Showing posts with label translation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label translation. Show all posts

November 15, 2019

The Clothesline

Written and illustrated by Orbie
Translated by Karen Li
Owlkids Books
978-1-77147-390-3
64 pp.
Ages 5-8
October 2019

From The Clothesline by Orbie
Reggie is five and lives in an apartment above a corner store. When he gets his allowance for doing chores, he races down the outside stairs heading to the store, always yanking on a knot that hangs from the adjacent clothesline.  The sound it makes–ftoiiing–is something he enjoys.

From The Clothesline by Orbie
But one day, coins in hand destined for a candy purchase, Reggie races down faster than ever, yanks at that knot but loses his footing and, grabbing at the knot, is propelled halfway across the clothesline. And there he hangs.
My name is Reggie.
I'm five years old.
And I'm stuck in the
middle of a clothesline.
From The Clothesline by Orbie
He knows this is a dilemma. He cannot use his right hand since it grasps his coins. His left hand is hurting and he knows he cannot hold his weight indefinitely. He's scared that he will fall. So Reggie hangs from the clothesline, looking down, up, across and wonders what to do. Of course he shouts for help but his mother does not hear. He tries to move himself along so he might climb down the pole but to no avail. So he waits. Only the cat comes, though it's focused on washing itself.

In the end, Reggie gets down by accident, and with a few scrapes and tears, and learns to avoid getting himself in trouble again while still enjoying the "ftoiiing" he'd always loved.

Originally published in French as La corde à ligne by Quebec illustrator Orbie, The Clothesline translates easily into English. The story is universal after all in that all children "try" things that look like fun but may get them into a spot of trouble. And though he tries to find a solution to his dilemma, thinking through the possibilities and the consequences, thereby giving children an opportunity to see how problem-solving can happen, Reggie must finally accept his fate. Thankfully he is not badly injured and Orbie's lightness of illustration with pen and ink and watercolour conveys that same impression. Ultimately Reggie finds a way to learn and compromise his need for daring with safety, all courtesy of an old-fashioned clothesline.

June 04, 2019

The New Football Coach

Written by Dominique Demers
Illustrated by Tony Ross
Translated by Sander Berg
Alma Junior (Alma Books)
978-1-84688-435-1
96 pp.
Ages 6-9
May 2019

Miss Charlotte is back! The astounding woman who touched young lives with her unorthodox ways in The New Teacher (2016) and The Mysterious Librarian (2017) has returned and this time she has been recruited to coach the Black Duck Brook Football Club whose headmistress Paulette Pesky in in competition with her twin Yvette, headmistress at Blueberry Bay. In a turn of events, always the norm with Miss Charlotte, the question of "Who will win?" becomes "Does it matter as long as we're having fun as a team?"

The narrator of The New Football Coach is Jeremy who is hopeless at football, or soccer for North American fans, but whose father, owner of a Sports Plus store, is determined that his son will play. When Miss Charlotte comes along and begins her lessons with how to lose and talks to her football, whom she calls Anatole, top scorer Fred Ferocio ridicules her approach but, for the first time, Jeremy is enjoying himself. After she invites new team members, including Jeremy's non-athletic friend Billy Bungalow and others whom Fred classifies as rubbish, to join, Miss Charlotte's coaching involves the kids getting to know their own footballs and developing their own strategies as well as offering them a special and delicious drink called smalalamiam. Will it be enough for them to win their match against Blueberry Bay?

Miss Charlotte has the right idea about playing team sports.  She recognizes that
the best team is not the one which scores the most goals. It is the team that has the most passion, the most enthusiasm, the most positive energy. (pg. 51)
Any team could benefit from this wisdom and the Black Duck Football Club does as well. The other team may be all about the drive to win, even deliberately injuring a competitor, but they have nothing on Jeremy's team of have fun pushing forward with song, gymnastics and secret codes.

Dominique Demers's Miss Charlotte books, originally written in French, are filled with silliness and wisdom, lessons and heart. They are ideal for early readers, blending fun storytelling with positive messages. For young children trying to learn right from wrong, Dominique Demers's Miss Charlotte provides the right kind of guidance. It may be somewhat unconventional, not unlike Mary Poppins, but Miss Charlotte demonstrates that doing things differently may actually be better and, with the hype and intensity shown by some players, parents and coaches when it comes to sports, she seems to get it right.


⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽

n.b. For French-language readers, there are several editions of this series available, including one from Québec Amérique with seven volumes.

April 10, 2018

Wash On!

