August 30, 2021

Learning My Rights with Mousewoman

Written and illustrated by Morgan Asoyuf, Ts'msyen
Native Northwest
22 pp.
Ages 3-6
September 2021

Learning lessons from elders is an important part of many cultures. Elders have the wisdom of the ages and the heart of the people, having seen and heard much. When an elder is not available, important figures like Mousewoman, a grandmother figure in Northwest Coast Indigenous cultures, can share their wisdom. Here, in author-illustrator Morgan Asoyuf's second board book for young children, Mousewoman imparts her knowledge of children's rights and those of Indigenous Peoples to little mice.
From Learning My Rights with Mousewoman by Morgan Asoyuf, Ts'msyen
Rich in the Northwest Coast art style, Morgan Asoyuf depicts Mousewoman instructing little ones of their rights to be loved, to safe touch, to food and clean water, a safe environment, and shelter. They have the rights to education, to play and to rest, and to arts and culture. They have the right to express themselves and to learn the dances and stories and traditions of their cultures too.
From Learning My Rights with Mousewoman by Morgan Asoyuf, Ts'msyen

The lessons of children's and Indigenous Peoples' rights in Learning My Rights with Mousewoman may be paramount but sadly they need to be reiterated globally to parents, to governments, to communities. By giving young children a basic understanding of their rights, Morgan Asoyuf will have given them voices to demand those rights for themselves. Moreover, by wrapping those messages about rights in the traditions of Indigenous cultures–she herself is Ts'msyen (Tsimshian)–Morgan Asoyuf reminds us all of the dereliction of many in helping to meet the rights of Indigenous children, here in Canada and elsewhere. Do they all feel safe and secure? Do they have clean drinking water? We want the answers to always be yes, but are they?
From Learning My Rights with Mousewoman by Morgan Asoyuf, Ts'msyen
But Morgan Asoyuf's message in Learning My Rights with Mousewoman elevates the story from an information book about important conventions that were ratified in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as those of the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples to an extraordinary concept book. The message is clear but the artwork and Indigenous theme make it incomparable. By connecting the rights of children and Indigenous people with her distinct art style, Morgan Asoyuf, an artist whose work also includes jewelry and carving, ensures that Indigenous children are more than acknowledged; they are seen and heard. All children will benefit from an understanding of their rights but Indigenous children will be given words and meaningful illustrations to connect those messages in Learning My Rights with Mousewoman.
From Learning My Rights with Mousewoman by Morgan Asoyuf, Ts'msyen

August 28, 2021

The Forest of Stolen Girls

Written by June Hur
Feiwel and Friends
384 pp.
Ages 13-18
April 2021
Driven to find the connection between the Forest Incident, in which his two daughters were found near where a young woman was killed, and the disappearance of 13 girls since then, Detective Min Jewoo pursued an investigation onto the island of Jeju in early 1400s Joseon (Korea). But the detective goes missing, and now his daughter Min Hwani, 18, returns to the island of her birth to find her father and perhaps reconnect with her younger sister, Min Maewol, now 15, who was left on the island to apprentice with Shaman Nokyung five years ago. Still, how can Hwani investigate on an island rife with superstition, with villagers petrified of losing their daughters to an unknown menace in the Gotjawal Forest or being selected as tribute women for Ming China, and stay safe herself while trying to work with her angry sister, resentful of her abandonment and mistreatment by her family? Having learned much from her detective father, Hwani becomes the investigator, probing the disappearance of the missing young women, and the Forest Incident, as well as his disappearance. Who she can trust or doesn't differs greatly from that of Maewol but the two sisters find a way to come together and delve into the mystery of the missing and the suspicious man in the white mask.

