is white and already has her daughter Sara and grandson Kayden living with her. But over time, Darlene begins to feel like home.

As rife as Konisola's life is with worries of her ill mother and foreign living situation, some fortuitous circumstances ensure Konisola's safety, which is everything her mother wanted for her daughter. From meeting Ayo and then Colleen, and then Darlene, the right people found their way into Konisola's life. Her mother stays well enough to attend the refugee hearing and even make sure her wishes for Konisola's adoption are clear. At the hospital, Konisola meets Willson whose wife is also ill and this man, a retired lawyer, who was once the Children's Lawyer of Ontario, advises them through the legal adoption process.

From abusive circumstances in Nigeria to finding a new home with a new family, Konisola's story is one of angst and uncertainty. The child endures worries about her mother's health, the strangers in whose care she has been placed, the opportunities of going to school and being with other children and whether she'll ever be able to just be herself and a child. Imagine being a child and worrying that any pleasure you take in life, from play or laughter, is inappropriate. Even when she finally gets adopted–and there is a photo of an older Konisola and Darlene that proves the story is based in reality–she wonders, "Is it possible to find and lose a family at the very same moment?" (pg. 150)

Still Alisa Siegel, a true documentarian, develops Konisola's story with objectivity and distinction for her young audience. She tells it with accuracy from the perspective of a child who is often kept in the dark about adult problems but who shows the resilience and fortitude to endure.  I suspect Konnie has done well for herself, heeding her mother's sage advice:
Your present circumstances do not determine where you go, they merely determine where you begin. (pg. 133)

March 16, 2020

Rogue Princess

Written by B. R. Myers
Swoon Reads (An imprint of Feiwel and Friends)
294 pp.
Ages 13-18
January 2020

There is no greater power than the power of choice. (pg. 175)

Delia is a princess who lives on the planet Astor. With turning 18, she must now choose a prince to marry. In fact, princes from the neighbouring planets of the Four Quadrants are gathering at the palace, ready to win her hand, including Prince Felix, a military man from Trellium, Armano from Delta Kur, Oskar from the Kalasta Belt, and the lovely Prince Quinton. Though Delia knows the importance of her ancestry and the traditions of Astor, as handed down from Arianna, the first queen of Astor, she aspires to more before she weds. This leads her to reprogram her android seamstress Marta so that she might escape, changing into the uniform of the Queen's Guard and hijacking a patrol ship.

But Delia is not alone. Unbeknownst to her, Aidan, a kitchen chore boy at the palace, has just stolen a dagger he found in a prince's room and is making his escape too. Aidan too has aspirations, helping himself to small trinkets so he might earn the money to leave behind the Dark District of Astor where he lives with his cruel stepfather and stepbrothers, Drake and Morgan.

This is Delia and Aidan's introduction to each other and one that will change their lives. He eventually learns that she is Princess Delia but, because he never tells her the truth, she believes he is a prince's bodyguard and then her secret bodyguard. Ultimately she returns to the palace and he to his home to slave to his family but they are thrown together time and time again, each trying to help the other and growing closer in their affections and admiration. But neither is as they appear. She is not the pretty princess who wishes to don beautiful gowns and live away from her people in her glorious palace. He is not just a simple servant. Together the rogue princess and the mysterious boy find their way to something extraordinary for themselves and the planet Astor.

B. R. Myers' new young adult novel of speculative fiction is dense with subplots, with nasty, odd and charming characters–I loved Delia's sister, Shania–
A double stranded necklace of colorful shells hung to his waist...He strode away, the shells clicking softly.
"I like a man who is also a wind chime," Shania remarked smartly. (pg. 13)
and with fantastic settings that my measly review cannot accommodate everything. I'd love to mention the pirates, the six-handed man, the sandworms and the plot to overthrow the Queen but there just isn't the space. But I can tell you that B. R. Myers has written a dashing version of Cinderella in which the princess doesn't need to be saved, that the bad guys are sometimes the good guys, and love can flourish under the oddest of circumstances. And she does it with humour and attention to detail that immerses the reader in circumstances rife with absurdity and tragedy.
"...but I'm hoping you can join me in dessert later."
"Join you in dessert?" Delia had an image of sitting in a large bowl of cream and berries with Prince Felix staring at her from the opposite side of the rim. (pg. 131)
The blurb on the back cover of Rogue Princess accurately describes the novel as a "gender-swapped sci-fi YA retelling of 'Cinderella'" but it's so much more. It's a romantic read in which the girl and boy save each other and a planet and their people by choosing to make paths for themselves while still honouring those who created them.

