June 28, 2022

Pugs Cause Traffic Jams

Written by Jennifer McGrath
Illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
May 2022
When Kirby, her pug, goes missing, this child searches all over town, inquiring of others with their own dogs, as to any sightings. There's Mrs. Gossman with her golden retriever and Mr. McCraig the crossing guard with his helpful border collie. Then there's Casey with his ball-playing lab and Jo and Jan with their Doberman. There are countless dogs and their people all over town and, while she politely asks for help finding her chubby pug with his macaroni-shaped tail, Kirby is out on the road causing mayhem for drivers and then the police and the community as a whole.
From Pugs Cause Traffic James by Jennifer McGrath, illus. by Kathryn Durst
There are poodles and chihuahuas, huskies and terriers, German shepherds, afghans and basenjis. But no Kirby, the pug, who has left the comforts of his home to follow a butterfly.
From Pugs Cause Traffic James by Jennifer McGrath, illus. by Kathryn Durst
And, oh, the chaos while Kirby plays with the butterfly, oblivious to everyone around him trying to avoid him and instead having collisions and dropping their loads and getting snarled in traffic. But, it's with that attention–in fact, Kirby becomes a bit of a celebrity–that the child is able to finally be reunited with her beloved pooch.
From Pugs Cause Traffic James by Jennifer McGrath, illus. by Kathryn Durst
My, my, my! Kirby may be unaware of the pandemonium and subsequent distinction given to him–there is a sign "Pug 4 Prez" and pugarazzi wanting his pawtograph–but he has always been a star to his girl. His household toys, treats, food and sleeping accommodations suggest a well-loved dog, not unlike the plethora of other breeds that ride in cars with their people, play and work and offer companionship. So, while New Brunswick author Jennifer McGrath introduces young readers to many, many dog breeds and their characteristics, she puts her tongue firmly in cheek, makes a few puns, and lets us join Kirby on his adventure, ultimately a safe one, to be the playful rover of Pugs Cause Traffic Jams. Moreover, Jennifer McGrath shows us the absurdity of those who declare celebrity for trifling matters, with photographers, police, podcasters, news people and fans pursuing the latest trend without question. It's only the children who notice Kirby for the lost dog that he is.

While there's a lot of accuracy in Toronto artist Kathryn Durst's illustrations, easily distinguishing the various dog breeds with their colourings, temperaments and morphologies, she keeps the artwork playful and energized, suitable for a story of an AWOL dog who unknowingly creates havoc. As bold as Kirby's spirit for adventure are Kathryn Durst's art created in pencil and pencil crayon with digital graphic apps Procreate and Photoshop. The illustrations are striking in their colour and shape, offering semi-realism with cartoon sass.

For young readers and especially those who are dog-lovers, Pugs Cause Traffic Jams will make them think twice about dropping their guard around their audacious pets, especially those special pugs, but also recognize that celebrating their pets' uniqueness doesn't require the spotlight of social media. Just being their canine selves should be enough to afford love and attention.

June 26, 2022

2022 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards: Winners announced

On June 22, 2022, the Ontario Arts Council announced the winners of the 2022 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards as selected by two juries of young readers at North York’s Faywood Arts-Based Curriculum School.

A jury of four students in grade 4 selected the recipient of the Children’s Picture Book Award, and a jury of grade 8 students selected the winner of the Young Adult / Middle Reader Award.

Congratulations to both winners and to the juries for their auspicious selections!

Winner of the
 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz 
Children’s Picture Book Award
Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This Is How I Know
Written by Brittany Luby
Illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
Anishinaabemowin translation by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere
Groundwood Press
44 pp.
All ages
 • • • • • • •
Winner of the
 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz 
Young Adult / Middle Reader Award

Written by Philippa Dowding
200 pp.
Ages 9-12

June 23, 2022

Annie's Cat is Sad

Written by Heather Smith
Illustrated by Karen Obuhanych
Feiwel and Friends
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
June 2022
When Annie comes home from school and her cat Delilah does not rush to see her or even want to hang out with her, Annie is convinced that Delilah is sad. But what to do when your cat is sad?
From Annie's Cat is Sad by Heather Smith, illus. by Karen Obuhanych
Though Annie is delighted to see Delilah, having missed her while at school, she needs to seek out her cat. But Delilah seems to want to be alone, hiding beneath the sofa. Annie understands and tries to do whatever she can to draw Delilah out and make her happy.
From Annie's Cat is Sad by Heather Smith, illus. by Karen Obuhanych
She warms some milk, tops it with whipping cream, makes a joke–it's a cattuccino–and offers a hug. Then Annie turns on the TV and invites Delilah to join her in some yoga, making up her own colourful poses.
From Annie's Cat is Sad by Heather Smith, illus. by Karen Obuhanych
But as she tries to engage Delilah, it's obvious that it's Annie who has had a bad day, and it may be Delilah who will help the orange-haired child deal with her sadness when the other strategies don't work.