I do not want to reveal too much about The Forest of Stolen Girls as it is a mystery at its foundation, albeit a historical one in a unique time period. Just as she did in her debut novel The Silence of Bones (2020), June Hur enthrals with her setting as well as her story. With both her books set in the time of the Joseon Dynasty and by also scattering in words unfamiliar to most (e.g., jukjangdo, shin-byung, jeomjip, hanji), June Hur has created a new character of place of which readers will want to learn more. I was constantly looking up more about this historical period, and devoured June Hur's historical note appended to her story, trying to understand the people, their ways of life, their relationship with geographical neighbours (including becoming a vassal state) and the practice of offering tribute women. But within that amazing context, June Hur has woven a story of mystery, of family lost and found. There are countless characters who may or may not know something valuable and some who present facades of compassion and justice while evil lurks in the forest and the villages of Jeju. Who is responsible for taking the girls is but one mystery that needs to be solved, as is the location of Detective Min, and who can be trusted is unknown. Because people are often weakened by their fears and their ineptitude, evil can show its horrific face any time. But evil can be subtle or it can be the stuff of nightmares. Making things right, though, that's what Hwani and others learn is the key.
Doing what is right, it is so utterly terrifying. And yet so freeing. (pg. 307)

August 25, 2021

Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite!

Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press
56 pp.
Ages 5-8
June 2021

While I may be cursing the mosquitoes and horseflies that are biting right now, award-winning author-illustrator Ashley Spires is showing her appreciation for the wealth of insect species inhabiting backyards and in particular a ten-lined June beetle called Burt.

From Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite! by Ashley Spires

Showcasing Burt's attributes from his feathery antennae ("It's a style choice") to his all-natural furry belly, Ashley Spires introduces us to the insect often called a watermelon beetle. But when Burt notes the superpowers of ants, hawk moths, termites and stink bugs, he struggles to recognize what makes him so amazing. He tries to wink, tap dance, climb walls and fly but usually ends up on his back with legs flailing in the air. 

From Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite! by Ashley Spires

But like any child looking to identify their own strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses, Burt perseveres and finds his sticky legs and his huggable nature a gift to some insects trapped in a spider web.

From Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite! by Ashley Spires
With colourful humour such as calling a spider web "fancy bum string" (pg. 43) and bold illustrations that are both charming and surprisingly accurate (except for their faces, of course), Ashley Spires teaches, entertains and grabs readers' attentions. There may be countless books about insects but Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite! educates without droning on about insects' defining characteristics like habitat, eating, and reproduction. Instead kids will learn about the ten-lined June beetle but also about ants and dragonflies, the Australian tiger beetle, hawk moths, echolocation, spraying of toxins and more. And if that's not enough, the end papers display "cards" depicting insects according to their superpowers from "Super Stingy" and "Super Bright Bum" to "Super Annoying" (that's the mosquito!) and "Super Deadly Farts." Finding out what insect matches its superpower will be half the fun of Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite!
From Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite! by Ashley Spires
Ashley Spires has always known how to entertain us with her graphic novels and picture books, having won the hearts of young readers with Binky the Space Cat (see my review of Binky Takes Charge, 2012) and inspired them with The Most Magnificent Thing (2014) and The Thing Lou Couldn't Do (2016). Now with Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite!, she teaches, informing kids about insects in a colourful and playful way that camouflages the learning. That, and her illustrations and her humour must be her superpowers and I'm so glad she uses them for good.

🐞 🐞 🐞 🐞 🐞

A downloadable activity package from Kids Can Press is available at

August 23, 2021

A Kid is a Kid is a Kid

Written by Sara O'Leary
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
August 2021
Every child may be different but every child is also the same, especially when they're asked insensitive or withering questions about their differences. They just want to be, to feel safe and cared for and to enjoy life. When they are questioned about their family or their gender, their preferences or abilities, or have their "imperfections" pointed out, they do not feel good. Then they are all the same, as are we all.

From A Kid is a Kid is a Kid by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Qin Leng
From the onset, A Kid is a Kid is a Kid reminds us that being a kid is not easy. Starting with a child who's taunted with a question about whether they're a boy or a girl, multiple kids step up to assert what tactless questions have been asked of them. From why one child always has her nose in a book, or why another is small, to where they come from, why they wear the same shirt, or why they don't have any friends. (One boy steps up to negate that question by declaring himself their friend.) There's a child with a prosthetic leg and one with a baby sister in an incubator and twins who always get asked about being twins. (Tiresome, I'm sure.)
From A Kid is a Kid is a Kid by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Qin Leng
But rather than focusing on the differences that the inquisitors see, kids want to be asked about their strengths, what they love and that of which they're proud. And there's one important question that every child likes to be asked.
From A Kid is a Kid is a Kid by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Qin Leng
As Sara O'Leary and Qin Leng reminded us in their earlier book, A Family is a Family is a Family (Groundwood, 2016), there is no one way to be a family, and the same goes for being a kid. Kids come in different shapes, sizes, colours and abilities. Their essences and their histories make them unique. But getting to know kids is not focusing on their vulnerabilities. That's teasing and bullying and says more about the one asking the question than the one answering. Sara O'Leary understands that all people, kids and adults, may say or ask something rude but her emphasis in A Kid is a Kid is a Kid is that the diversity of individual kids is what makes a school, a playground, or a community great. Qin Leng's illustrations of ink and watercolour with pastel give us that diversity while reminding us that children are young and small and must be overwhelmed by being so in a big world. But, what's important is being yourself among others and not being ashamed of what you are. By first focusing on those differences before culminating their story with a universally welcome activity for kids, Sara O'Leary and Qin Leng bring young readers into their story and remind them that being a kid can mean different things and they're all just fine.

