February 23, 2024

Dropped! (Orca Anchor)

Written by Alice Kuipers
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-4598-3774-4
96 pp.
Ages 12+
RL 1.9
February 2024
 
When Dex is dumped by his girlfriend Lola and then deserted by his friends and his social media after an embarrassingly pathetic display to get her back, he is desperate to regain his popularity. So, he signs up for a reality show called Dropped! on which he and other contestants are dropped on Adventure Island and have five days to attract the greatest number of followers through their feeds if they are to win $250,000 and a trip to Dubai. As he says goodbye to his mother and boards a chopper, he becomes Determined Dex.
 
After being dropped on the island and being told "Don't risk too much," Dex checks the game's feed to meet the other contestants and view photos and live streams of their progress. There's gorgeous Amina whose efforts and story are racking up more followers than anyone else. There's buff identical twins Salvo and Kai, geeky Deepak, and timid Em. Through an app, they are given tasks to complete, like finding a treasure chest of  supplies or sharing their personal stories with their audience. Soon Dex realizes that by associating himself with Amina or engaging in risky or wild activities, he can pull in those much-needed followers. But will he go too far?

Told in chapters according to the date and time, Dex narrates what he does, what he sees, and what he thinks, sometimes in his head and sometimes live in his feed. With each new endeavour or challenge he wonders how he will be seen. Will it be Dangerous Dex or Daring Dex, or will it be Desperate Dex? At one point, he hopes they see him as Decent Dex. But, when he worries that the audience may see him as Deadly Dex, he has a revelation that takes his game from competition to cooperation. Dex may or may not win Dropped! but he still will get more than what he came for.
 
Orca Anchor is just one of the many series from Orca Book Publisher, with this one aimed at young adults reading below Grade 2.0 level. But don't let that detract you from the great story that Alice Kuipers tells. Dropped! may be a fast read but it's a great read for teens and adults, filled with action and social commentary, and embedded in contemporary situations with which many young people will be familiar. Saskatchewan's Alice Kuipers is an accomplished storyteller of YA (e.g., 40 Things I Want to Tell You and The Death of Us), early chapter books (e.g., Polly Diamond and the Magic Book) and even non-fiction (e.g., Always Smile: Carley Allison's Secrets for Laughing, Loving and Living) so it's not surprising that she can write an extraordinary hi-lo story for teens. By merging social media, how many young people derive validation, support, and identity, with reality shows that put teens in unfamiliar circumstances in which their true selves are exposed, Alice Kuipers has let Dex find himself. He struggles with his identity and what he wants to do or who he wants to be, labelling himself constantly and temporarily, as he reflects on his actions and thoughts. But Alice Kuipers has always been very good at seeing teens from their own perspectives, recognizing their challenges and confusion without judging them. Some might see Dex's obsession with his cell phone and with social media as ill-advised, but Alice Kuipers lets us see Dex as flawed by nature of his being human, looking for approval and solidarity as we all do but from virtual communities until he finds it within a real one. He may have been dropped from one community, but he builds a new one or two, both real and virtual, and by recognizing the value of those worlds, and by letting his good sense and self-awareness finally guide him, he'll find himself dropped into much finer ones.

February 21, 2024

We Need Everyone

Written by Michael Redhead Champagne
Illustrated by Tiff Bartel
HighWater Press
978-1-77492-011-4
40 pp.
Ages 6-8
January 2024
 
