August 29, 2022

Forever Truffle

Three Stories by Fanny Britt
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Translated by Susan Ouriou
Groundwood Books
114 pp.
Ages 7-10
August 2022
In three stories, Fanny Britt introduces young readers to Truffle, a young red-haired wonder who adores music, falls in love and learns about figures of speech, and contemplates life in a very big and beautiful way. He is Forever Truffle, and occasionally Truffleletto.
From Forever Truffle by Fanny Britt, illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
In the first story, Truffle The Rock Star, Truffle explores his love of music. From childhood and listening to everything from Verdi to Joan Jett, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, it's obvious that Truffle is a lover of music, especially rock, and he's thrilled when he gets a biker jacket for a birthday gift. Determined to be a rocker, Truffle gets together with best friends Flo and Riad to conceptualize their own rock band.
From Forever Truffle by Fanny Britt, illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
In the second story, Truffle Loves Nina, Truffle has fallen for little Nina. However, ever since he's asked her to be his girlfriend, he can't speak to her. When his father suggests he let his heart do the talking, Truffle tries to understand that figure of speech and many others so that he might express his love to Nina. 
From Forever Truffle by Fanny Britt, illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
The final story, Truffle Tackles Existence, has Truffle asking big questions when attending the funeral of his great-grandma Sybile. The visit brings up Truffle's thoughts on his parents' divorce, including his hope for reconciliation; on his love of dogs and missing their pup Rocket; and about growing old and dying. He's thoughtful and observant, kind and forever Truffle. 

Montreal's Fanny Britt does not do frivolous or cute but she does do real and that's what and who Truffle is. He's a real child who dreams and wishes and imagines, as well as loves, hopes and reflects. And he's got lots to think about, from his divorced parents, to his older brother, his loves and his good friends, to his aspirations and his life. His naiveté is authentic, not silly, and allows his inquisitive nature to learn lessons that all children will learn some time in their lives, some earlier, some later. 

Artist Isabelle Arsenault complements Fanny Britt's text, so expertly translated by Calgary's Susan Ouriou, with illustrations that emulate that sensibility of the story.  The artwork, rendered in pencil, ink and collage, are low key, tempered in doleful tones with splashes of yellow and orange and turquoise. After all, life is not all bright colours, bold in spirit and brash in tones. It's often just a plodding along of trying to understand and manage and find some brightness whenever and wherever possible. 
From Forever Truffle by Fanny Britt, illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
The collaboration between Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, as in Louis Undercover and Jane, the Fox and Me, has always been a powerful but subtle one of compelling stories of authenticity, told in words and pictures that depict children as they live. The complexity of their lives and their understandings are evident though not belaboured. Forever Truffle will forever be such a story.

August 24, 2022

It's My Body!

Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
September 2022

Elise Gravel has always used her quirky illustrative way to entertain while teaching STEM, from her Disgusting Critters series to The Mushroom Fan Club and even her early graphic novel series Arlo & Pips. But in recent years, Elise Gravel's picture books have shown a proclivity for encouraging young readers to be respectful of self and others by demonstrating that we are more alike than our differences might suggest. In It's My Body!, Elise Gravel reminds us that our bodies are our own, to love and appreciate, even as they are different in shape, colour, ability and how we feel about them.
From It's My Body! by Elise Gravel
If we're going to talk about our bodies, we first have to recognize all the different kinds there are. Brilliantly, Elise Gravel gives us dozens of bodies, all unrecognizable as people but all representative of the myriad of human body types. Some have two legs, some do not. Some have ears, and some do not. Some are tiny, some thin, some pear-shaped, and others stocky. Some move by wheels and some with canes. And they can all do stuff.
From It's My Body! by Elise Gravel

What we choose to do with our bodies is up to us but Elise Gravel recommends that we honour them by keeping them healthy and happy with good food, activity, cleanliness, fresh air and rest. And she reminds us that "Nobody should touch your body in ways that you don't like" and we should respect that for others as well.
From It's My Body! by Elise Gravel

Without belabouring any one issue like inappropriate touch or hygiene, illness or diversity, disability or body positivity, Elise Gravel gives it all to us. She reminds us to be kind to ourselves and others and to appreciate our differences as well as our similarities. With her one-of-a-kind monsters, Elise Gravel makes us feel worthy and included, no matter what we can do, feel or look like. That will help children with the ideation of self-esteem, while also shepherding them to good mental and physical health. After all, as Elise Gravel's green-and-yellow-spotted character reminds us:
Thank you, BODY. Without you, I would be a NO-BODY!

August 22, 2022

Room for More

Written by Michelle Kadarusman
Illustrated by Maggie Zeng
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
June 2022

With fire season upon us, Room for More reminds us of the fragility of habitats and the vulnerability of animals to destruction too often wrought by humans, whether by carelessness or climate change. Fortunately, animal species such as the Australian ones Michelle Kadarusman has highlighted here do better than we do at showing compassion, generosity, flexibility and reciprocity.