August 20, 2021

Govern Like a Girl: The Women Who Became Canada's First Ministers

Written by Kate Graham
Second Story Press
112 pp.
Ages 9-12
August 2021

Any book that focuses on the accomplishments of women in Canada needs to be applauded. There are already more than several that have highlighted women athletes, scientists and pioneers among others and several that celebrate individual achievements. But Govern Like a Girl is a bit different in that it honours political leaders who have reached premier or prime minister status in our country. Thirteen women across the provinces and territories have been recognized for their leadership and, while not every province is represented, Govern Like a Girl shows us the promise for greater equity in reaching influential government positions in Canada.
From Govern Like a Girl: The Women Who Became Canada's First Ministers by Kate Graham
After a brief introduction about government and voting, and the need for diversity at all levels of government but the paucity of women throughout, Kate Graham highlights thirteen incredible women who were able to rise to the top jobs in our governments. The women selected for this book are: 
  • Premier Eva Aariak (NU);
  • Premier Catherine Callbeck (PE);
  • Premier Christy Clark (BC);
  • Premier Caroline Cochrane (NT);
  • Premier Nellie Cournoyea (NT);
  • Premier Pat Duncan (YT);
  • Premier Kathy Dunderdale (NL);
  •  Premier Rita Johnston (BC);
  • Premier Pauline Marois (QC);
  • Premier Rachel Notley (AB);
  • Premier Alison Redford (AB);
  • Premier Kathleen Wynne (ON); and
  • Prime Minister Kim Campbell.
For each leader, Kate Graham provides details about their personal life, including place of birth, parents and schooling, their employment history and their motivations for entering politics. Whether their trajectories for leadership began with careful steps up the ladder as school trustees or committee chairs, community involvement or advocacy, these women all chose to enter politics to enact change and to work for the people of their province or territory. In addition, the details of their elections and their defeats are recorded as is the work they were able to accomplish. But along with each exposé, Kate Graham gives readers a personal look at women who saw the opportunities lost to their female ancestors, or who endured discrimination because of the limitations some placed on their gender, and who were still able to move forward for change.

From Govern Like a Girl: The Women Who Became Canada's First Ministers by Kate Graham

Every story is different yet the same. They had support and they had opposition. They struggled to be seen as leaders and be effective fighters for their communities and counter those who perceived women as limited by their gender. But how their stories played out are all different. It's evident that there is not just one route to leadership, with many rocky and some longer than others. What matters most is the action.

These women have lots to say and I could quote each one, as Kate Graham does, to highlight their perspectives, from Catherine Callbeck who said that "the strength of a society rests on the willingness and ability of its citizens to share in the decisions which affect it" (pg. 14) to Nellie Cournoyea who spoke of "an evolutionary need to do something about something" (pg. 32) and Christy Clark who addressed opportunities by saying that,

"My view of life is that opportunities are raining down around us all the time. Some people have fewer opportunities , as their circumstances haven't put them in a particularly rainy spot–but, opportunities are always there. Look around, figure out what opportunities are there, and choose which ones to grab." (pg. 22)

With each, Kate Graham has given young readers role models of civic duty and reinforced the idea that governing like a girl is a compliment. 