No one likes to see someone they care for in distress, whether from fear or sadness or trauma. While a young reader will undoubtedly understand a beloved pet who is not acting like itself and be concerned, they will also empathize with coming home from a bad day at school and looking to their furry friend for solace. As a parent and a kind person, Heather Smith understands this and makes sure that children will accept that bad days happen and there are different ways to cope. Sometimes those strategies work and sometimes they don't. But the best thing to do is try to find what works for you. It may just be a cuddle with a cat who understands better than you that sadness has taken hold. 

It's a very light touch that Heather Smith has taken with Annie's Cat is Sad. She can do angsty and heavy (The Agony of Bun O'Keefe and Chicken Girl are but two young adult examples) but Heather Smith excels at the subtle, allowing young people to take from the text the meaning that they need to read. (Her award-winning The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden is another prime example.) That's especially poignant when her readers need to read between the lines and with cues from Hawaii's Karen Obuhanych's illustrations. Take the understated line, "I just want you to know. It's okay to cry." with an illustration of a tear dropping from Annie's eye as a large-eyed Delilah watches. We as readers may be watching Delilah for most of the story, wondering what it would take to make her less sad, and charmed by Karen Obuhanych's grey tabby with the pink nose and green eyes. But, Annie with her voluminous ginger hair is really the star and young readers will want to go back over the story is find the clues that it was really Annie who was dealing with the bad day.

Whether feline or human, child or adult, we have bad days. And, as Annie ostensibly strives to help Delilah through hers, she provides examples for all to distract themselves from their temporary troubles, and assure them that support can be found, especially when you share your burdens.

June 21, 2022

Cat's Cradle: The Golden Twine

Written and illustrated by Jo Rioux
First Second
128 pp.
Ages 8-12
June 2022
Discovered as a foundling by some merchants in a travelling camp, Suri is both sheltered, by most of the merchants, and vilified, by the leader Leon. Like other kids in the camp, she tries to earn her keep, and telling stories is one of her occupations, though her aspiration is to be a monster tamer. In their valley of Galatea, protected by the mountain range called the Giant's Belt through which monsters occasionally enter via a gap named the Monster's Cradle, there are those who capture monsters for bounty. In fact, there is currently a monster being held captive, ready for sale to the Prince, in the wagon of a strange little man who clangs when he walks. (It is said he has a cold, dead heart that clangs in his chest.) But while telling her story to her paying customers, Suri takes them to the wagon to show them she isn't afraid of the monster. She not only approaches the creature who is only visible by its glowing eyes but she communicates with it and learns that, like her, it's lonely. That connection will serve her well.
From Cat's Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux
After her encounter with the monster, she purchases a dragon’s tooth which she is assured will awaken great power within her. Still, while evading Leon, she meets a boy with a package of fish doughnuts and a pile of pillows he sells. When she starts telling him that she is a monster tamer and can recognize a caitsith–even when in human form they have a tail–the boy races away from her, leaving behind several items including a ball of golden twine which she uses to secure her dragon’s tooth as a necklace.
From Cat's Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux
Later Suri is pursued by the boy and his friends for the return of his property. Convinced they want her dragon’s tooth, she takes shelter in the monster’s wagon before escaping with the creature’s help and beginning a new adventure away from the camp and heading into the land of the monsters to do a good deed and hopefully stay ahead of some nasty beasts, both human and monster, and become the monster tamer she aspires to be. 
This is Jo Rioux's first graphic novel as author and illustrator, having previously provided the compelling artwork for picture books like The Legend of Lightning and Thunder and graphic novels like The Daughters of Ys and A Sam and Friends Mystery series. Some may recognize the title, Cat's Cradle: The Golden Twine as a previous publication (Kids Can Press, 2012) but this edition has been reimagined and completely redrawn by Jo Rioux, making it fresh and new and ready to complete Suri's adventures in the remaining books of this trilogy. 
Middle-grade graphic novels are always a hit and especially when they include fantasy elements like jackalopes, leshii and basilisks, mythological creatures from across cultures. Then add a young protagonist who must deal with being abandoned and trying to find her place in the world and working towards a goal that others think impossible for a girl, and you've got a full story of empowerment, fantasy, and action. With Book 2, The Mole King's Lair, in the works, young readers should know soon enough how successful Suri is in her quests.
From Cat's Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux

June 18, 2022


Written by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
176 pp.
Ages 14-18
RL 2.7
February 2022
When September started, seventeen-year-old Nova's senior year was looking pretty good. She was excelling at her school work and already had early acceptance to U of T for science, as a precursor to med school. She was part of their high school's power couple, having dated star swimmer Leo for the past 5 months. She had a regular gig tutoring students and she was on the swim team too. But Denial begins the following May with Nova covered in blood and worried about what she'd done. Evidently, life wasn't as perfect as Nova had thought.

Though he's not pressuring her to have sex, Leo makes it clear that's what he's interested in. Fortunately, Nova wants her first time to be perfect and to ensure she gets on the pill first, having heeded her mother's own experiences with a teen pregnancy that resulted in Nova's half-brother Brad, currently living in Thailand after dropping out of university. But, while she's anxious and excited at the prospect of losing her virginity to the guy she loves, Nova is also considering it in the context of quitting the swim team–she's probably the weakest on it–and of leaving Leo exposed to the machinations of the star female swimmer, Jada, who seems to be trying to drive a wedge between Nova and Leo.

But that perfect senior year with the love of her life slowly seems to become something else. Battling tension within the family, between her parents who've had to restructure their lives after Dad lost his job and between her parents and Brad after he ditched university, and with her jealousy of Jada and Leo's increasing unavailability as he tries out for the national team, Nova is finding it hard to cope. And, with Lorna Schultz Nicholson peppering the chapters that document the school year with the glimpses into the May fiasco that may result in a death, Denial becomes a heavy but relatable story of first loves and school stresses with a touch of family drama.

Being in denial is an easy attitude. It's sticking with the status quo, the familiar, even if the familiar is unhealthy, suspicious, or jeopardous. And there's a lot of denial in Denial. (Duh.) But, as easy as denial can be, it is also a powerful force. It makes you see things you don't and ignore things that are evident to everyone. So when you're a teen and don't have decades of life experience to inform you, denial is really easy and Lorna Schultz Nicholson gets that. While she is well-known for her stories rich in sports (e.g., rowing in When You Least Expect It and hockey in Taking the Ice), it's her finesse in addressing issues important to teens that has always impressed me. Whether it's trauma or disabilities, peer pressure or teen sex, Lorna Schultz Nicholson knows how to write about the angst of being a teen and balancing friends, family, school and love. She allows teens to be human and make mistakes, even huge mistakes based in denial, but also to recover from them and move forward. And when you're a teen and everything is monumental and seems life-ending, Lorna Schultz Nicholson gives you hope that life-changing is the norm and can be transformative rather than ruinous.

June 15, 2022

A Day for Sandcastles

Written by JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Candlewick Press
48 pp.
Ages 4-8
May 2022
JonArno Lawson has the words, as his picture books like The Playgrounds of Babel and  Leap! have demonstrated, but he doesn't need the words. As his award-winning Sidewalk Flowers and now A Day for Sandcastles show us, his storytelling can go beyond text and, with the skill of an amazing artist like Qin Leng, a story rich in characters, activity and feeling is told.

From A Day for Sandcastles by JonArno Lawson, illus. by Qin Leng

It's a day at the beach for this family of five. As they disembark from a bus, mum and dad coming up the rear, the three children race to through the grassy dunes, arms raised in cheer. There's a red-haired girl in a red-striped bathing suit, and older brother in navy patterned board shorts and a small child in green T-shirt and yellow shorts. Having found the remnants of a washed out sandcastle, they retrieve their pails and shovel and begin to work on their own.
But, as focused as they are on their creative endeavour, beach life teems around them. There are the swimmers and the sunbathers, the runners and the volleyball players. There are older women and toddlers, lovers walking hand-in-hand, and friends taking selfies. And there's also the splash of water and a wind-blown sun hat that damage their multi-castle structure with moat, compelling them to take a break and join their parents for lunch.
From A Day for Sandcastles by JonArno Lawson, illus. by Qin Leng
The children, though, are determined and look to rebuild their sandcastle. Together they fill buckets, mould turrets and dig out shapes. Even a toddler who sits herself down in the midst of their creation does not deter them from their work and adding flourishes of shells, twigs and other found objects.
From A Day for Sandcastles by JonArno Lawson, illus. by Qin Leng