From Room for More by Michelle Kadarusman, illus. by Maggie Zeng
Two wombats, Dig and Scratch, know that when they smell the smoke of a bushfire that they will be safe in their deep burrows. But when they hear other animals scurrying for safety outside, Dig offers them shelter, though Scratch keeps reiterating that, "There is no room." Still, Dig tells a wallaby with a joey in her pouch who was already succumbing to the smoke that, "We have plenty of room."
From Room for More by Michelle Kadarusman, illus. by Maggie Zeng
When Dig spots a koala clinging to a tree, he again helps a stranded animal, against Scratch's grumblings of limited space. When a tiger snake is spotted, there is much trepidation about a venomous snake that might bite but Dig is convinced the snake will behave.
From Room for More by Michelle Kadarusman, illus. by Maggie Zeng
Though very snug in the wombats' burrow, the motley group of animals survive until a rain comes and puts out the bushfire. But, with that rain, comes a new worry for the wombats whose home is in danger of flooding. However, their new friends find a way to reciprocate the relief provided, showing a generosity of spirit all around.
Australian-born author Michelle Kadarusman's "Author's Note" reveals that Room for More is based on the science that animals other than wombats would find safety in their deep burrows during the horrific bushfires of 2019-2020. Perhaps there weren't discussions between wombats about helping out or animals uniting to engineer an embankment, but Michelle Kadarusman reminds us that all animals, even unlikely allies, can cooperate for greater good and without compulsion for mutual benefit, though in this case that is exactly what happens.  Though the consequences of bushfires are often devastating, Michelle Kadarusman has emphasized a gentler story, that of animals surviving and by unusual means. And that's the good story. But Michelle Kadarusman also gives us the science of Room for More, providing a glossary of the species involved in the story as well as explaining important issues like climate change, environmental disasters and Australian Indigenous land practices.
From Room for More by Michelle Kadarusman, illus. by Maggie Zeng
That gentle touch to what is a heartbreaking and devastating circumstance is emulated in artist Maggie Zeng's digital illustrations. While there is an orange hue of fires and a pall of grey haze to the landscape, Maggie Zeng does not overwhelm the art with angry flames or blackened scenes of destruction. Instead, she takes us to a dry and warm setting that is softened with the kindness of benevolence. In her colours and shapes, Maggie Zeng offers generosity and compassion.

I know teachers will love to share this story with their students whether for STEM lessons regarding habitat, characteristics of living things, different world biomes or climate change or for character education centered on empathy and goodwill but at its heart it is a sweet story that goes beyond teaching by captivating readers and transporting them to other worlds. It would seem there's always room for another fabulous picture book on the youngCanLit shelves.

August 19, 2022


Written and illustrated by Rebecca Bender
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
June 2022

Let's get some joy in our lives. Dance, dogs, and fulfillment will do just the trick with Rebecca Bender's Ballewiena.
From Ballewiena by Rebecca Bender
Dotty dreamed of being a ballet dancer. She knew how to plié, assemblé and pirouette. She could chassé, glissé and do a pas de chat (even though she was a dog). But Ms. Austere did not appreciate Dotty's moves and, while she trained Dotty's poodle sibs Jazzebelle and Miffy for the upcoming Golden Bow Talent Show, she took the dachshund to the Canine School of Obedience. 
From Ballewiena by Rebecca Bender
But obedience school was not for Dotty who "tried, she really did, but something inside her made her spring up into an elegant entrechat." Despondent, Dotty runs into the park after class and meets Louis-Pierre, a squirrel and an acrobat. Louis-Pierre invites Dotty, whom he calls Pitou, to work out with him and teaches her, by some unusual pedagogical means, the value of practice in gaining skills.  
From Ballewiena by Rebecca Bender
Still, when the Golden Bow Talent Show comes around, Dotty is expected only to watch from the audience. But, Louis-Pierre has other ideas and liberates Dotty to show off her skills and reveal her true ballerina self.

Young readers will know Rebecca Bender's storytelling from her award-winning Giraffe and Bird series (e.g., Giraffe Meets Bird; Giraffe and Bird Together Again; Don't Laugh at Giraffe) but she does as well by dogs as she does with giraffes, birds, hedgehogs and ducklings (e.g., How Do You Feel?) and more. She makes us care about her characters who are all expressive and one-of-a-kind, whether they are pets or wild. That's because her stories are those lived by children. Dotty may be a dog but she could be any child who feels her dream is being stifled and who wants to express herself through dance. I suspect that Rebecca Bender is a herself ballet parent, one who has learned much from attending classes with little ones. In fact, I myself learned much about ballet through the text of Ballewiena but also in her incredible endpapers that depict a variety of ballet movements and their phonetic pronunciations. Yes, Ballewiena is about ballet, and would make a great gift for any child who enjoys dance classes, but it has important messages about following your aspirations and being true to yourself while ensuring that you put the work in so it becomes a goal and not a pipe-dream.  

