March 31, 2021

The Librarian's Stories

Written by Lucy Falcone
Illustrated by Anna Wilson
POW! Kids Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
February 2021
Though many young readers will recognize the name L. M. Falcone as the writer of supernatural mysteries like Walking with the Dead (Kids Can Press, 2005), Lucy Falcone has recently pursued writing emotionally-charged picture books like I Didn't Stand Up (Clockwise Press, 2018) that remind that what really counts, like justice and compassion. In The Librarian's Stories, it's humanity and literacy.
From The Librarian's Stories by Lucy Falcone, illus. by Anna Wilson

Though life in this town was once a typical one for children of play and birthdays, the greyness of war settles over the community in which a library is destroyed, scattering pages, words and letters out and away. Life is now one lived in fear, of long lines for water, of cold rooms without electricity, and sparse food availability.
Then one day there are spoken words sprinkled in the air from the local square. Papa may call the librarian who sits there reading aloud foolish but they stop to listen.
From The Librarian's Stories by Lucy Falcone, illus. by Anna Wilson
Without much food and only the cold and grey as backdrop, the child joins others watching from their own windows and tucked into doorways and against walls, all listening.

Her words carry me back...

Briefly, the boy remembers his birthday, with balloons and kites and even birds flying.
From The Librarian's Stories by Lucy Falcone, illus. by Anna Wilson
But even as he and other children and adults listen, the reality of their lives, from the danger of standing in open windows, tanks in the streets, barbed wire and marching soldiers, encroaches back in. Still the librarian returns and reads aloud.
From The Librarian's Stories by Lucy Falcone, illus. by Anna Wilson

Eventually the soldiers are gone and the town repairs itself, including the child helping by reading aloud himself. But the best thing to help the goodness return is the rebuilding of that library.
From The Librarian's Stories by Lucy Falcone, illus. by Anna Wilson
War and conflict bring hardship and destruction but it is often seen in terms of shortages, deaths and injury, and the ruination of structures. But Lucy Falcone reminds us that the extinguishing of hope offered through literacy can be just as traumatic. The librarian knows the power of words to renew and enliven, and her perseverance and determination herald the new spirit for the town. By choosing to show us what is impactful for a child, Lucy Falcone gives a perspective that is elementary but profound by contrasting the darkness of conflict with the light of literacy.
New Zealand illustrator Anna Wilson similarly accentuates the anguish of a community in strife with the brightness of children and the luminosity of stories. In The Librarian's Stories, she gets the tone right for transitioning the story from one of the grim reality of war to one of hope and brightness, and her depiction of darkened letters fractured from the library's ruins and of blue or white words wafting from a reading are especially telling.
Most readers know the healing capacity of books and words but The Librarian's Stories reminds us that they can do much to restore communities from trauma as well.  Without words, without stories, without reading, we are all desolate.

March 29, 2021

This House is Home

Written by Deborah Kerbel
Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2021

The concept of home has always been an important focus in literature: finding it, establishing it, cultivating it, holding onto it, and sadly even losing it. For some, it's ephemeral, fleeting in its nature, and for others it is the bedrock of life. For the families in This House is Home, it is both.
From This House is Home by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
Lily and her rabbit family live in a home that her grandmother says is "old and steady as mountains." But when a pair of suited foxes with clipboards approach Grandma about buying the house, she politely declines.
This house is home, and we'll live here for the rest of forever.
From This House is Home by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
Problem is that everyone else around them sells to the developers, and there is much upheaval as friends pack up and goodbyes are shared. And then the diggers arrive, flattening houses and trees, and constructing a road that like a "long gray tongue snaked toward our house, closer and closer, until it had pushed right up to our door. It didn't bother knocking."
From This House is Home by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
The construction workers might have placed pylons around their house but their house is now situated in the middle of a wide road of noisy, smelly vehicles racing past their windows. The impact on their garden was evident but also clear was the impact within their home: dirt, noise, irritability, and distress.
From This House is Home by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
But a solution to their problem comes to Lily, the artist, in a dream in which, "The road had melted into a sea. The cars had shrunken to fish. My house had grown sails." Their house would remain their home, just in a different location.