Written by Michèle Marineau
Illustrated by Manon Gauthier
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-018-5
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
April 2018

Though most of us wash off any dirt and colours that stain our skin, a little twist of words and fate have colour splotches washing onto little Petronilla in Quebec author and translator Michèle Marineau's newest picture book Wash On!
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Petronilla is known in her family to have "a talent for chaos" and probably more so when compared to her perfect sister Babette.  But nothing could have prepared her mother for the twist of process when colours from the washcloth during a bath begin to transfer to Petronilla's skin and then her mother and the whole bathroom.  Joyously, Petronilla continues to exclaim, "Wash on! Wash on! Wash on!' regardless of her mother's demands she say "Wash off!" When her father, Babette and dog come to see what's going on, the colours continue to transfer from one object to another.  Although the family thinks they'll just stay in the house until Petronilla drops her new mantra, no one could foresee the weeks that would pass as the child refuses to relinquish her powerful chant.
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Finally, the family visits the doctor who declares a case of acute coloritis, a condition so contagious that the whole planet becomes infected.  But, as lovely as all the colours are, everything blends in with everything else and no one can differentiate between objects. Even their dog is hard find except when his bark alerts them to his feeding time.  That is, until they can not locate him because there is no bark.  It is only then, when she is desperate to find their dog, that Petronilla changes her tune and finds "Wash off!" just as useful in enacting change in her home and around the world.
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Wash On! may be based on a silly situation in which colours are transferred rather than cleaned off but the story actually has several powerful messages hidden in that imaginative scenario.  First, Wash On! focuses on the joie de vivre of a world filled with colour. We all need a little colour in our lives, though some people need more and some need less.  But like anything, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, as everyone learns, including Petronilla.  Once the colours explode and there is no contrast and no way to differentiate objects, that joy is lost, like the dog, in an overabundance of stain.  Splashes of colour are wonderfully invigorating and therapeutic but excesses are debilitating and even harmful.  Second, Governor General award-winning author Michèle Marineau recognizes the power of children in defining the world and their need to manage their own circumstances.  Her family may think of Petronilla as chaotic but she seems to just want a hand in determining the life she will lead.

Michèle Marineau tells powerful stories in her native French language and this translation by Pajama Press's Erin Woods highlights that poignancy with merriment and spirit.  That same boldness is depicted with daring by Manon Gauthier's mixed media illustrations. Manon Gauthier, whose artwork I've raved about in Pajama Press's Elliot (Julie Pearson, 2016), All the World a Poem (Gilles Tibo, 2016), Good Morning, Grumple (Victoria Allenby, 2017) and Middle Bear (Susanna Isern, 2017), continues to do amazing things with gouache, pencil and paper collage, ever different and totally wonderful.

Wash On! may say a lot about living a life in colour but it also reminds us about moderation and having control over the lives we lead.  Young readers will laugh at the silliness of the family's situation but we can all learn a lesson or two from Petronilla and her splashy world.

November 30, 2017

Louis Undercover

Written by Fanny Britt
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-859-4
160 pp.
Ages 9-14
October 2017

From the acclaimed partnership of Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault that brought us the award-winning Jane, the Fox and Me (Groundwood, 2013), which was also translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou, comes a second graphic novel of emotional sensitivity, this time in a complex familial context.

The title may suggest a children's game of spying but Louis is more discreet observer and listener.  He watches important people in his life and sees what they do and hears what they say.  These observations form the fabric of his interactions with them, bringing out his sensitivities, fears and compassion. And he has much to observe, as he and his little brother Truffle bounce between their city apartment where they live with their mother and their country house where their alcoholic father still lives.
From Louis Undercover 
by Fanny Britt 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
Louis sees the ups and downs of his father's alcoholism: the manic periods of song and big plans and the depressive times of tears and melancholy, especially when the boys leave.  At home, he sees the joy in his mother when they return but also her sarcasm and loneliness.  Louis has his own secret burdens which he only shares with his good friend Boris.  Louis is in love with Billie.
She’s a spectacled siren, a rainstorm,
A chocolate fountain, a silent queen.
 (pg. 50)
From Louis Undercover 
by Fanny Britt 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
He is overwhelmed by his affection for Billie but he is immobilized into inaction.  
I had no idea that love is like a rock shattering your heart, as painful as it is life-giving, and that even as it makes you want to bolt, it keeps you glued to the spot. (pg. 58)
Though he makes plans to speak with her, just to say a few words to the gutsy girl who stands up to injustice and reads voraciously, he can't do it, even with the summer holidays imminent and a gift of dice for her in his pocket.  