Rebecca Bender's illustrations, created with gouache, watercolour, pen and ink, as well as digital media, carry those messages through worlds of colour, shape and attitude. Her assortment of canine and other characters conveys a depth of personality beyond the dance. (I was especially taken with Louis-Pierre who, with his sweatband and drawstring workout pants, has a je ne sais quoi quality that is adorable, even as he coaches Dotty through rigorous training.)

Whether you're a dancer, an appreciative fan or neither, Ballewiena reminds us to follow our passions and dance fully in our lives.

August 16, 2022


Written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
August 2022 
Readers and writers know the power of words. Words can evoke and reassure, anger and subdue, and enlighten and confuse. They can do it all, or it would seem. But sometimes words aren't needed for an impact to be made. Author and illustrator Ruth Ohi makes this subtle and powerful point with her first wordless picture book, Blanket.
From Blanket by Ruth Ohi
Sometimes it doesn't matter if it's sunny outside and the birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming. Inside, really deep inside, is where it can still be grey and that sunshine cannot reach. Yet.
From Blanket by Ruth Ohi
When Cat awakens to the grey inside, they take their turquoise blanket and burrow under it. When Dog shows up, they see the lump that is Cat beneath the blanket, but Dog does not demand anything of Cat. Dog sits down nearby and quietly reads. With time and still beneath the blanket, Cat snuggles over to Dog. Eventually, Cat lifts the blanket and allows Dog to enter and share their protected space.

It's obvious that, while the darkness beneath the blanket offers Cat security, it is also a place where fears can grow and take over. But Dog has a flashlight and the two play with the light before Dog suggests using the blanket to create a shelter over two chairs. It gives Cat the security they need but offers more light and something else. It's a first step to feeling safe enough to venture outside and transform the blanket from shield to shared comforter.
From Blanket by Ruth Ohi

While Ruth Ohi's charming animals are easily recognizable for their sweetness and emotional depth, Blanket is so different from her earlier picture books because of its wordless nature. I've always been delighted with Ruth Ohi's books (e.g., No Help Wanted; Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever; Kenta and the Big Wave); still, Blanket is so impressive in its story and messaging that it will sit with me for a very long time. (Though I love sharing books with others, I'll be holding on to Blanket for myself.) Blanket reminds us that, if someone is dealing with sadness or depression, it is not up to others to decide how to help them. When an individual is dealing with an internal greyness, everyone wants to help but seldom–only in dire circumstances–should another decide what is needed. Dog knows this. With time and patience, a flashlight and some playfulness, Dog is able to offer Cat opportunities to come out from the shadows of the blanket. It's still up to Cat when they are ready to move from beneath the blanket into the light. And with few colours and strategic lines of smiles and eyes that are dim and then bright, Ruth Ohi tells us all this in her moving illustrations. Even in the darkness of Cat's sadness, Ruth Ohi has given us light through her art.

A blanket can be so much more than a coverlet for a bed. It can be shelter and armour, defense and offense, and love and fear. It can hide and reveal. This is Cat's blanket. It offers them the opportunity to hide from the world but also reveals Cat as they are to Dog. There is power in that blanket for good and I'm so glad that Cat used it as they needed and that Dog was there to take their cues from Cat.

August 11, 2022

The Fort

Written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Press
256 pp.
Ages 8-12
June 2022
When is a shelter not a shelter? When it's a secret that is in danger of being exposed. And when four friends and their unexpected tag-a-long discover the ultimate shelter, it becomes their fort and they'll do anything to keep it safe.

The day after a hurricane rolls through the town of Canaan, thirteen-year-old Evan Donnelly is tasked with looking after newcomer Ricky Molina while their families deal with the aftermath of the storm. The boys meet up with Evan's friends C. J. Sciutto, Mitchell Worth and Jason Brax to check out their man-made shower-curtain and plywood fort in the woods but discover that it has been demolished by the storm. But clever Ricky–he may be a year younger than the boys but he's gifted and has come from a magnet school–unearths a newly-exposed trapdoor into a massive underground bomb shelter, fully stocked with furniture, food, chemical toilet, lights, music records, and VCR and videos. A video reveals the shelter was constructed by the now-deceased Bennett Delamere, founder of one of the town's key industries, now closed, in anticipation of an attack during the Cold War. The boys realize quickly the enormity of their find and vow to keep it secret.

But each of the boys has a complex life going on outside the fort. Evan and his seventeen-year-old brother Luke live with their grandparents ever since the boys were abandoned by their parents for their addictions. Mitchell has always struggled with OCD and now cannot get help from his psychiatrist since his mom lost her job, and benefits, at DelaCraft Auto Parts, and has had to take on three jobs to make ends meet. While Jason is enjoying his first relationship with Janelle, daughter of police Officer Jaworski, he's caught in a nasty divorce in which his parents use him as a pawn. Even C. J., who seems to have everything he wants courtesy of his stepdad Marcus, keeps getting into scrape after scrape on his skateboard or hoverboard or pogo stick, calling his exploits "death-defiers." As for Ricky, who is reluctantly allowed to enjoy the fort he found, is determined to study hard and get into the local magnet school and make the best of things until he does.