But time and a tide wait for no one, and the children's numerous efforts must ultimately be left behind as they take their weary and sun-kissed bodies back to the bus for the trek back home.

For those who know the pleasure of a day at the beach, whether outside their own door or a bus ride away, A Day for Sandcastles is a day of possibilities. It's a day filled with play and family togetherness, cooperative fun and creative building. It's enjoying the positives and accepting the setbacks as natural and moving forward–or backward from the tide!–to dream of what sandcastles might be. JonArno Lawson gives us a full day at the beach with the companionship of siblings and the quiet but never-failing support of parents. He gives us the promise of a wide-open day as they step from the bus and the satisfying fatigue of a day well lived. We're there for the lapping cool water, the mild frustration of an errant sunhat, and the warmth of the sun on our backs. It's a day bursting with life and JonArno Lawson has given it to us without words.

Of course, without Qin Leng's watercolour and ink artwork, we couldn't envision this beach or these children on this day. Her media are perfection for a day at beach, giving us the fluidity of splashing water, the summer bustle of a diverse group of people and animals on a beach, and the heat of a sun warming sand and people. Qin Leng's skilled artistry transports us to this beach with this family and these strangers to share in a day of outdoor recreation.

There is far too much in A Day for Sandcastles to share in a single review. It will be up to you to visit that beach with your own children, students or family, and discover the minutiae of one day with these people at this one beach to build your own sandcastles, with sand or otherwise.

June 13, 2022

Shadow Grave

Written by Marina Cohen
Roaring Brook Press
288 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2022
The trip to a New Hampshire bed-and-breakfast for twelve-year-old Arlo and his eight-year-old sister Lola with their mother for Thanksgiving is supposed to be a treat. With their father remarried with a new child and Mom dealing with health issues and Arlo managing anxiety, the family needs a break. And with money being an issue–they're driving Mom's old clunker of a car–everything is being done on a budget. But when something jumps into the road and they end up hitting a tree and totalling the car, their family trip takes an unexpected turn. 

The trio have no option but to seek help, especially as Mom's ankle may be broken and their one working cell phone cannot get a signal. Following the road that eventually becomes little more than a footpath, they reach the town of Livermore, an isolated community that almost feels deserted. In fact, when they finally get someone to open their door, the woman tells them, "You've come to the wrong place." (pg. 37) But Lovicia, with the urging of her young niece Hannah, lets them in and summons Doc Brown to tend to Arlo and Lola's mom. Everything's a little bit old-fashioned from the plaster cast Mom is given to the pot over a fire in the hearth but it's the lack of automobiles or phones that poses the greatest concern. And then Arlo hears some one say, "Leave now. While you still can." (pg. 46) With one last call to his Dad before their phone dies, the family is put up at the Samuels' B &B, a large mansion of Mr. Woodbridge Samuels, his young daughter Alice, and housekeeper Mrs. Hawthorn. They also meet all the community who join them for a Thanksgiving meal but, even though they are polite enough, Arlo feels the townspeople are somewhat reserved, perhaps even unwelcoming.
It was as though their warm smiles and formal manners hid their true feelings, like sweet perfume masks the stench of sweat. (pg. 87)
What their superficial politeness and old-fashioned natures hide is far more creepy than even Arlo and his family could anticipate, and whether or not they can get out of Livermore safely is part of the mystery of Shadow Grave.

Author Marina Cohen has always given us a little bit of creepy blended with the realism of family relationships, mental health, and more. With Shadow Grave, she again delivers us to a surreal world, this one the town of Livermore with its eerie inhabitants, time-frozen settings and dark unknowns, while integrating it with the familiar as Mom battles a life-threatening illness, Arlo struggles with his anxiety and the whole family is challenged with rebuilding after divorce. So while Marina Cohen has given us another solid middle-grade horror novel (check out my favourites The Inn Between, The Doll's Eye and Chasing the White Witch),  Shadow Grave has infused a story with ghost-like entities, monsters, and unknown dangers with the reality of a family's challenges, thereby also drawing in readers with the fears of every day life. She reminds us that some times the terrors we feel are both familiar and alien. 