Having a development threaten your house, your home is a nerve-racking prospect. Undoubtedly it's a frustration of many whose abodes stand in the way of planning projects that look at the big picture and not the individual lives affected. The menace of the foxes' repeated efforts to get Grandma to sell are tangible, though she is always polite and gracious, but Deborah Kerbel's words focus on the calm and love inside the home and leaves the destruction and disquiet outside. Sadly, there comes a time when the outside encroaches on the inner sanctum of home. Still Grandma's strength of conviction that their house would remain steadfastly their home and Lily's problem-solving ensure that home will endure as such.

Illustrator Yong Ling Kang, who illustrated Tanna's Owl (2020), continues to charm with her watercolour art that adds the whimsy of a bunny family living in their home, having picnics, playing, knitting, and growing. She brightens those pages with all colours, saving the greys and browns for the mayhem of the construction, and gives fluidity to the story, indicative of the transitional nature of the house, with her brushstrokes and lines. As such, Yong Ling Kang's art echoes the joys and frustrations of Deborah Kerbel's characters from comfort through distress and back to buoyant.

This House is Home reminds us that home is more than a structure. It has roots that are grown of family, and, though it can change, as necessary, it carries the promise of steadfastness, even if in transition.

March 26, 2021

Malaika's Surprise

Written by Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
March 2021
Though Malaika is eager to invite a new little girl to play with her and her stepsister Adèle, she's not too sure about another new little one who is going to be born to her mother and Papa Frédéric around the time of Malaika's birthday. But, as the saying goes, the only thing about life is its unpredictability.

From Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
At school, she meets the new little girl, Malayka M., whose sadness is put aside by Malaika's friendship and kindness.
From Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
When the day of Malaika's birthday comes, it's filled with much celebration, but most special is the arrival of her Grandma who brings Malaika's peacock carnival costume (introduced in Malaika's Costume, 2016) from Trinidad. Malaika is excited to wear it to school for her party to which she is bringing doubles (I had to find the recipe for this) and cake but she is  disappointed when she learns that her Mummy, Grandma and Papa Frédéric now will not be able to attend as they rush to the hospital for the birth.

From Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
But, just because things don't go as planned doesn't mean that the day won't be special and full of surprises, both expected and unexpected.

Nadia L. Hohn who has given us three stories of Malaika, first dealing with her separation from her mother who had immigrated to Canada (Malaika's Costume, 2016) and then when she joins her mother and new stepfather and stepsister in Canada (Malaika's Winter Carnival, 2017) before Malaika's Surprise which brings new familial changes for the little girl. Regardless of the tenuous nature of Malaika's circumstances–missing her mother, living with her Grandma, adapting to a new country and new family–Nadia L. Hohn always embeds a permanence of caring family to scaffold Malaika's new realities. Even as the text changes from one rich in the island dialect, spoken so lovingly by her Grandma, to one melding English with the French of Papa Frédéric and Adèle, Malaika has adapted, showing resilience and openness to her new circumstances. Her empathy, so evident with Malayka M., helps her to appreciate that her new baby brother may bring change but it is change she can live with and even rejoice in.

Artist Irene Luxbacher, who has illustrated all three Malaika books, uses a blend of gouache, soft pastels and found papers to create wonderfully exuberant artwork that is as joyous as a Carnival, resplendent in colours and textures of celebration. In Malaika's Surprise, there is much to celebrate: a birthday or two, a new friend, a visit from a cherished grandmother, and a growing family. Like a Carnival setting, you won't know where to look first: at the costumes, the children's artwork, the expressive faces, the clothing, or the rooms' decors. It all invites the reader in to observe Malaika's life and learn how to be kind and adaptable.
From Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
Much of our lives, like Malaika's, involves change and a newness of circumstances. But what  Malaika's Surprise demonstrates is that, though newness and change can be stressful because of the anticipation of the unknown, the reality is often not as bad as expected, especially with the knowledge that others care.