August 18, 2021

Over the Top

Written by Alison Hughes
RP Kids
192 pp.
Ages 8-12
August 2021

Diva is anything but. She's a quiet eleven-year-old who would prefer to read and write and dream up new feelings that need their own vocabulary, like "That feeling where you desperately want to be in your bed, with the covers pulled tight over your head..." (pg. 72) or "That awful, guilty feeling of helplessly almost hating your parent and knowing they don't have a clue at all" (pg. 112). What she doesn't like is over-the-top...anything. And now her effervescent, always over-the-top mother has fallen in love with a monstrosity of a pink castle, as has her nine-year-old brother Hero, and the family is moving.
Though Hero fits in and makes friends easily at their new school, it's so much harder for Diva, especially when her mother, thinking she's helping, tries to force a friendship with another sixth grader and their neighbour, Miranda Clay. But Diva knows Miranda's kind of bully: she's the mean girl who thinks she's better than others. Though it's often an under-the-breath comment or an eye roll, Diva knows that, "Silent bullies are still bullies"(pg. 70). Worse yet, Diva's mom doesn't see how she keeps embarrassing Diva when her over-the-top enthusiasm for everything, including her party-planning business with which Hero and Diva often help out. Though her dad understands how hard it may be for Diva, especially at school, he encourages her to get involved with some extracurricular activity. And so Diva auditions for the school production of The Wizard of Oz in which she gets an unconventional but noteworthy part.

As Diva navigates the newness of her school and meeting other kids in her own way, she is overwhelmed by new feelings she'd love to define, including how to be herself, in the face of a mother (and brother) who are kind but just don't understand her low-key approach.

Books are wonderful vehicles for connecting young readers with characters who are like them. As such, many introverts will appreciate Diva's predicaments, including being true to herself and her own social needs and appeasing her mother and her brother who think that the bigger the party the better and being funny and loud and sociable is the only way to be. Fortunately, Alison Hughes who has handled many tough issues like anxiety, serious illness and abandonment in her picture books (e.g., The Cold Little Voice, 2019), middle grade novels (e.g., Kasey & Ivy, 2018) and young adult books (e.g., Hit the Ground Running, 2017) tells Diva's story as an exemplar for finding your own voice without shouting over others, thereby accepting others' differences as valid, just distinct. She also learns how to handle a bully, finally, and recognize a friend when presented with one or two.

I hope that young people like Diva who don't insist on being in the limelight always and who are able to spend energy on introspection rather than just on sociability will see themselves in Over the Top, especially if it helps them accept themselves as they are. Diva has got a pretty good handle on that herself and her dictionary of complicated and yet familiar feelings was undoubtedly valuable to that end. Over the Top will leave young introverts with the sigh of relief that they can be their understated selves and occasionally endure an over-the-top anything, perhaps even to their own benefit.

August 16, 2021

The Deepest Dig

Written by Mark David Smith
Illustrated by Lily Snowden-Fine
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
August 2021

What can come from a little curiosity and some brain power and brawn? A whole lot of treasure. Even if no one believes, at first.
From The Deepest Dig by Mark David Smith, illus. by Lily Snowden-Fine
Caden is a child with a curious mind. When he and his dog find something poking out of the backyard, he eliminates all the things it is not: not a root, not a post, not a stone. His neighbour Martha encourages him to dig deeper. His scientific brain asks questions and considers his options. While he does ask his parents as he proceeds to dig, they both dismiss his inquiries.
From The Deepest Dig by Mark David Smith, illus. by Lily Snowden-Fine
First shovelling and then with the use of Martha's truck winch, bits and pieces are excavated. Even when he tells his teacher what he'd found, Caden is dismissed (later compelling Mr. Clerkson to eat his words, or rather his hat). Because Martha recognizes that, "It's only a treasure if it's put together," Caden gets to work. 
From The Deepest Dig by Mark David Smith, illus. by Lily Snowden-Fine
This time when his parents see his efforts, they have a lot less to say–they are speechless–and it's Caden who puts together what the next steps should be to get the woolly mammoth skeleton witnessed by all.