The fort becomes a refuge for them, to watch classic movies like Jaws and Star Wars, to eat 40-year-old canned food, listen to records and play games like Fort Olympics. It's even a source of funds as the boys learn the blackened cutlery is solid silver and can be pawned for money. But, their fort is in danger of discovery from scary local teen Jaeger Devlin and his sidekick, Evan's brother Luke, who threaten, steal, coerce and worse and would do the same to the boys if they thought there was something in it for them.

The Fort is Gordon Korman's 100th book, an astounding feat. And it's as fresh and meaningful to young readers as his first, This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!, was in 1978. Think of the movie Stand By Me without the dead body and you'll have The Fort. Gordon Korman has given us a coming of age story about a group of boys with different backgrounds and home situations and personal issues who find a way to come together for each other and become something stronger and cohesive. Because The Fort is told in the alternating voices of the five boys, their perspectives on their friendships, school, families and the fort are unique and relevant. The boys make the story because it is their story. In fact, it's all their stories. Like the fort, it's one thing but it's so many different things too. It's acceptance and anonymity, protection and vulnerability, and it's solidarity and individuality. Gordon Korman has made the fort a foundation for the boys to learn more about themselves and each other and build new bonds of friendship and support. And like a fort, their friendships will be a stronghold against life's inevitable challenges and foibles.

August 09, 2022

A Starlit Trip to the Library: Q & A with author Andrew Katz

Yesterday, I reviewed A Starlit Trip to the Library, Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel's latest picture book collaboration with illustrator Joseph Sherman. Today I present an interview I had with Andrew Katz, with input from co-author Juliana Léveillé-Trudel as well as illustrator Joseph Sherman and performer Taes Leavitt, about the book and its accompanying musical performance.

A Starlit Trip to the Library
Written by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel
Illustrated by Joseph Sherman
CrackBoom! Books (Chouette Publishing)
44 pp.
Ages 3-6
September 2022

HK:  Before we talk about the book, tell us a bit about the collaborations that resulted in both the Julia books, How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read and A Starlit Trip to the Library. How did you all come to work together to create the text and art? 

Andrew Katz:  Our collaboration came together through a series of fortunate events. Juliana and I met about six years ago, and our very first conversations revealed a mutual love of writing. At that point she was a published novelist, writing in French, and I had self-published a few picture books for my nieces and nephews for birthdays and holidays.

Within a few weeks, Juliana and I had started writing a children’s play together. Then, a few months later, inspiration for a picture book hit. I spotted a book lying around that I didn’t recognize, and I made an excited lunge toward it, as if it were a chocolate chip cookie. Juliana joked that to make a trap for me, the thing to put in it would not be food but a book. Immediately we sensed a potential plot twist for a story, and soon the tale of Julia, a young girl who yearns for an ursine pal, and Bertrand, a bear who loves to read, began to take shape. We wrote a draft that we had illustrated by a student at the college where I teach, and we self-published the book as a present for our nieces and nephews.
Skip forward to a book fair in Cuba; Juliana was there to present her novel and I was tagging along. One afternoon we crossed paths with a representative from Chouette publishing (the publishers of Caillou), who explained to us that Chouette had just created a new imprint, called CrackBoom! We told the rep about our Julia and Bertrand story, and she suggested that we send it in. We heard nothing for six months, assumed they were not interested, but then out of the blue got an email saying they wanted to publish our book! (It turns out they just hadn’t read the manuscript yet.) 
They asked if we had anyone in mind for the illustrations, and Robin Budd, a multiple award-winning children’s animator, happened to be a family friend of mine. I contacted Robin to see if he knew anyone who might be interested in the job, and he put us in touch with an illustrator named Joseph Sherman, a Gemini Award-winning animator himself who had always wanted to illustrate a picture book. Luckily, Joe was excited to hop on board the project, and the rest, as they say, is history!

That, in a nutshell, is how the collaboration between the three of us got started.

HK:  As a story-telling and book-reading child, Julia is open to the magic that comes with words. After all, she has animal friends, spends nights in a tent in the forest, takes a ride on a house boat, and more. How did you choose which elements to keep real–like Julia being afraid to go through the forest at night–and which would be fantasy, like the talking animals?

Andrew Katz:  There is a rich tradition in English kid lit of children playing in a forest where their imaginations come alive. The forest by Julia’s house is that kind of place. It is a real forest, but it is also somewhere that the dreams of her big heart–such as getting a bear hug from a bear or boldly going to the library at night–can play themselves out.