March 24, 2021

The Bare Naked Book

Written by Kathy Stinson
Illustrated by Melissa Cho
Annick Press
36 pp.
Ages 3-5
March 2021

We are all different and we are all the same, and this new edition of Kathy Stinson's classic body book reminds us of this. It celebrates how we are all similar in our body parts of hair, eyes, ears, noses, arms, teeth, tongues, bums, genitals, navels, toes and more and yet our differences in these similarities make us all naturally unique. The Bare Naked Book uncovers, i.e., lays bare (!), all the body facts to help little ones understand their bodies' bits and pieces and accept themselves as they are.
From The Bare Naked Book by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Melissa Cho
With a wonderful parade of bodies, Kathy Stinson starts her picture book with the declaration that...
Bodies, bodies!
Big and small,
short and tall,
young and old–
Every BODY is different!
Her sentiment is reflected in Melissa Cho's illustrations of people of all ages, colours, abilities and sizes who undoubtedly are as different on the inside as they are on the outside. (Aren't we all?)
From The Bare Naked Book by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Melissa Cho
Then Kathy Stinson looks at different body parts and how they may be different or what they can do, whether it be seeing or not seeing eyes that can cry or wink, or hands "Washing, holding, clapping, folding, dining, signing."
From The Bare Naked Book by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Melissa Cho
With each body part comes a question to help young children, primarily toddlers and preschoolers, locate their own for themselves. This reinforces their understanding and begins the discussion about how we are the same but different. There are additional lessons in Kathy Stinson's subtle statements like "Whatever you call whatever you have, your genitals belong to you" and a reminder after using your bum for a toilet break to "Remember please to wipe–and wash your hands!"
Kathy Stinson's original The Bare Naked Book (Annick Press, 1986), illustrated by Heather Collins, garnered much attention for its unabashed naming of human body parts but its honesty has won legions of fans. This new edition uses some of the original text but there is much that has been revised, providing a contemporary outlook of our world. Enhanced with illustrations by animator and designer Melissa Cho, The Bare Naked Book now reflects fully the diversity of our population. There are individuals of all shapes and colours and abilities, healthy and not so healthy, decorated and scarred, and all wonderfully uncommon and common. Melissa Cho makes our bodies a celebration of boldness, in colour and shape, and helps to ensure that every child will see themselves and those important to them in The Bare Naked Book. I was impressed by the diversity of physical traits and implied attributes of religion, culture, gender expression and relationships rarely seen in children's books but integral in our beautifully-varied world. These include a woman in a burka, several persons with amputated limbs including one with a blade prosthetic, someone with vitiligo, and another with mastectomy scars. It's as Kathy Stinson culminates her book...
Bodies, bodies
To love and to 
So many 
From The Bare Naked Book by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Melissa Cho

March 22, 2021

Easter Morning, Easter Sun

Written by Rosanna Battigelli
Illustrated by Tara Anderson
Pajama Press
24 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 2021 

For those who celebrate Easter, Rosanna Battigelli and Tara Anderson will give life to your celebrations of hot cross buns, Easter egg hunts and family feasts. For those who don't, Easter Morning, Easter Sun shares springtime festivities that herald a new season of colours, freshness and connection of family and friends. So, we're all invited to enjoy Easter Morning, Easter Sun.
From Easter Morning, Easter Sun by Rosanna Battigelli, illus. by Tara Anderson
This Easter begins, as it does for many, with an Easter breakfast and hot cross buns which the mother cat has just pulled out of the oven. Then the family heads outside with their baskets, as do other families, for an egg hunt and to enjoy the spring: apple blossoms, a robin singing at its nest, a white duck and her ducklings on the water, and daffodils and grape hyacinths colouring the grass.
From Easter Morning, Easter Sun by Rosanna Battigelli, illus. by Tara Anderson
In rhyming verse, Rosanna Battigelli lets us join the diverse family of cats–mom is a white cat, dad is a jauntily-bereted cat of black, while little ones are grey, grey-striped, orange-tabby, and brown tabby–as they listen and watch and enjoy.
Easter springtime,
Easter buzz,
Easter chirping,
Easter fuzz.
They tumble and play, alongside a family of charming mice, until, to the evident delight of all, their guest, a dapperly-dressed rabbit with half-moon pince nez eyeglasses, joins them until it's time for goodbyes.
Easter sunset,
Easter light,
Easter bedtime,
Easter night.
From Easter Morning, Easter Sun by Rosanna Battigelli, illus. by Tara Anderson
Rosanna Battigelli delighted us with her debut picture book Pumpkin Orange, Pumpkin Round (2019), which was also illustrated by Tara Anderson, giving us a holiday-themed rhyme perfect for young children. They'll appreciate the rhythmic verse and repetitive nature of the text, sure to know the words after just a few readings. It's simple in its vocabulary but meaningful and comprehensive in its story. This is all the more so due to Tara Anderson's artwork created with oil-based coloured pencils and mineral spirits. There's a texture to her illustrations, from her medium to her technique, that emulates the grain of a blanket or the grass, the water or the cats' fur. What's more, her cats never fail to bring joy and smiles from their expressions and antics, and now we have mice from Tara Anderson that do likewise.