It's been awhile since I've reviewed a story by Mark David Smith. I'd been quite impressed by his middle-grade novel Caravaggio: Signed in Blood (Tradewind, 2013) and still am but now also with a picture book that promotes curiosity and endeavour. Of course it's a child who discovered a skeleton. They're the ones who aren't focusing on their bills and their work and household chores. Mom or Dad probably had already rolled over it or around it with their lawn mower, oblivious to its importance. Caden, on the other, got down and looked at it. Really looked at it. This is scientific inquiry at its best. In order to see more, he makes a plan and digs it out. Then putting together what he learns in class and through his own efforts, he assembles a find worthy of a museum. (That's where it ends up according to the newspaper article that concludes the story.) Martha and his parents may have had to be there to get him further along in his inquiry but it was all driven by Caden, and his efforts should be applauded.
From The Deepest Dig by Mark David Smith, illus. by Lily Snowden-Fine
Lily Snowden-Fine, whose artwork I only recently reviewed for the first time (Kimmy & Mike, 2021), uses vibrant colours and scale to emphasize the daring and magnitude of Caden's endeavour. Readers are taken from the outdoors where the tree, red truck and bushes are large to when they are overshadowed by the skeleton Caden puts together. It's quite incredible but Lily Snowden-Fine makes us feel the enormity of what he has accomplished. Moreover, her diversity of characters will let all children imagine that they too could dig up a dinosaur.

The Deepest Dig encourages children to dig deep, whether it's into their curiosity, science, research or any passion. They may not always get the support they deserve at first but perseverance and determination can go a long way to unmasking a hidden treasure. Ask Caden. He did.

August 13, 2021

The House Next Door

Written and illustrated by Claudine Crangle
Groundwood Books
44 pp.
Ages 3-6
August 2021 
This is the story of a house, one house in an open field of long grasses. It stands alone but secure, standing its ground, whatever the winds and snows and rain may blow in. But when other houses blow in, how will the house respond?
From The House Next Door by Claudine Crangle
When the little red-roofed house with a red door and blue shutters first notices two other houses, far off but in his periphery, he ensures the back and side shutters are bolted tight so that only his grassy land is visible.
From The House Next Door by Claudine Crangle

Putting on those domestic blinders does work for a number of years but then the construction of a road tears a gash through the middle of his field. 
Soon they began moving in.
They lined up along the road.
And the road began branching into more
And more of them arrived.
Row upon row of blank faces stared back at the little house.

The suburbs had arrived and were upon his doorstep with their countless faceless houses. His response? He shuts his front shutters and waits in the dark.

From The House Next Door by Claudine Crangle
Occasionally he peeks outside but all he sees are more and more of those anonymous structures. So the house stays dark and still. After winter and spring pass into summer, he sees something a little different when he glances outside. He sees some colour and even a yellow house with a curtain waving out of an open window. In the dark the curtains reveal a golden light within. This is all it takes for the little house to open its shutters the next day to uncover a real neighbourhood of diverse homes.
Toronto author-illustrator Claudine Crangle's story of urban sprawl changing the landscape is really an allegory about shuttering oneself off from change and opening oneself to new possibilities. Though living harmoniously with others around you is not always easy (I was reminded of Norman McLaren's 1952 NFB short film "Neighbours"), perhaps what was worse for the little house was change. He did not know what to expect having never had neighbours and, rather than adapt, he shuts himself off. A little courage and recognition of the familiar help him feel safe enough to open the door, or rather the shutters, to the unfamiliar and see brightness where only anonymity once was.
The illustrations were created with paint and a variety of materials including cardboard and paper but also found objects and those scavenged from recycling bins. There's asphalt shingles, fabric and red wooden discs. By bringing life from waste, Claudine Crangle lets her artwork further the idea that there can be beauty and hope in the unlikeliest of places.
I know that The House Next Door is recommended for ages 3 to 6, undoubtedly because of its ease of readability, but I hope that parents and teachers will see the value in reading this book with older children. There's an important lesson here for all about anticipating the worse because it's different or unexpected to only discover that the worry is often worse than the reality.