Stories themselves work in a similar way: they explore both the real world and our inner world at the same time. You pointed out that Julia understands the magic that comes with words and stories, and we wanted to illustrate that idea by having a book within each book. In How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read, Julia is reading a book about a bear, and in A Starlit Trip to the Library, she gets a book about a girl and her animal friends who go on a river journey at night. In both cases, her reading and her adventures reflect each other, suggesting that Julia’s own story involves some overlap between reality and imagination.   

In terms of how to decide what is real and what is fantasy, we try to make sure that the elements related to the flora and fauna of Julia’s forest are more or less realistic. We want these stories to elicit an interest in and love for nature and the natural sciences, so we aim to portray the plants and animals of Julia’s forest in a way that reflects their natural habits and characteristics. We portray Julia realistically as well, to show that she is an ordinary relatable kid; it takes her real effort to climb a tall tree, and she hesitates before venturing through the forest at night. At the same time, we also wanted to include elements that spring from Julia’s imagination: she is able to talk with the animals, and her friend Bertrand turns out to be a remarkable carpenter. (He has a treehouse in the first book and a house boat in the second.)  

Ultimately, Julia is a child playing in the forest by her house, and as her authors we simply tried try to capture her play, as she experiences it. 

HK:  I think most readers and all writers know the importance of the books and libraries in our lives. But A Starlit Trip to the Library (as well as How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read) takes a slightly different take on both by having the characters, Julia and her animal friends, visit the boxes of donated books that the librarians put out behind the library. Why do this rather than have them visit the actual library inside?

Andrew Katz:  In the first book in the series, there is a question as to where a bear who loves to read can get his paws on books. In the spirit of your question above, we wanted to keep some sense of realism, which meant he couldn’t get them from inside the library. (As Bertrand explains in the second book, “Some of us cannot acquire a library card.”) Fortunately, however, his local librarians, as you say, are kind enough to put out boxes of donated books by the back door. And so when all the people in the village are asleep, Bertrand makes his way behind the library and scavenges for fresh reading material. Even though he can’t enter the actual library, he gets to have the same experience as the rest of us of going to the library and browsing through all the books.

When Juliana and I were kids, we loved it when our librarians would introduce us to new books on the shelves. Julia and her friends are able to have this experience, too, thanks to a new character who appears in the sequel: Olga, the night librarian. Olga is an owl who spends all night organizing the boxes of donated books and alphabetizing the titles. As Bertrand says, “She is a librarian of vast experience,” and after Julia and her friends tell Olga the kind of bedtime story they would like to read, Olga finds just the right book for them.

In this way, the back of the library at night becomes an animal-friendly version of the library that kids experience inside during the day.

We also thought that kids might enjoy the idea of going to a place they normally visit during the day at an unusual time––i.e. at night. When Juliana and I were young readers, we would have been very excited by this prospect! In fact, there is a town not far from where we live whose library is perched on a riverbank, and we have some friends who live in that town who own a canoe, so we are contemplating a little paddle at sundown to visit the back of the library ourselves.

HK:  The characters in A Starlit Trip to the Library were first introduced in How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read. When you could have chosen from countless species, you’ve selected a diverse group of creatures that differ in size, in temperaments, and more. Why did you choose a groundhog, a skunk, a squirrel and a bear?

Andrew Katz:  For Julia’s three smaller animal friends, we were looking for animals that she would be likely to find in a Canadian forest. We also tried to think of animals that she could play games with, such as climbing trees with the squirrel and playing hide-and-seek with the groundhog. (Juliana’s taboo-breaking sensibility, common in French children’s literature, inspired the skunk character, with whom Julia has tooting contests.)

As for the bear, Julia is a character with a big heart who dreams big, and a bear matched the size of both her heart and her dreams. At first, she wants to meet a bear because she thinks a bear would give the best bear hug ever. But after she encounters Bertrand, she also discovers that they share a mutual love of reading. (Juliana also has an unconditional love of bears, so she was eager for us to include a bear in the story.)

It was a challenge to give so many different animals their own unique personalities and voices. But who they were and how they spoke gradually revealed itself as we wrote the story. The squirrel is very excitable, like a small child. The groundhog has a grandmotherly disposition. And the skunk is full of curiosity. Bertrand is gentlemanly and gracious, and his manner of speaking is that of a self-educated bear; he loves words, including some big words, but he uses them in his own idiosyncratic way.

HK:  A Starlit Trip to the Library may be about stories and the places they can take us but the book also gives us more than a story. For example, you share information about animal constellations, providing teachable STEM content in the book. Are you a fan of astronomy and the stars of the night skies?

Andrew Katz:  The night skies in the book help establish the mood of awe, exploration and discovery that accompanies Julia and her friends on their quest for a bedtime story. Their entire journey to the library at night is also meant to be a metaphor for the experience of reading itself; at its best, a book take us on a journey, carrying us into the unknown. As Emily Dickinson once wrote, “There is no Frigate like a Book / to take us Lands away”–a quote we often kept in mind while writing this story.