Enter Livermore with caution. There are monsters of different kinds but, if you face them as Arlo does, with positive thoughts, trust and family, you may just get out alive.

June 08, 2022

Me Three

Written by Susan Juby
Puffin Canada
224 pp.
Ages 10+
March 2022 
Reviewed from audiobook

Rodney's dad used to be famous as the author of the best-selling poker book Get Lucky and the host-poker player of Get Lucky TV who took celebrities to high-stakes poker games. Now it's because of accusations by Missy Stephenson of inappropriate behaviour. Eleven-year-old Rodney believes his dad when he says it's all a misunderstanding but his father is still at a facility, apparently to help him deal with how it feels to have his actions, like hugs, misconstrued. Meanwhile, Rodney, his older sister Kate and their mom, now using Mom's maiden name, have moved from the opulence of their life in Las Vegas to the small home of cousin Maria in Stony Butte, Arizona, four hours away.
From Me Three by Susan Juby
Rodney is desperate to connect with his best friend Larry, the son of Get Lucky TV's producer Isbell, but all his texts, etc. have gone unanswered. So Rodney writes unsent letters to Larry to tell him about life in Stony Butte and about trying to fit in and make friends. But Rodney has a lot to learn about navigating a new school that is very different from his private school Circle Square. He tries to follow Dad's "10 Rules for Living a Lucky Life" but it doesn't always work. That's especially so when Kate, who is furious with her father and believes her brother is in denial about their father, is losing weight and obsessed with her food consumption. And their mother has to take a job at an insurance company and teach Pilates in her off-hours so they can afford anything extra. And he really misses his old friend and has to keep his old life under wraps though he looks forward to when things will be back to normal.

Then things start to look up. He makes friends with Ben who comes from a family of stunt people and who gives Rodney his first taste of danger. Rodney also begins to hang out with a few other kids including Rigmor and Fisherman and Dave. But when popular Van Johnson, a wild man YouTuber, performs a song about J. Crederman and the allegations made against him, and a classmate discovers an online photo of him with Rodney, the family is devastated with being exposed and with the negative attention.
My emotions felt tired out. Like someone smeared all the colors together and now I just felt muddy.

In a time of #MeToo and social media, Susan Juby has given young readers a new perspective, taking us into the head and heart of a child whose father has been accused of sexual harassment and perhaps worse. (Details are suggested but never revealed.) Rodney's dad is a jerk, caring more about his brand, his reputation and the impact on his finances, though he is learning to say all the "right" things, but he's squirreled away in a treatment facility while his family is forced to live in diminished circumstances and under a cloud of shame and acrimony. Rodney, Kate and their mom are the heroes of their own lives, getting on with things, regardless of the "power shamer" J. Crederman. They're learning to balance the past with their present circumstances, even if Kate has become "a Death Star of bad mood." Wisely, their mom tells them that...

The best thing you will ever learn is to deal with what is versus what you wish was.

Sexual harassment and abuse are heavy topics for a middle grade novel but even more so when allegations are made involving a parent. Still Susan Juby keeps her story balanced with humour and candour. The honesty is in the plot and the humour comes through her characters. Both Rodney and Kate are cheeky and have a dry, almost dark, humour. He groans at her fashion sense–"Kate dresses like she wants to hurt people's eyes"–and she can laugh at their situation, claiming that "What doesn't kill you makes a better Instagram poet." But I would expect nothing less from Susan Juby who has won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. She makes us laugh while she makes us think and feel. 

Though the full extent of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Rodney's father is unknown, it is the driving force behind the story of Rodney, Kate and their mother in Me Three. But by making Rodney the focus of the story and giving him the voice of a child who develops from one completely in support of his father to one who wants to know the truth and then hears his father's words as sound bites of rationalizations and mandatory apologies, Susan Juby gives us a different viewpoint. She lets us lace up a pair of Rodney's shoes and deal with the aftermath of his father's misconduct as he, Rodney, experiences it, with a loss of friendship, security and support in the shadow of shame and secrecy, and yet still able to come out with a solid support system of family and friends.