It doesn't matter if you celebrate Easter or not because Easter Morning, Easter Sun will take you into one cat family's festivities to partake in their traditions–you can even decorate your own eggs with the recipe provided–and rhyme along as they enjoy their day.
From Easter Morning, Easter Sun by Rosanna Battigelli, illus. by Tara Anderson

March 19, 2021

Your House, My House

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Kids Can Press
24 pp.
Ages 3-7
October, 2020
Now, when our homes are more important than ever, being our places of safety and comfort, sometimes our schools and our workplaces, our gyms and our doctors' offices, Your House, My House from the incomparable Marianne Dubuc reminds us how much our homes really mean to us.
This is 3 Maple Street and there is so much life here. The text may be focusing on Little Rabbit whose birthday it is but it's what's going on in and around the apartment of four floors that makes for a bigger celebration of life. So while Little Rabbit prepares invitations and bakes his cake with Mama Rabbit and little sister Lily, multiple stories evolve in and around the homes at 3 Maple Street.
From Your House, My House by Marianne Dubuc

There's a phone call from Mr. Fox asking if Mama Rabbit can watch Little Fox but it's Marianne Dubuc's intricate illustration, with an empty nursery and a very pregnant Mrs. Fox, that hints at what is really going on with that family. Then there's the Cat family moving in and everyone–Rabbits, Mice, Hedgehogs–helping. There's Mr. Bear who is sick in bed, but who pops downstairs to drop off his gift, while Mr. Owl returns from his nightly ventures and heads to bed. And there's a trio of mice up to no good while their parents help their neighbours. (Did I mention a golden-haired little girl making herself at home at the Foxes while a wolf searches for a red-caped little one, and three little pigs come visiting too? Seems there's a fairy tale or three making themselves at home in the neighbourhood as well.)

From Your House, My House by Marianne Dubuc
I was especially looking forward to what was happening with the Hedgehogs as Little Hedgehog crosses off dates on a calendar labelled "Papa," anticipating the return of his father. And there's even a little drama in the tree above the moving van as parents seek worms and a little one leaves the nest for the first time.
From Your House, My House by Marianne Dubuc
Ah, but there's so much happening at 3 Maple Street and most of the fun of Your House, My House is looking into each apartment and on the street and on the stairs and in the trees to see everything. (It's like looking into the homes of Zoom meeting participants.) The details on characters' faces and in the apartment decors tell more of the story and become a treasure hunt for young readers (and perhaps a lesson in visual literacy for their teachers). From the little bird covering its ears from squawking parents, the ear plugs used by the sleeping owl, or the little attic ghost that grabs the postal worker's hat, there is so much to see and about which to smile. Marianne Dubuc's words tell a story of community, most coming together for a party, but each with their own lives of joys and troubles, normalcy and the unusual. But it's always her illustrations that will charm. Every double-page spread (which I could sadly not reproduce from the large book of 28 x 35 cm size) is essentially the same in scope, encompassing the four-storied building with trees on either side and a portion of street in front. But, and it's a big but, every spread is different in detail of action, content, expression and story. It reminds us that there may be one story upon which we all focus but there are many more that may never be seen. Thankfully Marianne Dubuc has invited us in to this city of homes, where your home is my home, and shared with us glimpses of lives and the abodes of foxes, cats, mice, rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, a bear, an owl, and a ghost and those who might venture into their community intermittently.
From Your House, My House by Marianne Dubuc
On this one day, there are at least a dozen stories playing out, and Little Rabbit's is but one of them, but together they make a world of complexity and community.