One of the ways we navigate the unknown is by locating the familiar in it–for example, finding familiar shapes, including the shapes of animals, among the stars. Since Julia is a little obsessed with animals in general and with bears in particular, we thought it would be fun for her to identify the animal constellations on her way to the library. We wanted to use real constellations that Julia, along with young readers, would see in Canada during the summer, such as the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper, conveniently also known as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor–aka the big bear and the little bear. She also learns about the swan-shaped constellation (Cygnus) and about the North Star (Polaris), which always shines brightly in the same place, right at the tip of the little bear’s tail–a fact that comes in handy for Julia when she has to bravely take the helm of the raft and keep it on course.

HK: Your story is appended with the lyrics to "Julia's Song", a song you wrote, based on a line from Emily Dickinson’s poem "There is No Frigate Like a Book." There is also a QR code to link to a video on Bibliovideo of Taes Leavitt’s performance of it. What came first: the song or the story?

Andrew Katz:  The story came first, but the idea of a song to accompany the story goes back to How to Catch a Bear who Loves to Read. I had thought about writing a song for that first book, but the whole publication process moved along fairly quickly, and it was also our first book, so in the end I let the idea go. But once we began to write the sequel, I didn’t want to miss the chance to write a song for it. Julia sailing to the library under the stars seemed like a situation that would move her to sing. And I knew it would take me many, many months of playing around at the piano to find a melody, so I started to work on the song right away. Our publisher was very supportive of the idea, and Juliana also agreed to translate the lyrics into French so we could have the song in both languages.

HK: The song is incredibly catchy and I found myself humming it after listening to it just once. I will be posting the link to the audio performance of the song to encourage young readers and their teachers and parents to get to know Bibliovideo and to learn the song. ( Still I think it could be something big. Taes Leavitt has a beautiful voice and especially for children’s songs as it’s melodic and she enunciates well. How did a collaboration with Taes Leavitt arise? 

Andrew Katz:  Kids may know Taes Leavitt as Boots from the Canadian children’s music duo SPLASH’N BOOTS. (They won their second JUNO Award just this past year.) I am fortunate to know Taes as my sister-in-law. My brother, Peter Katz, is a musician, and Taes is his partner. Taes kindly agreed to perform the vocals for the song, and Peter arranged and played the piano to accompany the melody. He also did all the editing and a good deal of the mixing of the song. There were other collaborators around the song as well: a friend of Juliana’s, Marion Boudreault, sang the French version of the song, and Cassandra Huynh at our publisher created the song videos in both English and French that appear on the Bibliovideo site. Trish Osuch and everyone else at Bibliovideo were also super kind and helpful.

On August 26 the song will be released on steaming platforms, so that people can listen to it on Spotify, iTunes, etc. as well. I am also currently working on a video compilation for the song–i.e. singers each performing short sections, with all the sections then spliced together–which will appear sometime after the book’s release. Some of the musical guests for the compilation will include Taes Leavitt, Jack Grunsky and an all-girl choir in Tofino. 

I like the idea that the song gives Julia another way to express herself; the books are in the 3rd person, but through the song she can speak in the 1st person too. It’s also nice to imagine kids turning the last page of the story and then having the song to  help them drift off to sleep.

HK:  Have you ever considered amalgamating your Julia stories into a children’s musical or an animated film with music? In fact, do you see there being more Julia stories?

Andrew Katz:  Actually, we have imagined a musical! We are currently working on a third Julia story that takes place in winter, and the changing settings and seasons between the  stories, each with an adventure that revolves around a book, seem like they could be woven together to make a play. Of course, at this point that feels like a far off dream–I don’t even know how we would begin to make a children’s musical or an animated film happen–but writing a book once seemed like a far off dream, too, so who knows! Maybe How to Catch A Bear Who Loves to Read: The Musical will find its way to a stage someday. We’ll just have to work on a few more songs, first! 


It was my pleasure to speak with all the collaborators of A Starlit Trip to the Library via co-author Andrew Katz and to learn more about their storytelling process and integration of multimedia.

Thank you to all of them for sharing with readers of 
CanLit for LittleCanadians.