August 11, 2021

How to Make a Friend

Written by Stephen W. Martin
Illustrated by Olivia Aserr
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
July 2021

Most kids would love to know an easy and sure-fire way to make a friend. If only it was as easy as following a set of instructions. Then again, maybe it is.
From How to Make a Friend by Stephen W. Martin, illus. by Olivia Aserr
Where to start? How about the library? That's where our earnest young girl finds a book that she's sure "with the right power tools and a basic understanding of Advanced Robotics" will help her face the challenge of making a friend. She's very meticulous, wearing her lab coat and safety goggles, and even asking her parents before handling plutonium (!). And she knows to make important decisions about the type of friend she wants i.e., what will they be able to do with her, before she gets started. That, and always measuring twice and cutting once, seems like wise advice.
From How to Make a Friend by Stephen W. Martin, illus. by Olivia Aserr
Of course, her friend is not exactly as she envisions. The tea parties, hide-and-seek, and water fights don't exactly come off as planned. (How can a friend bigger than a car really hide?) And sometimes a friend doesn't want to play or wants to play with others, and that's OK. What's not OK is when your friend starts doing the wrong stuff and you need to cut them loose (or switch them off).
Don't feel bad. Some friendships just don't work out...
From How to Make a Friend by Stephen W. Martin, illus. by Olivia Aserr

But trying to "make" a friend may be just the stepping stone this little girl needs to make a human friend that works out a little better.

Canadian-born Stephen W. Martin, now a resident of California (why, oh why?) may couch his tale of making a friend in the premise of a child building a robotic one, but all his advice, from acceptance of their differences, the possibility of them making other friends, and even abandoning them when the friendship goes awry, is all valuable and highly valid. Friendships are not easy. They are a lot of work and sometimes the work doesn't pay off. But there's always an opportunity to learn what you like or don't like in a friend and How to Make a Friend will give kids a chuckle while teaching them important lessons about friendship.

Olivia Aserr, an LA artist of books and animation, gives How to Make a Friend fabulous digital artwork that is bold in colour and shape and daring in its approach. This little girl is fierce. She doesn't just create a life-size friend; she goes big, really big. Even her lab is sophisticated. And she takes every step as a learning moment about what she wants and doesn't need in a friend. Not only is she intelligent, she's astute, and Olivia Aserr asserts this about the child time after time.

While your children may not have the capabilities of making their own robotic friend at home, Stephen W. Martin guides them through a process that will help them make one smartly but in the old-fashioned way.

August 09, 2021

Water Water

Written and illustrated by Jessica Bromley Bartram
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 5+
March 2021

Water Water is truly a summer book. It's about being on a lake, above and below, observing, feeling and imagining. It's about the known and the unreal, the contemporary and the old. And it's all from one young girl's perspective.

From Water Water by Jessica Bromley Bartram
As the child slips into the summer lake water, she experiences the slants of sunlight, the clouds of minnows and the striped rocks that contour the lake bottom. There's bass and crayfish below and swallows, loons and gulls above. Even as the day progresses into the night and sleep, the lake is her source of contemplation.
From Water Water by Jessica Bromley Bartram
She imagines the shoals as animals, whether an elephant or a pod of whales or even the Loch Ness monster. Moreover, though she cannot dive to the bottom of the deep lake, she pictures ancient sturgeon and musky among the ruins of steamships sunk by past storms. She is sure that she hears their whisperings.
Their words weave through every trough and crest until the lake is filled with stories that whisper around me into the night, telling of lighthouses and monster waves, ghost ships and black water.
Though the weather changes and the lake with it, she revels in its transformations, acknowledging them and those of its elements as part of the natural world around her.

From Water Water by Jessica Bromley Bartram

Water Water is a summertime tribute to the nature of a lake and a young girl's connection with it and its many elements, biological and physical and even imaginary. Like summer, it is leisurely, moving at a pace appropriate for warm weather. Even when the weather turns darker, cold and tumultuous, it's energetic but relaxed, as it cannot be changed and only be accepted. 
Though I've reviewed  Jessica Bromley Bartram's work previously as the illustrator of  Summer North Coming by Dorothy Bentley (2019), I think the Ottawa artist has enhanced her impression by connecting her artwork with her own words and personal experiences. (Her dedication includes a reference to "Georgian Bay, my heart's home.") There's an organic feel to her artwork, which appears to be primarily gouache and watercolour, and is perfectly in keeping with Water Water's raw nature. The water feels warm, the algae on the rocks is slimy and the wildlife skitter along above and below. 

For children who are fortunate enough to spend any time this summer on a lake, and for those who reminisce about the times they did, Jessica Bromley Bartram delivers us to that place for a sensory dip and a visit that is both hers and all our own.