June 06, 2022

Una Huna?: Ukpik Learns to Sew

Written by Susan Aglukark
Illustrated by Amiel Sandland and Rebecca Brook
Inhabit Media
36 pp.
Ages 5-7
June 2022
After Ukpik's father (ataata), uncle and cousin return from a hunting trip with five caribou, the child's mother enlists her help in preparing the furs for a special project. Though she doesn't know what the special project will be, Ukpik is delighted to be part of something that will include some beads (sunguajait) that her anaana had been saving.
From Una Huna?: Ukpik Learns to Sew by Susan Aglukark, illus. by Amiel Sandland and Rebecca Brook
First, Ukpik is told get the ulu her grandfather (ataatatsiaq) had made for her as she would help with the cleaning of the skins. She is instructed on how to remove incidental fat and how to be careful with the sharp tool. Later the skins are stretched out and pinned to the ground to dry.
From Una Huna?: Ukpik Learns to Sew by Susan Aglukark, illus. by Amiel Sandland and Rebecca Brook 
As they wait for the skins to dry, Anaana allows Ukpik to work with the beads forming a pattern. After the skins are dry, Anaana teaches Ukpik how to soften the skins by tromping on them and also using a sakuut

For practise, Anaana cuts pieces according to a pattern for Ukpik and her friend Qopak to learn to sew mittens. When it becomes evident that the girls are becoming fatigued, Ukpik's anaana reminds her that:
You must begin your lessons now so you know how to do the right stitches for each pattern. The size and shape of the stitches matter, Ukpik, and to get these right, you must practise. (pg. 25)
From Una Huna?: Ukpik Learns to Sew by Susan Aglukark, illus. by Amiel Sandland and Rebecca Brook
It takes days of patience and meticulous work to prepare the skins so that they might be fashioned into clothing, and it's a skill that connects Ukpik and Anaana and others with their ancestors. Anaana and Ataata recognize that the world for Ukpik and her peers is changing (the earlier book Una Huna?: What is This? relates the introduction of new tools to the community from the south) but that skills like sewing and skin preparation are lines of kinship that will link them with their heritage forever.  
Author Susan Aglukark is perhaps best known as an award-winning Inuk singer-songwriter but her Una Huna? picture books take us to a northern Indigenous community in a different way, perhaps to see what growing up there might have been like for her. Una Huna?: Ukpik Learns to Sew reminds us that learning is happening constantly for children and especially for this Inuk child who wants to know and to discover all that she can. Una Huna? translates to "What is this?" and reflects Ukpik's inquisitive nature and desire to understand the nature of her people's ways of living while still being a kid who likes to play with her friends and puppy on the tundra. And, for most readers, Una Huna?: Ukpik Learns to Sew will be an introduction to traditional skills of the Inuit in addition to their language (a glossary with Inuktitut pronunciation guide is provided), making this picture book another culturally relevant book from Inhabit Media.
The illustrations by Amiel Sandland and Rebecca Brook are both playful and informative, striking the right balance for young readers who will learn but be entertained by the artwork. Amiel Sandland has always been astute at keeping the art simple enough for children to get the essentials of the details without overloading them with insignificant fluff. As such, the illustrations give us the starkness of the tundra and the straightforwardness of living as Inuit on the land while emphasizing an ancestry of significance.
Una Huna?: Ukpik Learns to Sew is an endearing recollection of the learning of traditional skills from a parent who is both patient, wise and loving.  It's about being at the crossroads of past and future, connecting to one's heritage but seeing what that might mean for later. It's a big story told skilfully with the essence of the Inuit at its core.

June 03, 2022

When I Listen to Silence

Written by Jean E. Pendziwol
Illustrated by Carmen Mok
Groundwood Book
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
April 2022
Listening to silence may seem like an oxymoron. After all, how can one hear the absence of sound? But Jean E. Pendziwol understands the distinction that is silence in our world and gives children a perspective on something which may often be lacking and underappreciated because it leads to greater voice and joy.