August 08, 2022

A Starlit Trip to the Library

Written by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel
Illustrated by Joseph Sherman
CrackBoom! Books (Chouette Publishing)
44 pp.
Ages 3-6
September 2022
A trip to the library is always special but a starlit one is even more so. 
From A Starlit Trip to the Library by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, illus. by Joseph Sherman
Camping out on an island near her home, Julia spends time with her forest buddies from How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read: Frieda the skunk, Abigail the groundhog, and Scotty the squirrel. But, just as she's about to start storytime, Julia is disappointed to find her storybook missing from her backpack. Fortunately, their bear friend, Bertrand, arrives via houseboat, and invites them to join him on a book-scavenging adventure to the "perfect place to dig for page-turners, sublime rhymes and other treasures."
From A Starlit Trip to the Library by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, illus. by Joseph Sherman
Using the stars to guide them, the reading adventurers head to town and to the library. But, because it's late and not all of them are permitted to have library cards, the group heads behind the library. There they meet up with the night librarian, Olga the owl, who shows them the many boxes of donated books which she organizes.
From A Starlit Trip to the Library by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, illus. by Joseph Sherman
Olga offers assistance in finding just the right book but it's a tall order as they all want something specific in the book, something that reflects their own lives. Of course, like the wonderful librarian that she is, Olga finds the perfect story to make everyone happy.
From A Starlit Trip to the Library by Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, illus. by Joseph Sherman
Readers know the joys of connection that come with finding the right book and sharing that reading with others. In both their Julia books, Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel focus on books and the richness that comes with the reading. They show us the inspiration that comes with connecting with others, or seeing oneself reflected in the stories, or learning new things, or getting lost in new worlds. But this time, Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel also highlight the library and librarians and the bounty that comes from engagement with both. Reading is paramount but only if you have the book that fits your needs at that time. Thankfully, there are loads of books available at our public libraries, and school libraries too, and qualified staff to advise, recommend, listen, read and share their expertise with readers of all ages.  And Andrew Katz and Juliana Léveillé-Trudel celebrate them and their readers both in A Starlit Trip to the Library. (And if that's not enough, there's also notes about animals in the constellations and a very catchy song, sung by JUNO Award-winning Taes Leavitt of Splash’N Boots.)
Joseph Sherman, a Gemini Award-winning animation designer as well as illustrator, uses colour and shape to bring that celebratory luminosity to A Starlit Trip to the Library. Though the setting is night, the stars are out in the sky and there's a brightness to the characters and their landscapes. Illumination, through books, stars and constellations, and friendship, is aptly evoked through Joseph Sherman's artwork.

There's magic in books, as every reader knows. There's the magic of searching for the right book, of sharing a story with friends, and of the adventure that comes from within. Julia and friends find their newest bit of magic under the stars and behind a library and, by telling us their story of A Starlit Trip to the Library, Andrew Katz, Juliana Léveillé-Trudel and Joseph Sherman get to share some of that allure with us.


          Music and lyrics by Andrew Katz
          Produced and engineered by Peter Katz
          Performed by Taes Leavitt

Posted on Bibliovideo on February 24, 2022 at YouTube.


Tomorrow I interview co-author (and songwriter) Andrew Katz about A Starlit Trip to the Library, so look for that here.


August 06, 2022


Written and illustrated by Nancy Vo
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 3-6
August 2022

You will be forgiven if you think Boobies is about the marine bird known as the blue-footed booby. It is, after all, on the cover of Nancy Vo's latest picture book. Ah, but look a little closer at the bird and the placement of the double o's in the title and you'll realize the real story behind Boobies.
From Boobies by Nancy Vo
While Nancy Vo introduces the blue-footed booby ever so briefly, she makes it clear that this bird species has no boobies because it is not a mammal. And with that, she opens up a discussion about mammals with boobies, from a dog and a cat to an opossum, and clarifies which do not, like fish.
From Boobies by Nancy Vo
The variety of human boobies and their functionality for feeding young is explained cheekily but accurately–hence, the essential inclusion of Boobies in STEM book lists covering the human body–as is some natural and art history depictions of these organs.
From Boobies by Nancy Vo
Though this picture book won't be released until the end of August, World Breastfeeding Week is August 1st to August 7th so reviewing it on CanLit for LittleCanadians now seems highly appropriate. While Boobies isn't really a "story" with a beginning, a middle and an end, it is a unique and charming approach to the science behind breasts and will educate as well as engage. Kids may go home and start checking every living thing for boobies but they'll have learned a little bit more about animal classification (mammal vs. non-mammal), about links between morphology and function, and how breasts have been recognized in culture.

Vancouver's Nancy Vo never becomes coy about sharing valuable information about breasts but she does adjust it for younger children for whom lessons regarding their bodies would be relatively new. But, using stencil art with matte acrylics and pen on paper, Nancy Vo takes a convivial approach to an educational topic which some adults may be reluctant to broach, presuming incorrectly that it could be emotionally awkward or insensitive. It is neither. It is science and will give children a better way to communicate about their bodies and to care for them more completely.

I suspect that Boobies may be the first book in a series of non-fiction picture books about various body parts, judging by the book's conclusion when Nancy Vo tells us, "Butt, that's another book." I can't think of a better way to educate and enthrall than through Nancy Vo's art and humour whether it be about boobies, butts or some other body part.

August 04, 2022

Jasper's Road

Written by Susan White
Acorn Press
164 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2022

There are families by birth and those by invention. And sometimes, because of the families of birth, better families are created from disparate parts. The story of Jasper's Road is about such families.
When Jasper's Road begins, a large extended family is gathering to celebrate Amelia's day. Amelia Walton, who passed five years earlier, started taking in kids after she was struck with a neurological disease which motivated her to become a recluse. Opening her home to more than 100 kids over the years, for short- or long-terms, Amelia Walton left her mark with her heart, her wisdom, and her compassion. Now each year, many of those she fostered along with their own families gathered to share food, memories and trivia as Amelia would have liked.