March 16, 2021

A Good Day for Ducks

Written by Jane Whittingham
Illustrated by Noel Tuazon
Pajama Press
26 pp.
Ages 1-4
February 2021

From Jane Whittingham and Noel Tuazon, the collaborative duo who brought us Wild One (Pajama Press, 2017), comes a play date on a rainy day that may be A Good Day for Ducks but a great one for young children too.
A brother and sister delight in watching the rain from indoors before prepping for their outing into the wet wilds. In simple free verse, Jane Whittingham lets us join the two from indoors to outdoors and back inside.
Getting dressed,
Raincoat, rainboots,
Tug tug, pull pull,
Off we go.
Out they go to jump in puddles, splash down the lane and watch ducks swimming in the pond.
From A Good Day for Ducks by Jane Whittingham, illus. by Noel Tuazon
The ducks "Quack quack, flap flap" and the worms "Wiggle squiggle" before the lightning and thunder come with a "Zig zag, boom bang" and the children hurry home with their mother.

From A Good Day for Ducks by Jane Whittingham, illus. by Noel Tuazon
It's still a good day for ducks as they children get out of their wet things and don cozy outfits and bunny slippers to hop around the room. Finally there's hot cocoa and some painting to remember their outing before they witness the rainbow that culminates their rainy day.
From A Good Day for Ducks by Jane Whittingham, illus. by Noel Tuazon
For very young children who always delight in rainy day play, Jane Whittingham gives words to their amusements. The play is so organic–jumping, watching, feeling, hearing–that Jane Whittingham's repetition of key words, relating to the sounds and actions of the children and the elements of the day, reinforces that simplicity of experience. They "Tug tug, pull pull" on their boots, they "Splish splash, Splish splash" down the lane and are "Waiting, waiting" for their hot drinks to be made. And don't Noel Tuazon's watercolour and ink illustrations just emulate the wetness of the day? There's a fluidity of motion from the children, the rain and nature in general that comes across in Noel Tuazon's lines and shapes that makes the reader feel like they're floating along in the children's ventures. Like the ducklings, we follow along, going with the flow.
From A Good Day for Ducks by Jane Whittingham, illus. by Noel Tuazon
Originally published in 2018, this board book edition of A Good Day for Ducks features "Touch & Feel Raindrops" which your little ones are sure to enjoy, between scoping them out and relishing the sensory feel of their glossy lines. With spring looming and the opportunities for rain across the country inevitable, A Good Day for Ducks will herald more play in the rain and remind us of the value of taking delight in the world around, whether it be wetness from the sky, bunny slippers, hot cocoa, ducks on a pond or mud on a laneway.

March 12, 2021

Torch (The Flight and Flame Trilogy, Book 3)

Written by R. J. Anderson
Enclave Publishing
239 pp.
Ages 11+
February 2021
When we first met the piskey Ivy in Swift, the first book in R. J. Anderson's The Flight and Flame Trilogy, she'd been determined to look out for her family and friends of the Delve, worried about poisonous air and long-held conflicts with spriggans, faeries and even humans. But, because of her unique wingless nature, Ivy has always had to prove herself. In the second book, Nomad, while looking to help the piskeys of the Delve escape the tyranny of her Aunt Betony, the Joan i.e., the queen of the Delve, Ivy becomes romantically involved with the spriggan-faery Martin whose own story needed telling. Then, after a violent confrontation with the Joan, a handful of piskeys, including Ivy's little sister Cicely, brother Mica and his fellow hunter Maddock, follow Ivy above-ground.