March 12, 2020

Mulan: The Legend of the Woman Warrior

Translated by Faye-Lynn Wu
Illustrated by Joy Ang
Harper (An imprint of HarperCollins)
32 pp.
Ages 4-8

Mulan is a legend and versions of that legend have already hit the page and screen, with the newest, a live-action drama, hitting movie theatres in about two weeks. Though Mulan's story, that of a young woman who disguises herself as a male warrior in Ancient China, is an empowering one, it may not always be presented in a format for children. This translation of the legend by Taiwanese-born American Faye-Lynn Wu and stunningly illustrated by Canadian-born Joy Ang is perfect for conveying Mulan's story in a powerful but accessible way.
From Mulan: The Legend of the Woman Warrior, illus. by Joy Ang
The story begins with Mulan who lived with her family in a small village in northern China. When a decree comes from the emperor that all families must send their males to defend the country, Mulan goes in the stead of her sickly father and far-too-young brother. Dressing in her father's clothes, she joins the army, camping and travelling and battling their enemies. Always Mulan hears her family calling her name and knows she must serve to make them proud.

For twelve years, Mulan endures the hardships of a soldier, from battles to physical exhaustion and cold. She becomes a commander and receives accolades and treasures for her courage and service, all without her comrades or leaders ever knowing she was a woman.
From Mulan: The Legend of the Woman Warrior, illus. by Joy Ang
When the emperor chooses to honour her with an appointment to the high court, she declines, asking instead to be able to return home. It is at the celebration upon her return home when she reveals her gender to her fellow soldiers, reminding them that "One should not judge another by their appearance alone. When a pair of rabbits run side by side, can you tell the female from the male?"
From Mulan: The Legend of the Woman Warrior, illus. by Joy Ang
While Faye-Lynn Wu, the translator of Mulan's story, is not Canadian, the illustrator Joy Ang is Canadian born and an artist whose versatile work has graced picture books, animated TV shows, comics and video games. For Mulan, she relies on the earthy tones of woven fabrics, leather and aspects of natural world, with occasional reds and mauves to add a richness and an emotional element to her illustrations. Because the story of Mulan is so organic and palpable–a girl who becomes a warrior in Ancient China–Joy Ang's digital artwork reflects that reality. Still Joy Ang's shapes and lines are strong and authoritative, forceful and dynamic, and reflect the legendary warrior completely.

Consider introducing your young readers to the legend of Mulan via Faye-Lynn Wu and Joy Ang's picture book for a story that is perfect for them and honourable to a woman who did not let her gender stop her from doing what she chose to do for family and country.

March 11, 2020

Notorious: Guest review

Today's review was written by teacher-librarian Elizabeth Cook.

Written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Canada
312 pp.
Ages 8-12
March 2020

Gordon Korman has written another great book for children and adults alike.  Moreover, Notorious is a great book for both Canadians and Americans, as the story takes place on the island of Centrelight which sits in the middle of a river that bisects these two great nations and through which a border that zigzags through town equally divides it.

The story begins with spunky Zarabeth, known by everyone as Zeebee, and her dog Barney Two.  Zeebee inserts herself into the role of official tour guide to Keenan, the new boy in town, often focusing her tours on the history of the gangsters who used to run the island back in the 1920s and 1930s during Prohibition.  Zeebee’s stories about Al Capone, Myer Lansky, and Tommy-Gun Ferguson always contain a dramatic flair and seem to have direct links to every spot in town.  These gangsters were up to all sorts of criminal activities in their time, but it seems that contemporary life on the island might not be any more innocent.  Zeebee is convinced that her first dog, Barney, who was well-known as a town menace, was murdered by someone on the island several months earlier and it's up to her and Keenan to solve the mystery. 

Each chapter of this novel is written from a different character’s perspective, which advances the story in a fun way.  Gordon Korman uses both Zeebee and Keenan to narrate the majority of the story.  I always enjoy seeing how the different characters view the same event, especially when it is a teenager’s point of view.  Zeebee’s over-the-top nature lends itself well to some hilarious stories, while it was quite fun for me to see how Keenan reacted to his first taste of poutine.

Gordon Korman’s Notorious is a great story for students in the middle grades and up.  It is a story about friendship, fitting in, love of pets and, of course, tales of gangsters and lost treasure!  This story will keep you guessing from start to finish with many laughs along the way.  I do have one lingering thought however: if Zarabeth is a Canadian, shouldn’t her nickname be Zedbee? 

n.b. Teachers, you will find a character analysis of Barney One to be quite a fun endeavour with your class!

~ Elizabeth Cook is a teacher-librarian in the Halton District School Board. She is an avid reader and fan of Canadian literature. 