Belonging is such an important emotional need for children and for all. But too often we compare ourselves with others and see their gifts and accomplishments as greater than our own, worrying that we don't belong or aren't good enough. Community advocate Michael Redhead Champagne will help children see that they all belong because we need everyone.
From We Need Everyone, written by Michael Redhead Champagne, illustrated by Tiff Bartel
We Need Everyone's book character Michael, easily recognizable by his bouncy asymmetrical hair, speaks to everyone about gifts. 
Gifts are skills and talents we share with others. Every gift is different, and every gift is special.
For many children, recognizing their own gifts may be a challenge, so Michael takes them through a series of steps to finding their gifts. These include making lists of what they like to do as well as what they are good at doing. If they have difficulties identifying those, they can always ask for help. Then it comes down to practising those gifts.
From We Need Everyone, written by Michael Redhead Champagne, illustrated by Tiff Bartel
But there is more to having a gift if we are to share them and build strong communities. Michael Redhead Champagne equates building community with activism and speaks of all those who help make our communities richer: artists, athletes, chefs, gamers, storytellers, and friends.
When you share your gift, you give strength to others. Even if you feel too small, too young, or too quiet, your gift is too special to keep to yourself.
Michael Redhill Champagne speaks from a place of knowing. He is Ininew (Cree), having been raised in Winnipeg's North End with his family from Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba.  He knows what it means to belong to a community and to make a community. He shares his inspiration through public speaking and writing, hosting media events and telling of stories. We Need Everyone, his debut picture book, continues his message of empowerment and influence by helping kids see that they all have superpowers that are their gifts, and that these gifts, though not always easily identifiable, are what will help make our communities stronger. 
From We Need Everyone, written by Michael Redhead Champagne, illustrated by Tiff Bartel
Winnipeg artist Tiff Bartel ensures that the illustrations in We Need Everyone reflect Michael Redhill Champagne's message that everyone is needed. She includes children of all skin colours, sizes, and abilities. She shows a girl in a hijab cooking, children gardening, a child playing sledge hockey, another signing "I love you" and others painting. Some are active, some are quiet, some are sharing their cultures, and many are learning. And they are engaged joyously and vibrantly in ways to enrich their communities and acknowledge their own gifts.

We need everyone, and by sharing their gifts of storytelling and art, Michael Redhead Champagne and Tiff Bartel will give children strength and inspiration to see themselves as needed and belonging too.

 • • • • • • •
A free teacher's guide, titled Teacher Guide for We Need Everyone:
Empowering Students to be Active Community Members Through Indigenous Perspectives in Primary Classrooms and Beyond
  is available from HighWater Press (Portage & Main Press) here.

February 16, 2024

Leon Levels Up (Orca Currents)

Written by Paul Coccia
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-459837355
112 pp.
Ages 9-12
RL 2.3
February 2024
 
Twelve-year-old Leon Garcia considers himself a low-level kid gamer. He's not low-level because of his game playing but because of who he is. All he sees is that he's chubby, his mom cuts his hair, he wears his cousin's hand-me-downs, and he uses outdated tech. So, when his classmate Nico Saito, son of the founder of video-game developer Pix Grid, approaches him and invites him to game together on the weekend, Leon is surprised, pleased, and nervous. Leon figures this could be his chance to level up his life, or at least his coolness.
 
But a day of gaming is not just hanging out at Nico's house. Instead, Nico takes Leon to Pix Grid where they meet up with Gabs Lucas in the lab to play a next-level virtual-reality game which is so immersive the two boys suit up in full-body tracking outfits before being dropped into tanks filled with nanobots. Though Leon's thrilled with how strong and tall and skilled he is as an elf archer, Gabs tells him she's lost the connection with Nico who may have damaged his helmet when he plunged headfirst into the tank. And with the nanobots programmed to fill every available space, there's the danger of hurting Nico.  The only way to get them out safely is for Leon to complete the mission of saving the kidnapped Prince SpearMint from the dragon Lord Tachi. Oh, and before the timer runs out.

Leon Levels Up has all the excitement of a video game adventure in which Leon evades and fights a dragon, an old hag, and some ogres, while figuring out clues and strategy to rescue Prince SpearMint. As with many quests, the learning is in the doing, and Leon is plunged into this VR game with its life-or-death outcome with only his wits and character. He might have hoped that gaming with Nico would level up his game, but his cleverness and perseverance demonstrate he's already top drawer. 

Author Paul Coccia, whose other books include I Got You Babe, The Player, and On the Line with Eric Walters, often gives voice to young people who question who they are and whether they are good enough, and that's many tweens and teens. (It's also most adults.) Except for the narcissistic and the very confident, we compare ourselves to others and whether we pass muster. When faced with the good-looking and rich Nico Saito, Leon turns to look within and take stock. He ruminates about how he will be seen and judged, while judging himself. Only when he's in the "Dragon Hunt" game does he eventually set that aside, first appreciating his new persona and skills but ultimately recognizing that it was him, low-level Leon, who won the game. Paul Coccia takes us for a wild ride in Leon Levels Up, all at a lower reading level than typical for the middle grade reader, but never forgets to remind us that Leon never needed to advance to a higher level of self. For a twelve-year-old, he was already there.