Now, Ivy is challenged to providing a safe home for the piskeys who've followed her, but worries that she could never become the Joan they need, as she lacks the skill of making fire at will. Things become worse when a deception is perpetrated to make her appear to make fire, and she is compelled into a betrothal with Maddock who offers to act as her Jack, the consort to the Joan. But Ivy and the piskeys know that Betony will not stand to lose her people to Ivy and an attack is sure to come. Fortunately for Ivy, she can rely on the help of faeries Thorn and Broch, and especially Martin who comes to her aid time and time again. Unfortunately, Martin is a spriggan and hated by the piskeys for being so, and Ivy must hide her love for Martin from her people.

But Martin, who had always believed himself to be the last of the spriggans who'd been killed off in conflicts with the piskeys, discovers a barrow of chambers with spriggan treasure, arms and stores. Most surprising are the egg-like shells harbouring young spriggans. While Martin nurtures the awakened young spriggans, about thirty boys and girls, becoming a true leader to his people, Ivy is torn between being with Martin, doing what's right for her own people, and contending with their distrust of all spriggans and faeries. Though Ivy knows that Martin has had his own issues with her people, she has come to trust him and he repeatedly shows himself to be worthy of that trust. But can Ivy find a way to save the piskeys, from the poison in the Delve and the tyranny of Betony and her Jack Gossan, bring peace between those who distrust and discriminate, and still be with Martin?
R. J. Anderson may be writing about fantastical creatures like piskeys, spriggans and faeries but the hostility between these groups and Ivy's need to balance her own wishes with the obligations she feels to her people are as human as anything we might experience. Mica's infuriating knows-better attitude and Cicely's petulance when she doesn't get what she wants are all too human, as is Ivy's unhappiness with being pressured to do what everyone else decides is the right thing to do. When she leads with her heart, driven by her love for Martin and her people, she leads well as a true Joan would.

But Torch is also a book of fantasy, of incredible people who inhabit Cornwall and beyond. Some are tasked with digging while others protect treasure. They can shape-shift and cast glamours and spells and wards of protection.  The worlds of Torch, as in Swift and Nomad, are both imaginative and real, and R. J. Anderson has excelled at making the reader feel everything from the gentleness of love to the anger of frustration with her characters. Thankfully through all that emotion and otherworldliness, R. J. Anderson has resolved her tale of the Cornish piskeys and their neighbours with much heart, happiness and hope, demonstrating that it's possible to find the way through conflict and prejudice to understanding and love.

March 10, 2021

Carmen and the House That Gaudí Built

Written by Susan Hughes
Illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2021

Antoni Gaudí was a Catalan architect whose unique style marks a number of buildings in Spain and most notably in Barcelona. Just as alluring is Susan Hughes's fictionalized story, illustrated by the formidable Marianne Ferrer, of the development of Gaudí's idea for the home of the Batlló family, known worldwide as Casa Batlló.
From Carmen and the House That Gaudí Built by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
While her family anticipates a move from the country to a city home in Barcelona, young Carmen despairs at leaving the wilds of the countryside and her imaginary salamander, Dragon.
   In the woods, hollows cradled them
close and hills tumbled them about.
   Water sparkled and the light showed
them colors everywhere.
   Trees swayed, gently, fiercely.
   Could Carmen ever feel at home in
the gray, straight, stiff city? Impossible!
But when Señor Gaudí visits, he spends time outside, with Carmen trailing. "We do not create," he said later. "We discover."

From Carmen and the House That Gaudí Built by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Carmen soon realizes that his visits, time outdoors and walks in nature feed his creativity, driving him to incorporate the organic into the structural, even seeing what Carmen sees, including her imaginary friend.
From Carmen and the House That Gaudí Built by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Her own visits to their unfolding city home reveal water lily tiling, curved embracing walls, blues of water, sunbursts and more. After two years of development, and saying goodbye to Dragon (prematurely), the family moves into Casa Batlló, and Carmen discovers that "This house–this city–could be a home for her after all."
From Carmen and the House That Gaudí Built by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Our world is peppered with extraordinary achievements from science to art and the stories of those achievements can be just as extraordinary or not. Susan Hughes could've just told the history of this jewel of architecture but she's a much better writer than that. By creating a back story for the house that Gaudí built which includes Carmen and her salamander, the building is a celebration of the natural world in a man-made structure, and becomes the home in which Carmen could rejoice as she had in the country. It becomes a story of imagination and creativity and creating by imagining. The outdoors becomes the indoors but only through observation, attention to detail and tribute. 