March 10, 2020

Cooper Clark and the Dragon Lady

Written by Valerie Sherrard
Illustrated by David Jardine
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
80 pp.
Ages 7-10

Cooper's friends Jared and Nina like dragons but Cooper does not. He just tries to avoid anything to do with dragons: movies, games, play. But when his regular after-school babysitter, Linda, takes a new job and can't look after him anymore and his parents suggest Mrs. Mulligan, it becomes a whole lot harder to deal with his fear.

Cooper's parents don't know what he knows about the elderly Mrs. Mulligan. Older boys Lenny and Matt have told everyone that she has a dragon with a pointy tongue in her basement and sometimes she lets it run free. So Cooper creates a web of lies to try to get out of going to Mrs. Mulligan's house.  When those don't work, the boy takes evasive actions.  In the end, after a series of missteps, Cooper learns a thing or two, including how to knit, and that all dragons are not the same.

Cooper Clark and the Dragon Lady is an early reader that addresses the power of the imagination to feed fears from gossip and rumours. There really is a dragon in Mrs. Mulligan's basement but it's a version that delights not hurts. Sadly Cooper, like most children, believes those who are older and might know better and this proves to be his undoing. Well, that and his fear of dragons that he doesn't share with his family or friends.

Tackling important issues in early readers is not always easy. You don't have the expressive illustrations of picture books that can carry much of a message or the vocabulary and word count of middle grade or YA novels to delve deep into issues such as anxiety and fears. So, for Valerie Sherrard to speak to young readers at their level of worry and the expression of that worry, she has accomplished much with Cooper Clark and the Dragon Lady. It's a short story that accepts that young children will have fears that seem outlandish to those who are older and that they will find clumsy strategies to deal with those fears. However, those fears are very real. But, with some support from others, and a dose of the truth, those fears can be reconstructed into something less destructive.

March 05, 2020

Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell

Written and illustrated by Selina Alko
Harper (An imprint of HarperCollins)
48 pp.
Ages 4-8
February 2020

Of course there is music in a book about singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. But Selina Alko brings her own music through her words and collage art resplendent with textures and colours. She tells Joni's story of music with her own.
Joni Mitchell painted with words.

Sitting at her piano or strumming the guitar, she turned the words into songs.

The songs were like brushstrokes on a canvas, saying things that were not only happy or sad but true.
From Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko
Beginning with Joni's childhood as Roberta Joan Anderson, Selina Alko reveals how a restless child who spent time dancing in nature, painting on her walls and creating melodies on the piano ("Rainbows tipped and jumped and skipped in her head") grew into the musician whose hauntingly emotive songs weave a tapestry of longing, environmentalism and home. After Joni's polio treatment, she continued to paint and also write poetry, while learning to play ukulele and finally guitar.

With a trip to a folk festival in Toronto, she began writing songs, performing and marrying Chuck Mitchell, to become Joni Mitchell.
There was a thunderstorm of feelings, anger and tears, and performing her own songs for the very first time.
Selina Alko makes Joni's life into a musical journey of experiences and events that fuelled each song. There's the plane ride from which she noticed the clouds, leading to the song "Both Sides, Now." And looking out the window on her New York neighbourhood she wrote "Chelsea Morning." Later Joni "painted her feelings" into "Big Yellow Taxi" when she saw the destruction of the natural world for buildings and cars.

From Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko
With each life experience and song, whose lyrics are embedded in the fabric of Joni's life, Selina Alko reveals the influences that made Joni the singer-songwriter she became. Countless recognizable musicians, including Mama Cass, Neil Young, Graham Nash and Charles Mingus, are showcased as being part of her story, influencing the creation of numerous albums.

From Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko
CBC radio documentarian Selina Alko stays true to her roots of telling stories about real things and real people with her new picture book, Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell. She tells it with honesty and emotional detail, evoking a story of creativity and musicality. But her storytelling, albeit biographical, is more than about a life's timeline. It is an expressive record of a musician's odyssey, filled with highs and lows, the mundane and the extraordinary, and the artistry. Selina Alko reflects that style of storytelling in her own words, packed with feeling and nuance, but also, perhaps even more so, in her artwork. The illustrations in Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell have depth of colour and shape. The darkness and lightness of Joni's music and the richness of her life are all there in Selina Alko's collage art.

A single reading of this picture book will not suffice for older readers who will want to explore the depth of influences and expression in Joni Mitchell's music, art and life but it will introduce young readers well to an iconic Canadian singer-songwriter who helped shape music with her art.

March 03, 2020

Be You!

Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Orchard Books (An imprint of Scholastic)
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2020

With words and art, Peter H. Reynolds is an inspiration of compassion, self-acceptance and living a good life well. In Be You!, which opens with a dedication to Stephanie Germanotta, the song queen of being yourself, Peter H. Reynolds will touch young readers with the positive message to be their best selves.
From Be You! by Peter H. Reynolds
My wish for you –
no matter where your journey leads –
is for you to always...
In a series of simple directives, Peter H. Reynolds implores the reader to Be take that next step toward being an amazing human being and to be curious, adventurous, connected, persistent, different, kind and understanding, and brave. He encourages and empowers and accepts that everyone needs different things at different times. It could mean spending time alone, or asking for help, or being patient, because good things take time. 
From Be You! by Peter H. Reynolds
With that openness to possibilities and self-acceptance, he assures that there will be love and you've got this one.
You are ready.
So...go ahead. BE YOU.
Be very, very YOU!
I know that Be You! is a children's picture book but it's actually an empowering and meaningful self-help book for all. Peter H. Reynolds reminds us to be hopeful and accepting of ourselves, knowing that, with time and effort and affirmation, being oneself is pretty good. His illustrations, which rely heavily on watercolours, gouache and ink (though I've read he will use tea and other liquids too!), are emboldening in their colours and line. Life is not for the faint of heart and Be You!'s illustrations remind us to be present and live boldly, even if quietly sometimes. Reading his books–I have reviewed Happy Dreamer (2017), The Word Collector (2018) and Say Something! (2018) here–have always touched me with their compelling but simple messages of goodness. For anyone who needs reminders that it's good to just be yourself and be hopeful of the outcomes, Be You! does that.
From Be You! by Peter H. Reynolds

March 02, 2020

The Dog Patrol: Our Canine Companions and the Kids Who Protect Them: Guest review

Today's review was written by teacher-librarian Elizabeth Cook.

Written by Rob Laidlaw
Pajama Press
52 pp.
Ages 8-12
April 2020

As a librarian in an elementary school, I can attest to how popular non-fiction books on animals are.  My shelf labelled “636.7 Dogs” is always empty, despite how many books I buy.  Children just love their dogs!  Who wouldn’t love an animal widely known as ‘man’s best friend’?  These lovable pets have long captured our hearts and we are curious to know more about them.

Rob Laidlaw’s book The Dog Patrol: Our Canine Companions and the Kids Who Protect Them goes beyond the traditional information of different breeds.  A well-known advocate for animals, Rob Laidlaw, wanted to not only explain how to care for dog companions but to educate readers about some of the dangers these animals can face.  Unfortunately, we may be unknowingly causing some of these dangers to our companion dogs and Rob Laidlaw is helping to educate his readers in hopes of making better informed decisions in the future.  One theme that seemed to resonate with me during this book is the need for dogs to receive the correct amount of activity.  If dogs are kept in a crate for too long, not given enough walks, or play time around the house, it can result in unwanted behaviours or health risks.  The text offers the readers excellent guidelines for proper care and a list of websites for more information to ensure man’s best friend is treated as such.
From The Dog Patrol: Our Canine Companions and the Kids Who Protect Them by Rob Laidlaw
Peppered throughout the books are inspiring stories of young children volunteering and advocating for dogs around North America.  These Dog Patrol stories help readers understand that any person can help.  A perfect example is that of Molly Matlow from Toronto, Ontario who at the age of only 6 years old has raised funds for a variety of animal protection organizations and helps to educate others about animal welfare.  Another Dog Patrol story that opened my eyes was the fundraising and awareness campaign of Brooklyn Bockelmann in Le Mars, Iowa.  She has worked to ensure that all fire departments in Iowa have proper canine and feline oxygen masks to help animals who were exposed to smoke in house fires.  Even the youngest of readers can’t help but be inspired to take action from these stories.
From The Dog Patrol: Our Canine Companions and the Kids Who Protect Them by Rob Laidlaw
This book is an excellent read for children who love animals.  It will help them to better understand all of the care a companion dog needs, how to understand the signals dogs are giving humans, how to find a reputable adoption centre, and so much more.  Many families may not be able to have a dog due to allergies or space restrictions, but they can still be a dog advocate like some of the children in the Dog Patrol profiles highlighted in the book.  I am sure Rob Laidlaw’s The Dog Patrol: Our Canine Companions and the Kids Who Protect Them will inspire readers to support animals in need in their own communities.
From The Dog Patrol: Our Canine Companions and the Kids Who Protect Them by Rob Laidlaw

~ Elizabeth Cook is a teacher-librarian in the Halton District School Board. She is an avid reader and fan of Canadian literature.