February 13, 2024

Hair Oil Magic

Written and illustrated by Anu Chouhan
Bloomsbury Children's Books
978-1-5476-1104-1
40 pp.
Ages 3-6
February 2024
 
Most of us love learning about cultural practices and traditions that may be familiar and commonplace to others. The ancient and routine practice of hair oiling, while customary in some places in the world and more popular in some societies, is becoming more of a thing elsewhere. Still, a story like Hair Oil Magic doesn't just educate readers about these traditional rites. It also reminds us of the connections that are the basis for them.
From Hair Oil Magic, written and illustrated by Anu Chouhan
For Meenu, Sunday is "Magic Hair Day." It is the day that her mother, like her grandmother once did, would mix a wonderfully-scented concoction and massage it into Meenu's scalp. Then Meenu would go on with her day, playing and helping her Biji (Punjabi for grandmother), until bath time when Mommy washed her hair with a special shampoo.
From Hair Oil Magic, written and illustrated by Anu Chouhan
She loved the way her hair felt and bounced at the end of the day but most of all she loved how she felt as she sat in Mommy's lap and had her scalp massaged.
It was like little floating stars
twinkling around her heart!
Not surprising that little Meenu wants to recreate that feeling and impress Mommy and Biji by making her own magic oil, recalling what her mother telling her about fenugreek oil and rosemary and castor oil and more. And so, in bathroom, accompanied by her dog, Meenu begins to pour and mix but she can't quite get the formulation right. After a few mishaps, resulting in a broken bottle, tears, and a fresh bath, Meenu learns the true secret ingredient of their Magic Hair Days.
From Hair Oil Magic, written and illustrated by Anu Chouhan
Anu Chouhan has illustrated several picture books, including Bharatanatyam in Ballet Shoes and A Dupatta Is..., and created art for video games, but this is her debut picture book as the author-illustrator. This Punjabi-Canadian creator knows this story from her heart and speaks to the connection in her "Author's Note." (She also includes "Meenu's Magic Hair Day Tips" as she learned as a child.) The physical benefits of hair oiling are tangible but the emotional bonding that happens between family members as the hair is oiled is even deeper. Anu Chouhan expresses the kinship that comes with this tradition as magic, and her digital illustrations certainly give readers that enchanted vibe. With sparkles and smiles, and tender embraces and swirls of charming alchemy, Anu Chouhan lets us see the magic that surrounds the family as they maintain their traditions and connect with each other through sweet-scented oils, touch, and affection.
 
Drawing on her Punjabi ancestry, I suspect Anu Chouhan has more stories to tell. Fortunately, as an accomplished artist, she is perfectly placed to give colour and heart to those stories and enlighten some young readers and connect with others who already have found the magic in hair oiling.

February 11, 2024

Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment

Written by Farah Qaiser and Hajer Nakua
Illustrated by Natalya Tariq
Second Story Press
978-1-772603651
24 pp.
Ages 4-9
February 2024

Today, February 11th, is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment, a book about a little Muslim girl who takes on a big experiment, seems like the perfect picture book to review today. 
From Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment, written by Farah Qaiser and Hajer Nakua, illustrated by Natalya Tariq
Khadija is excited to take her parents and little brother Omar to her school to see the science fair. But this isn't a science fair where children display their projects. This is one in which professional scientists discuss their research and demonstrate experiments and do cool things. Khadija is impressed with all the scientists in their lab coats and safety goggles but wonders why not one is wearing a hijab.
From Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment, written by Farah Qaiser and Hajer Nakua, illustrated by Natalya Tariq
At the fair, Khadija is given a boxed experiment which she is excited to try, mostly to prove that she could be a true scientist. But the family is expecting many guests for Eid, and she is told to wait. But wait she cannot. So as Amma cooks up delicious foods, Khadija heads into the bathroom armed with some ingredients, including food dye, and her Abba's favourite mug.
From Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment, written by Farah Qaiser and Hajer Nakua, illustrated by Natalya Tariq
She follows the directions and is, at first, delighted with the foamy mixture, until it expands beyond the mug and onto the counter and onto the floor. This gaffe gives Khadija's parents an opportunity to talk to her about what it means to be a scientist, including the need for curiosity and patience, and that there is not just one way to be a scientist. In fact, they get her a little something for Eid that gets her started on her own journey to becoming one.
From Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment, written by Farah Qaiser and Hajer Nakua, illustrated by Natalya Tariq
Authors Farah Qaiser and Hajer Nakua know about the curiosity that compels a child to become a scientist as this is something which they both achieved. That inquisitiveness is natural to young children. They want to learn and know and try things. I recall my own young niece and nephews who wanted to do "sparimenting" and even arranging a science-based birthday party for one. For some, that curiosity is sadly extinguished when they are led to believe that they cannot "do science" whether because of their gender, their experiences, or something else. Farah Qaiser and Hajer Nakua shows young readers that a little Muslim girl who wants to be a scientist can achieve that dream, because their message in Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment is all about opportunity and inclusion. 