August 06, 2021

Peggy's Impossible Tale

Written by Slavia Miki and Roy Miki
Illustrated by Mariko Ando
Tradewind Books
58 pp.
Ages 4-8
June 2021
In eighteen short chapters, some as brief as two pages of which one is an illustration, Slavia Miki and Roy Miki tell the story of guinea pig Peggy as she becomes friends with Lisa and becomes part of a family. It's sweet and loving and it's the kind of animal story I can get into.

Told from the guinea pig's perspective, young readers join Peggy as she is adopted from the pet store and taken home. Her squeaks affirm she understands Lisa and, in fact, she teaches the child to understand those squeaks through repetition. Peggy learns to tell time e.g., when Lisa comes home from school, and even how to climb stairs and walk on a leash. From learning about the dangers of electrical outlets to the crow and cat, Peggy proves she's one smart guinea pig and more than worthy of a Special Pets Contest award.
From Peggy's Impossible Tale by Slavia Miki and Roy Miki, illus. by Mariko Ando
For children who've just learned to read, Peggy's Impossible Tale will give them a great story while building their confidence to read chapter books. That same confidence in trying new things and developing an understanding of new concepts is what made Peggy so extraordinary. So Slavia Miki and Roy Miki, who also wrote Dolphin SOS (Tradewind, 2014) together, have charmed little ones with an animal story and given them a message about compassion and friendship that's a little different.
From Peggy's Impossible Tale by Slavia Miki and Roy Miki, illus. by Mariko Ando
Though most early chapter book have some artwork, the illustrations by Vancouver's Mariko Ando, a printmaker, are plentiful. Her artwork graces every double-spread, giving us a sense of Peggy and Lisa's relationship as well as Peggy's spirit. From scenes of Peggy facing a daunting staircase or hiding from the air-sucking machine and cuddling with Lisa, Mariko Ando takes us into Peggy's heart. 

Simple but engaging, Peggy's Impossible Tale shows young readers that the impossible isn't always so, whether for guinea pig or child, and that challenging any improbability can be an accomplishment in itself. And there's a cute guinea pig.

August 03, 2021

Starboy: Inspired by the Life and Lyrics of David Bowie

Written and illustrated by Jami Gigot
Henry Holt and Company
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
May 2021 

Fans of musician David Bowie will certainly welcome this new picture book from Jami Gigot, now of Vancouver, but anyone who has ever felt different and unable to fit in without compromising self will appreciate Starboy.

From Starboy by Jami Gigot
This is the story of David who felt different, like maybe he'd fallen to Earth from outer space. His mismatched eyes, skinny legs (perfect for dancing) and keen hearing with sticky-out ears alluded to his difference. And then there was the "cosmic murmur" or "chattering of stars" he could hear and got his body moving and his toes tapping. Then he felt "connected to the universe and the rhythm of the stars."

From Starboy by Jami Gigot
But at school, his need to move and live with colour was not appreciated. When the kids asked him what planet he was from, he wondered too, though he made efforts to fit in. 

Though the stars could bring out the spark in him, it would go away if he closed his window. That is, until that same spark came through his radio and he realized it was music that was giving him the spark. He started making his own music, with homemade instruments, taking the spark with him wherever he went.
His eyes FLASHED,
his toes TIP-TAPPED,
and his hips SHIMMY-SHAKED!
The music fed his imagination and, with a revolution in world music–Elvis Presley is seen in the news–it was feeding those around him too. 

From Starboy by Jami Gigot
No one can deny the contributions of David Bowie to the music world. Through more than several generations, his music evolved in time and space, created in permutations that were both personal and worldly. From a child who felt different but found a spark in the greater universe and then in music, David Bowie evolved, accepting his inspiration and his métier as he needed it to be, not as prescribed by others, and never languishing in one genre of music or style. Playing off of Bowie's many personalities as well as relevant lyrics, particularly from his "Ziggy Stardust" album, Jami Gigot lets us see this boy who found the music in his soul by looking to the stars but who lived a grey life by silencing it. The colour was always there, especially in the brilliant pinks and purples that swirl in and around him, but it's when he finally feels heard, that the colour lives in him.

From Starboy by Jami Gigot
Jami Gigot may honour David Bowie with her Starboy story but she tells all children that they can be themselves and it will be glorious when they do and are heard.