From When I Listen to Silence by Jean E. Pendziwol, illus. by Carmen Mok
As her mom struggles to work at the dining room table, a sight not uncommon to many during this pandemic, a child is asked to "Please, be quiet!" And so the child sits still and silent. But what happens when she's silent?
From When I Listen to Silence by Jean E. Pendziwol, illus. by Carmen Mok
First, she can hears that which would seem inaudible: the trees breathing. Not only do they breathe, they dance. And bears join them in the dance. But that awakens a dragon!
From When I Listen to Silence by Jean E. Pendziwol, illus. by Carmen Mok
The child is no longer just a listener; she is a participant. She is a musician, a passenger on a bird escaping the dragon's breath, and then on a steed with a knight flying to the moon. They cross an ocean of stars, end up on a pirate ship and have to be hushed by a pair of mermaids that look like her mother. Finally, the story comes full circle as it's time for the child to nap, with the whales, and she is compelled to ask her mother for quiet.

There is a profoundness and whimsy when you listen to the silence. It comes from heeding important messages about self and this child is able to take herself into her imagination with that silence. Jean E. Pendziwol shows young readers the wealth and breadth of play that can come from nothing but the imagination, when silence gives way to creativity and fantasy. Away from the noise of a TV, tablet or other riotous devices that take away the opportunity for self-directed play, this child grows and travels and experiences the fancies of being whatever she wants.
Carmen Mok's illustrations, rendered in gouache, India ink, dry pastel and colour pencil, take readers from the reality of an indoor room to the surreal of the forest of dancing trees and bears, across the sky and into space and onto the ocean, all from the perch of a child's imagination. The realism of a house with a mom on her computer with a cell phone at her ear, and a child playing with her toys on a window seat in her mom's view, is very honest and a foundation for the child's imaginative play. Her playthings become dancers, a mount and a pirate ship; stars, shells and plants in the decor become part of her landscape; and the toys like the drum and ukulele help her take part in her vision. Carmen Mok gives these imaginative scenes an ethereal feel, bright with the horn-playing moon, the shimmy of a river of stars, and the energy of a pirate ship resplendent in pinks and greens and yellows.  
Jean E. Pendziwol and Carmen Mok may show us that this child's play is all in her head but it's robust in colour, spirit and fancy. And it all comes from the power of silence.

June 01, 2022

Linty: A Pocketful of Adventure

Written and illustrated by Mike Shiell
Kids Can Press
64 pp.
Ages 6-9
May 2022

What kind of a life does a piece of lint have while tucked into the corner of a pocket, ignored by all, and oblivious to much? Well, author-illustrator Mike Shiell takes us deep into that pocket to find out.
From Linty: A Pocketful of Adventure by Mike Shiell
Day after day, a piece of link in the front pocket of a pair of jeans wakes up, does some cardio and some sightseeing and plays Solo Marco Polo. They are days of limited activities but it's all he knows. Then one day, the old jeans are passed on to a younger brother and everything changes for the amorphous lint.
From Linty: A Pocketful of Adventure by Mike Shiell
For the first time in forever, the piece of lint is joined by other entities. There's an acorn, a lollipop, a bottle cap, food and more. They give him the name Linty and want to know about him so he shows them what he does. In fact, they turn his game of Solo Marco Polo into a game for all and Linty declares it the best day of his life.
From Linty: A Pocketful of Adventure by Mike Shiell
Then Wash Day, something with which Linty is unfamiliar, arrives and everyone else is vacated from the pocket but Linty chooses to stay behind. After a tumultuous wash and dry–with a dangerous encounter with a lint trap–a fluffier Linty is missing his friends. Still he finds a way to get past his fear and look beyond his world in a new way to reconnect with them.
I've only known Mike Shiell from his illustrations in the non-fiction series Gross Science by Edward Kay and from his illustrations in Caroline Adderson' s Jasper John Dooley series so I'm so pleased that he's letting his own quirky and lighthearted writing shine along with his artwork in this early graphic novel. Mike Shiell blends a simple but cheeky story with playful artwork which will be enjoyed by early readers, ages 6-9, who are reading on their own but enjoy the illustrations that come with graphic novels. I'm sure they'll pick up on the pickle socks and cow underwear in the wash, the broken mustard packet joining Linty in the pocket, and the mess of a child's room. Most significantly, they'll have a different perspective on everything from what they put in their pockets, to the force of a washing machine and dryer, and even playing Marco Polo. In fact, I can just imagine wonderful lessons that could come with children delving into their own pockets. So, not only will young ones be entertained and laugh with Linty and his new friends, Linty: A Pocketful of Adventure will have them thinking about what's at the bottom of their own pockets and speculating about how that lint and other things spend their days there.