Just as glorious as Casa Batlló are Montreal artist Marianne Ferrer's illustrations. Blending a variety of media, including gouache and watercolour, Marianne Ferrer creates magic both in the outdoors of Carmen's natural world and in the evolving new house. Though her palette is relatively limited, she uses colour to emphasize the resplendent nature of the new house, jewelled as only a "better" version of nature could be. Moreover with characteristic boldness in her curved lines and shapes, Marianne Ferrer applauds what is natural, just as Gaudí did.

From Carmen and the House That Gaudí Built by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
This may not be how Gaudí came to develop Case Batlló–though Carmen Batlló certainly did exist, as Susan Hughes's "Author's Note" tells us–but I hope it is. It reminds us that the two worlds, indoors and out, should not be separate, and that magic happens when the two meet.

March 08, 2021

The Big Bad Wolf in My House

Written by Valérie Fontaine
Illustrated by Nathalie Dion
Translated by Shelley Tanaka
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
March 2021

It's International Women's Day and, to women who find themselves in abusive home circumstances and explore ways to cope including fighting back legally or finding shelter elsewhere, we stand by you, and Valérie Fontaine and Nathalie Dion offer hope.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion
A little girl could always see through the wolf who married her mother.
He batted his eyelashes and purred like a pussycat
in front of my mother.
But he looked at me with cold eyes and sharp teeth.
The honeymoon was sour, like lemons.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion
But when her mother gets home late from work one day, the wolf show his true self, shouting names and hurling food. The child removes herself from the situation, but she can see the impact it has on her mother whose smile begins to droop along with her body.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion
Her mother tries to shield her child but the wolf is scary, leaving finger marks on the girl's arms and coming into her room as he chooses.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion
But one day, with only five minutes notice, her mother declares that they are leaving. They go to a house full of kind mothers and children but no wolves. 
The big bad wolf can huff and puff all he wants,
but this house will not fall down.
The little girl knows the tale about a big bad wolf. It's the one where he huffs and puffs to blow the house down. The little ones in the story try to protect themselves in shelters of straw and wood but to no avail. Same with this child. She tries a fortress of blankets to shield herself, or a closed door of wood but neither stops the big bad wolf. She does build "a fort made of bricks. I put it up around my heart." But it's not until they go to a new house, a shelter for women and children, that they find safety.

Told from the child's perspective and analogous to the story of the big bad wolf and the three little pigs, The Big Bad Wolf in My House makes a situation of domestic abuse very disquietingly elementary. The mother marries a man who is abusive to her and her child. He may appear sheep-like to begin with but he's dangerous. Both mother and child find ways to cope with the physical or emotional attacks, but coping is not safety. It's just a delay. Both in its original French (Le grand méchant loup dans ma maison, 2020) and this English edition (translated by Shelley Tanaka), Valérie Fontaine's story demonstrates the impact of domestic abuse on the whole family and how adults and children find their own ways to survive. Though she parallelizes the chilling abuse of a man against his new wife and stepchild with a child's fable, Valérie Fontaine never, never trivializes the situation, only gives it context. After all, the big bad wolf could be any one. 

I was just introduced to Nathalie Dion's work last week (I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol) and realize how versatile her art is, creating lightness and hope in one book and now tension and despair in The Big Bad Wolf in My House. Painting by hand with gouache and digitally with a pastel brush, Nathalie Dion still imbues her illustrations with the starkness of the family situation, engulfed with shadows and angles and using colour and lightness minimally and generally only associated with the child or situations outside the home. 

Some may despair of this tale of domestic abuse but Valérie Fontaine and Nathalie Dion have taken us through the darkness from a child's perspective and shown us an outcome that offers the promise of respite.
From The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illus. by Nathalie Dion