Ottawa illustrator Natalya Tariq uses cartoon art to give brightness and innocence to Khadija's story. There's a wide-eyed wonder to the child that is infused in every illustration. From her eager acceptance of the boxed experiment to observing all the different scientists at the fair and to her delight at a very special gift for a budding scientist. Natalya Tariq makes us see Khadija's wonder and interest in science, but also her heritage and her family, and, like the text, reminds us that the two are wholly compatible.

On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Khadija and the Elephant Toothpaste Experiment supports Khadija in her ambition to become a scientist, starting with an experiment that any child can undertake (check online for instructions). This can only inspire all children to follow their dreams, whether into science or into the arts.

February 09, 2024

The First Page Student Writing Challenge for 2024

It's back! CBC Books's wonderful student writing contest is back and with a new author to judge your entires. For teachers and parents, it's a fabulous opportunity to get Canadian students in Grades 7 through 12 writing. For young adults, it's a compelling way to get your writing out there and to win a prize of monthly boxes of books (for a year)! Details can be found at CBC Books website at https://www.cbc.ca/books/the-first-page-student-writing-challenge-is-open-for-submissions-1.4269274.
 
What is the Challenge?
     Write the first page of a novel set in 2174 in which the main character is facing an issue that is important today but set in the future so that we can see how it's played out 150 years from now.
     Your entry, in any genre, should be between 300 and 400 words, and include a title (though it is not included in your word count).

Who can enter? 
     The contest is open to all Canadian residents who are full-time students in Gr.ades 7 to 12. Enter through the submission link at CBC Books's Literary Prizes website at https://cbcliteraryprizes.submittable.com/submit
     Before submitting, check out the full rules and regulations at CBC Books to ensure your submission meets all requirements.
 
What is the deadline for entering?
      The contest runs from February 1-29, 2024, closing at 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 29, 2024.
 
How will entries be judged?
     Entries will be judged in two categories:
         Grades 7-9
         Grades 10-12 

Judging will be by author Basil Sylvester who co-authored The Fabulous Zed Watson! and Night of the Living Zed with their father Kevin Sylvester.



 
 
What are the prizes?
     The winner of each category will receive a one-year subscription to OwlCrate, which delivers monthly boxes of books and literary-related goodies. 
     The school library of each winner will also receive a donation of 50 books.
 
Want a little help?
     Head to Curio.ca (most schools have access) for helpful writing videos from authors like Erin Bow, Cory Doctorow, and Cherie Dimaline.

Good luck 
to all teen readers and now writers!
🖊🖊🖊🖊🖊

February 08, 2024

All Our Love

Written by Kari-Lynn Winters
Illustrated by Scot Ritchie
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada) 
978-1-4431-9880-6 
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
January 2024 
 
We know that families come in so many configurations but do all children know that? All Our Love shows one wonderful family that may be just right as it is but will become even more right with a new baby.
From All Our Love, written by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Scot Ritchie
Sofia and her two dads are anticipating the arrival of a new baby. As Dad builds a crib, Sofia works on a welcome letter for the baby. But she has so many questions! When will the baby arrive? Will it want her as a big sister? Will it change their family from being "just right" which her dads said their family became when Sofia came along.

But Sofia is also incredibly excited. When her dad finally arrives at school to tell her that it was time to go to the hospital, she thinks about all she's written "To the new baby." She mentions what Dad likes and does, while Daddy does other stuff. And she speaks about having a Dad and a Daddy because "We're just lucky, I guess!" Finally, after masking up and joining Daddy at the hospital, the family of four heads home, with the letter, now addressed to Oliver, being read, and signed off with "All our love."
From All Our Love, written by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Scot Ritchie
There is so much love in this household. Sofia knows she is loved, and she wants the baby to know they are loved too. So, all the things that her dads show her that prove their love for her, Sofia shares with the baby. She talks of Dad picking her up from school, and making pancakes for dinner on Tuesdays, and Daddy telling jokes and kissing boo-boos from falls. This child knows love. 
 
Kari-Lynn Winters can give us funny (e.g., What If I'm Not a Cat? and Bad Pirate) but there is always a degree of tenderness in her stories. Her books like French Toast and Gift Days remind us that there are things which children may think about that may be surprising or different but they are legitimate questions and challenges that children may be experiencing. In All Our Love, while Sofia wonders what the new baby will mean to their family, her welcome letter suggests that she knows that they might wonder about a family with two daddies. This question may have been posed to Sofia herself and her answer acknowledges that she and the baby may have a different family than others but that's what makes it more special. Though Kari-Lynn Winters's dedication suggests that the story is inspired by one particular family or two, All Our Love really speaks to every family, whether with two dads, two moms, only a mom or a dad, or both a mom and a dad, or no moms and dads. If there is love, it is a family.
From All Our Love, written by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Scot Ritchie
Scot Ritchie, illustrator of countless books of his own (e.g., Federica) as well as those of others (e.g., Zander Stays), has an art style that is soft in line and colour and tender in its spirit. As All Our Love comes from the perspective of Sofia writing a letter to her new sibling, Scot Ritchie has given the illustrations a sweet, anticipatory feel. From Sofia thinking and writing about what this new change will mean, to the family that feels the stars of a birth's magnificence, Scot Ritchie's art takes us on their journey from waiting and hoping to welcoming and celebrating.
 
I hope that young readers will see this as a story of two dads and their children but will also recognize that it goes beyond that because of the love that comes with family. With all that love, this family will be just right, no matter its composition.

February 06, 2024

This is a Tiny Fragile Snake

Written by Nicholas Ruddock
Illustrated by Ashley Barron
Groundwood Books
978-1-77306-784-1
36 pp.
Ages 3+
February 2024
 
This is a Tiny Fragile Snake is a nature walk, a stroll through different habitats to see a variety of animals but observed through human eyes and through our interactions with them. Nicholas Ruddock, Guelph writer and physician, gives us the perspective of children as they take in a snake, a bear, a hummingbird, a caterpillar, and more as their worlds intersect with ours. In rhyming verse, Nicholas Ruddock lets us see something different along with these children.
From This is a Tiny Fragile Snake, written by Nicholas Ruddock, illustrated by Ashley Barron
The first poem is "Snake" which, while it mentions what the snake eats, is more about the children protecting the snake from being trampled by moving it to a safer place via a coffee cup. Children being benevolent is a theme that also shows up in the poem about the hummingbird that has its beak stuck in a window screen, and a caterpillar saved from a lawnmower, as well as a chipmunk being stalked by a tuxedo cat.
I plucked it from its blade of grass
and placed it on a tree,
and a week ago a butterfly
came by and danced for me. ("Caterpillar")
From This is a Tiny Fragile Snake, written by Nicholas Ruddock, illustrated by Ashley Barron
Some poems reflect how we feel about the animals highlighted, whether disgusted, scared, impressed or something completely different. "Ants" speaks to dissuading ants from ruining a picnic by offering some sugary treats some distance away. "Skunk" suggests to children that, while we might see a skunk as a stinky animal, perhaps the skunk sees us with disdain too. Whether it be hornets, a moose, herons, a red squirrel, or a finch, wasp, worms, or loon, Nicholas Ruddock reminds us that people have a relationship with other animals. This might be because we have imposed ourselves on their habitats, or because they have encroached on ours, but there is an interrelationship as our dynamic worlds merge and separate.
From This is a Tiny Fragile Snake, written by Nicholas Ruddock, illustrated by Ashley Barron
By showing young readers how our actions can impact other species, Nicholas Ruddock demonstrates how we can ensure that those actions are always positive or at least harmless. There is wisdom in getting a raccoon out of house or how to free a loon trapped in ice which is delivered with a gentle awe of these animals and how they behave. There is a respect for them that is both explicit and implicit.
It turned out we were helpless,
there was nothing we could do,
for there seemed a steady stream of them,
and we were only two. ("Hornets")
I've admired Ashley Barron's cut-paper collage illustrations in earlier books that she's illustrated for others (e.g., Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones, Chaiwala!, and Granny Left Me a Rocket Ship) and I believe that the texturing that comes with her technique lends itself well to outdoor settings. Like leaves that layer and feathers and fur, scales and petals of texture, Ashley Barron's art is rich in depth and colour, giving a three-dimensionality to the landscapes and their animals.

While This is a Tiny Fragile Snake will entice readers, young and old, to find the poetry in nature and how we interact with it, the poems within also remind us how, when our worlds merge, we can ensure those interactions remain copacetic.
So we gave up, threw up our hands,
defeated by a pest,
and for the rest of summer
she was treated as a guest. ("Squirrel")

February 05, 2024

2023 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award: Finalists announced


On January 31, 2024, IBBY Canada (the Canadian section of IBBY, International Board on Books for Young People) announced the finalists for the 2023 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award. The award, established in a bequest from illustrator Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver in 1985, honours a Canadian illustrator of a picture book published in Canada in English or French during the previous calendar year.

Congratulations to the finalists for the 2023 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award:
 

Do You Remember?

Illustrations and text by Sydney Smith 
Groundwood Books


Mnoomin maan’gowing / The Gift of Mnoomin 
Illustrations by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
Text by Brittany Luby
Anishinaabemowin translation by Mary Ann Corbiere 
Groundwood Books


Once, a Bird 

Illustrations by Nathalie Dion
Storyline by Rina Singh 
Orca Book Publishers
Reviewed here


The Only Way to Make Bread 

Illustrations by Sarah Gonzales
Text by Cristina Quintero 
Tundra


Skating Wild on an Inland Sea

Illustrations by Todd Stewart
Text by Jean E. Pendziwol 
Groundwood Books


The Song That Called Them Home

Illustrated by Maya McKibbin
Text by David A. Robertson 
Tundra
Reviewed here


A Tulip in Winter: A Story About Folk Artist Maud Lewis

Illustrations by Lauren Soloy
Text by Kathy Stinson 
Greystone Kids


Le village dans la mer

Illustrations and text by Félix Girard 
Éditions de l’Isatis


Waking Ben Doldrums

Illustrations by Byron Eggenschwiler
Text by Heather Smith 
Orca Book Publishers


We Love You as Much as the Fox Loves Its Tail 

Illustrations by Tamara Campeau
Text by Masiana Kelly 
Inhabit Media

 
 
 
The winner will be announced at the IBBY Canada annual meeting on March 30, 2024.
 

February 03, 2024

Still My Tessa

Written by Sylv Chiang
Illustrated by Mathias Ball
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
978-1-4431-9623-9
32 pp,
Ages 4-8
January 2024
 
Evelyn is both perplexed and worried. The older child she has always known as her sister is now telling her that they aren't her sister, or her brother. Tessa is her sibling. What does that mean? Is Evelyn even Tessa's sister?
From Still My Tessa, written by Sylv Chiang, illustrated by Mathias Ball
Evelyn sees that Tessa is not herself. Evelyn wants to play with Tessa and take them out of their dark room and make them smile again but she doesn't know how. When she writes a note to the "Best Sister Ever!" Tessa explains to Evelyn that they are not her sister, or her brother, but prefers to be called Evelyn's sibling. They do some stuff together but it's obvious that Tessa is growing up and their interests have changed. They are also burdened with educating Evelyn about their pronouns (they/them/their) and dealing with those who assume they know what Tessa's pronouns must be.
From Still My Tessa, written by Sylv Chiang, illustrated by Mathias Ball
Evelyn wants to learn and she does. After a week, she's using Tessa's preferred pronouns and almost gets a smile from her sibling. But when the family goes for a bike ride, Tessa is again challenged by those who assume their gender is female. Evelyn has no problem informing people they meet that Tessa is her sibling, recognizing that if she can adapt to Tessa's pronouns in a week, others can learn as well. And when their parents introduce Evelyn as a girl and Tessa as non-binary, Tessa's smile finally returns.
From Still My Tessa, written by Sylv Chiang, illustrated by Mathias Ball
The premise behind Still My Tessa goes beyond just recognizing that we should all feel comfortable with the pronouns by which we are addressed. It also recognizes that young children might have to learn about pronouns and being non-binary but that this can be learned with the right teaching. Teacher Sylv Chiang (she/her) finds a sibling relationship the perfect vehicle for addressing the use of pronouns. As a little sister who obviously adores Tessa, Evelyn just wants them to be the sibling with whom she can play and make happy. And by modelling what's she's learned, Evelyn can help teach others what is appropriate for Tessa and all of them. 
 
Illustrator Mathias Ball (he/they) may have had to struggle with enlightening others about their preferred pronouns, and, as such, their depictions of Tessa are truly authentic, reflecting what a child struggling to understand and accept and advocate for themselves with their non-binary status and pronoun preferences would feel. Evelyn is a happy child whose biggest worry is who will play with her, while Tessa is filled with angst. Whether it is becoming a teenager, already a struggle for many, or understanding their non-binary nature, Tessa projects that burden, rarely cracking a smile or venturing from their room and from beneath their headphones. Still, Mathias Ball doesn't make them sullen or angry, but they do make them introspective and solemn. That doesn't mean the illustrations are anything but bright and cheerful and inclusive, ensuring that Tessa and Evelyn both see the joys of their world.

Accepting how we would like to be addressed is an important part of our identities. But it isn't always easy for others to accept the appropriate pronouns or gender designations (even nonconforming ones). Still Evelyn demonstrated that learning can happen and doesn't have to change her relationship with Tessa, except by also becoming their ally now. With a little instruction–Sylv Chiang offers some help understanding of what it means to be non-binary, how to use pronouns, and how to become an ally. With compassion and clarification, every young child can learn to use the correct pronouns as Evelyn did for her sibling and help others to do the same. (And Still My Tessa may even help a few parents learn how to becomes allies for their children.)

February 01, 2024

The Inside Scouts Help the Kind Lion (The Inside Scouts #1)

Written by Mitali Banerjee Ruths
Illustrated by Francesca Mahaney
Acorn (Scholastic)
978-1-338-89498-1
64 pp.
Ages 4-7
RL 1.0
February 2024 
 
Sanjay and Viv are the Inside Scouts, and they have the superpower to shrink super small and go inside animals to make them feel better. In this first book in this illustrated early reader (RL 1.0) series, the kids must help a lion who is not feeling his best.

Inside Scouts!
Always on call!
To fix big things,
we get super small! (pg. 20)
 
From The Inside Scouts Help the Kind Lion, written by Mitali Banerjee Ruths, illustrated by Francesca Mahaney
Ruslan  is a lion who wants to run and play with his cubs, but he is feeling far too tired to do so.  Using some very cool tech, the kids show Ruslan a leak in his heart. Gearing up, the two go in through his nose–though they must be careful not to tickle the sensitive lion–and follow a vein to the heart.
From The Inside Scouts Help the Kind Lion, written by Mitali Banerjee Ruths, illustrated by Francesca Mahaney
The Inside Scouts show young readers how the heart is made up of four rooms, with doors called valves that allow movement of the blood. Though the story is appended with "Fun Facts about the Heart" that describes the pumping of the heart and uses terms like circulates, arteries, veins and chambers, the illustrations are done at such large scale that the anatomical features of the heart are not readily discernible so even the squeamishest of children will have no problems with the artwork. But they will have a sweet introduction to how our hearts work and how those with poorly-functioning ones might feel.
From The Inside Scouts Help the Kind Lion, written by Mitali Banerjee Ruths, illustrated by Francesca Mahaney
Not only will the Inside Scouts help young children understand their bodies, but the series will also make them think about illness and how our behaviours may be impacted by health issues. Whether it's a lion that cannot play with his cubs because of a leaky heart, or a giraffe with an upset tummy or a cheetah with a leg cramp (Books 2 and 3 are out later this year), the Inside Scouts teach and encourage empathy for those who may be suffering.
From The Inside Scouts Help the Kind Lion, written by Mitali Banerjee Ruths, illustrated by Francesca Mahaney
The tale of the kindly lion with a big heart, albeit a leaky one, will delight young readers with its mixture of humour–such as the kids getting sneezed out of the lion's nose with slime–learning and story. Mitali Banerjee Ruths, who also writes The Party Diaries series for the Branches early chapter book imprint of Scholastic, has written a text that is perfect for the earliest readers but challenges them with more sophisticated words in the "
Fun Facts about the Heart" section. There is also an activity (Draw Your Own "I Am Kind" Badge) and encouragement to write a story about being kind. With artwork by Filipino-American Francesca Mahaney, who has done a fabulous job of illustrating what could have been a perplexing topic for young children, The Inside Scouts Help the Kind Lion becomes an accessible but bold adventure of colour, shape, and story, and one that will be a hit with readers, teachers and parents.
 
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The Inside Scouts Help the Kind Lion (February 2024)
The Inside Scouts Help the Brave Giraffe (June 2024)
The Inside Scouts Help the Strong Cheetah (October 2024)