Thirteen-year-old Jasper, who'd come to Amelia as a baby and now was part of Jodie and Zac Williams's family, had always felt welcomed but, because of a recent fostering of fourteen-year-old Jake Turner by his Aunt Rachel and Uncle Ryan, Jasper is feeling more vulnerable, especially about a facial abnormality that Jake ridicules as "Zipper Lip." But as Jasper tries to figure out how to deal with Jake, Jake himself is struggling with finding himself as a part of yet another foster family and without his little brother Tommy. Then near tragedy strikes and Jake forces Jasper and Jasper's 12-year-old brother Anderson to lie. Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and the April 2020 mass killing in Nova Scotia and it would seem that everyone has some baggage that they're carrying around that confuses and confounds their relationships with partners and with their families, foster and birth.

New Brunswick writer Susan White, who has written YA and middle grade books including The Year Mrs. Montague Cried, winner of the Ann Connor Brimer Award, brings us into a complicated world of foster children, past and present, as they struggle and learn to make lives for themselves in the context of ever-changing relationships. Whether from abandonment or abuse, neglect or health concerns–including death of a parent–children enter foster care for a variety of reasons and just as varied is the care that they may receive. Some will find forever homes through adoption while others will bounce from one residence to another. In Jasper's Road, those fortunate enough to be taken in by Amelia Walton and subsequently by her "heirs" became part of something significant. And while it took me awhile to figure out all the characters and their relationships, including which were biological or otherwise, I realized it really didn't matter. Susan White gave us a rich community much like the one Amelia endeavoured to create, both complex and natural, saving herself and others in the process, and building something bigger than just a joining of individuals.

While this journey down Jasper's Road is complete, for now, I suspect that there are more travels ahead for Jasper, Jake, Tommy and their families, perhaps in New Brunswick or not, and I really hope that Susan White takes us down a few more of those roads by gifting us with their stories too.

August 02, 2022

The Ugly Place

Written by Laura Deal
Illustrated by Emma Pedersen
Inhabit Media
28 pp.
Ages 4-7
July 2022

When our negative moods take over, everything becomes ugly: places, people, ourselves.  
There is only one way to get to the ugly place, and you have to feel absolutely miserable.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen
With the wet and gloomy weather, this child recognizes that everything is pointing them to a visit to the ugly place. They see ugliness in the exposed shore at low tide, in the fish, in their own mucky footprints on the wet tundra, and the smells of the salt water and the stale seaweed. And this child wallows in that which they see as ugly and matches their ugly mood.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen

But seeing, really seeing, brings clarity. By focusing on that which is in front of them, perception is changed. heart settles when I see the seagull circle around again in effortless flight, joined by another. Their crisp white feathers are exceptionally bright against the sunless sky. They play while gliding and swooping through the air.
They close their eyes and open their senses to the sounds, the smells and the feel of the emerging sun.

Then, and only then, is when IT HAPPENS.
Small things emerge to announce their joyful presence: a stir of the water, the flip and flop of sculpins, and life in the sea, on the land, and in the air. And in the child's heart, through the art of breath.

From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen
Everything becomes part of an orchestral piece of music with the child conducting. It's up to them to see the virtues of every piece of their place and harmonize them for the big finish. And that grand performance is what finally takes the child from the ugly place to one where smiling is possible and the despair of the person and place disappears.
Getting to the ugly place is not hard when negative emotions overwhelm. Whether it is anger or fear, anxiety or disappointment, misery makes for an efficient vector to joylessness and the blindness to that which would normally inspire gratitude and bring comfort. While Iqaluit's Laura Deal may envision a literal ugly place to which this child visits, with scowling rocks and clouds, the ugliness is actually within and carried by the child, creating the foulness they experience within their landscape. But children, not unlike many adults, don't realize that they carry that ugliness with them to place and people. Fortunately, they also carry the possibility of finding joy both within and without, as this child discovers with some mindfulness in an natural environment. Laura Deal, whose earlier picture books In the Sky at Nighttime and How Nivi Got Her Names share a northern perspective of culture and place, again takes us to a community of the tundra, of rocky terrains, gulls and Arctic sealife. It's a place where a child can walk for great distances from town, ponder their moods and take the time for mindful appreciation beyond themselves. It's a place for insight and reflection, thoughtfulness and solitude, all of which reverberate in Laura Deal's text.

Likewise, Toronto illustrator Emma Pedersen mirrors the moods of the child as they experience the ugly place and shift to acknowledgement of the beauty evident. The furrowed brows and hunched shoulders of a child among the harshness of a landscape teeming with grimacing components reflects the bitterness of their feelings and the gloom of the weather. But all is transformed with light and softness as joy returns. 
Misery and despair will happen in our lives. But, it can and will give way to calm and joy given the opportunity for mindfulness of self and nature, a lesson for all who feel.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen