February 28, 2024

Everyone Gets a Turn

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Princeton Architectural Press
60 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 2024 

Turtle, Hare, Bear and Mouse are spending a beautiful day in the forest, when they discover an egg. They decide they will each take turns caring for it. 
From Everyone Gets a Turn, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
At Mouse's house, a voice from within the egg declares that it is cold so Mouse hurries to remedy that. First, Mouse lays a fire and then he wraps the egg in a scarf and a hat. Mouse is very kind and accommodating,

The next day Mouse takes Little Egg to Bear's house. But Bear's lifestyle is a little more active, and while he exercises Little Egg cracks. Though it's apparently too tight inside the shell for Little Egg now, it needs a little help to get out. When Little Bird finally emerges, exhausted for her efforts, Bear offers comfort.
From Everyone Gets a Turn, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Then, it's on to Hare's house where the rabbit is surprised to see a bird, not an egg. But now Hare has to meet another need for their new ward: food. And though Hare has a stacked pantry, it's a bit of a mystery what Little Bird will eat.  
Finally Little Bird is taken to Turtle's place, a house of wonders. It’s filled with trinkets that have stories and that sparkle and that amaze Little Bird and make her dream.  
From Everyone Gets a Turn, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
But when Turtle wakes up the next day, he is bereft that she is missing. All the friends are in tears, until they realize that Little Bird’s absence is just the next step in the bird’s development. Gone from one place, or four places, does not mean gone forever.

Each of the friends gets a turn with Little Egg/Little Bird and each excels at giving their ward exactly what she needs, whether it’s a little warmth, a little assistance in cracking the shell, sustenance, or the inspiration to dream. Like parents who must support and encourage their children until they are ready to become independent, the four friends learn to work together to be everything Little Egg/Little Bird needs until she can do for herself. And just because she has become independent, it doesn’t mean that she longer wants them in her life. Marianne Dubuc gives us a story that all parents will need to learn sometime in their children’s journey to adulthood. Her message is one of love and support but also the courage to let them fly and be their own selves. 
Marianne Dubuc has always created soft worlds, just as she did in On Baba's Back, Bear and the Whisper of the Wind, and Little Cheetah's Shadow. Like Beatrix Potter, who could see worlds and relationships within the animals of the natural world, Marianne Dubuc takes us into their homes, the forests, and the meadows with her subtle use of ink, watercolour, and coloured pencil. She shows us ourselves as we are or could be: friends, parents, children, good people. And she teaches sophisticated lessons of sharing and caring delivered by sweet creatures who are uniquely themselves, while being supportive and cooperative. And though a message about sharing and taking turns may seem paramount according to the title, Everyone Gets a Turn also speaks to the steps we all take in our development, going from needing to be nurtured to shifting to self-actualization.

February 26, 2024

Ary's Trees

Written by Deborah Kerbel
Illustrated by Sophia Choi
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
October 2023
On March 21, the world will recognize the United Nations-designated International Day of Forests. Sadly, no matter how long forests have been around, in their different forms around the world, there are still those who might take a lesson from Ary and her friends about the importance of forests and see beyond what they can do for us and what we should do to ensure their constancy.
From Ary's Trees, written by Deborah Kerbel, illustrate by Sophia Choi
When their island home is longer viable, Ary's father goes searching for a new home, and finds it in a flourishing island.
As they begin to prepare the island for their new community, Ary, who delights in the trees, begs him, "Please don't cut too many this time."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The air smelled green. Leaves swished overhead as the tree covered her with a blanket of cool shade. How she'd missed that sound!
Not surprising, with every "chop-chop of busy axes," Ary's heart aches. And though she is assured by her father that, "There are lots to spare," she sees that more and more are being cut, for building, and then for crops, and to construct boats, and then because everyone wants more, more, more.
From Ary's Trees, written by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Sophia Choi
Ary is bereft for and with the trees. As the palm trees are cut, brown tears rain down. And when the people can't be bothered cutting, they burn down the trees.

Ary is furious, and some of her friends join her in protest. Still, no one listens. They are but children and know not of what they speak, apparently. Ah, but an island without trees suffers. The land crumbles, the structures crack and splinter, and there is no relief from the sun. Ary's father and the other adults choose to find a new island. Ary and a handful of friends find a different solution, one borne of loyalty and regeneration.

Deborah Kerbel's story of environmental responsibility is still one that needs to be heard and empowered in all. Ary's Trees reminds us that it may be the children who will be the ones to change the attitude of their own generation and the subsequent ones, especially when their elders are not getting it. Ary sees the truth, that thinking that "a little bit more (cutting) won't make a difference" is flawed, that "The trees are here for our use" is selfish and short-sighted, and that the trees are their friends and worthy of consideration and charity.

Though I've reviewed many of Deborah Kerbel's books, from picture books like Snow Days and Before You Were Born (still my go-to book for expectant parents) to middle-grade novels like My Deal with the Universe to her YA (e.g., Under the Moon), this is my first opportunity to review a book illustrated by Toronto's Sophia Choi. Also a surface pattern designer, Sophia Choi creates art that speaks of bold colours and shapes, whether it be palm trees or flowers in the understories, or tree stumps and birds. There's a folk-art vibe to her art that speaks of a natural world that will mesmerize and delight, but that also will be missed when gone.
From Ary's Trees, written by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Sophia Choi
Whether you read Ary's Trees with your children or students for International Day of Forests, or save it for World Tree Day on June 28th, or for Earth Day on April 22, or to teach a science curriculum, Deborah Kerbel and Sophia Choi's picture book will demonstrate that trees are more than just a producer of materials for human consumption. Trees are living entities that can provide shade and soil stability, habitat, and food, and provide oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide. As they live, so do we. Fortunately, the youngest inhabitants of the island, Ary and her friends, were able to realize that we humans have an interrelationship with trees, and all living things, and if we sustain them, then they will help sustain us. (Still a lesson too many developers and even politicians haven't learned.)

February 23, 2024

Dropped! (Orca Anchor)

Written by Alice Kuipers
Orca Book Publishers
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
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
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
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
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) 
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
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 

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 
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.