From Louise Undercover 
by Fanny Britt 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
But two weeks of the summer at their father's becomes a turning point for the family.  Their father has stopped drinking and seems to be his old positive self, as reflected in the splashes of yellow, hitherto reserved for Billie.  Though their mom is seen as mired in the sadness of the turquoise and the browns of regular life, when Truffle is injured and sent to hospital, she rushes to his side and stays with them at their old house.  She makes breakfast and laughs with their father and sleeps in his bedroom.  They're back to their "normal" family and a trip to New York City holds the promise of a complete reunion.  But, sadly and realistically, the yellows give way to the family's blues of the past.  Returning to school in the fall, Louis can take this experience as a life lesson that love can end badly or he can see the hope that it can conquer the worst.

Fanny Britt has given us a story about a family dealing with an alcoholic parent and creates a story of understanding.  Louis sees what has happened to his family and is disheartened by it.  He recognizes the signs of his father's drinking and the impact on his mother and their family.  He is wary of love and how it can go horribly wrong.  (Note Louis' watching of his sober father playing with the happy Truffle in the illustration above.) Even his mother, ever immersed in the sadness of needing to be separated from her husband, holds out hope for recovery and reconciliation.  How Louis will adapt that understanding to his own crush on Billie, desperate to speak with her but reluctant and apprehensive about the outcome, is an ending that must be read and seen to be fully appreciated.  
From Louis Undercover 
by Fanny Britt 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
Isabelle Arsenault does emotional storytelling in illustration. She doesn't just draw pictures to go with the story; she builds the story with surreal elements that create depth and carry the nuance of Louis' family's circumstances.  The use of yellow and turquoise, with the browns and greys, subtly convey the emotion of each situation.  The yellow is positive and hopeful and cheery, as when Louis watches Billie or his family is happy and Dad is sober.  Turquoise permeates those illustrations of lives living with heartbreak.  Real life is brown and grey because it's sobering and no-nonsense.  

There is much sadness in Louis Undercover.  Turquoise and browns and greys are the overwhelming colours.  But be assured that there is yellow in Louis' life and Fanny Britt resolves his story with a subtle explosion of positivity matched by Isabelle Arsenault exquisite artwork.

September 25, 2017

Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / Only in My Hometown

Written by Angnakuluk Friesen
Illustrated by Ippiksaut Friesen
Translated by Jean Kusugak
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-883-9
24 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2017

Just as all families are different and children should see themselves in the families represented in youngCanLit, the communities in which those children are growing up are vastly distinct.  Some are close-knit and small, others heavily populated and expansive, and still others remote with scattered populations.  By bringing their hometown to picture book format, Nunavut sisters Angnakuluk Friesen and Ippiksaut Friesen transport young readers to a community in which elephants are mining artefacts, raw meat is feasted upon and everyone is welcome.

In her text, Angnakuluk Friesen gives us visual snippets of life in her hometown of Rankin Inlet, an Inuit community on Kudlulik Peninsula in Nunavut.  Its history may include the Thule people and mining but Angnakuluk Friesen spotlights the personal life of children in Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / Only in My Hometown.  It's about play and food, chores and the outdoors.  There's snow-shovelling, story-telling, watching Northern Lights and banding together during hard times and times of joy.  But Angnakuluk Friesen tells it without telling it directly.  It's all in the subtext of her words. 

Stories, images, memories
of spirits,playing happily, fluidly, chanting.
The Northern Lights can be seen in many places,
but they dance for me
only in my hometown.

Where I come from
glimpses of hope are always appreciated.
From Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / 
ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / 
Only in My Hometown 
by Argnakuluk Friesen 
illus. by Ippiksaut Friesen
Similarly, her sister Ippiksaut Friesen illustrates each memory and experience with a focus on the personal.  It's the girl atop the abandoned mining equipment, the children amidst the laundry and scattered toys, a pair watching the Northern Lights, the family at their winter camp and a gathering around a newborn.  It's their life as they see it and experience it in all its wonder and hardships and fellowship.  Her illustrations are actually of two different styles.  One, as seen on the cover, is reminiscent of William Kurelek's classic A Prairie Boy's Winter (Tundra, 1973) of a life so vast in time and space that must be filtered down to just a few poignant moments that define it. These are all-embracing images.  But Ippiksaut Friesen also goes up close and personal, getting right into the faces, concentrating on the expressions of life rather than the landscapes of their hometown.  Both blend to illustrate the life that is Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / Only in My Hometown

From Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / 
ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / 
Only in My Hometown 
by Argnakuluk Friesen 
illus. by Ippiksaut Friesen
Translated into Inuktitut by Jean Kusugak and written out both in syllabics and transliterated roman characters,  Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / Only in My Hometown tells both all and only some of what life in a small northern town can be for an Inuit child.  It is a book to share with children who need to see themselves in the book or learn about others.  In other words, it's a book for all.
From Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / 
ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / 
Only in My Hometown 
by Angnakuluk Friesen 
illus. by Ippiksaut Friesen

September 21, 2017

Le Jardin Invisible

Written by Valérie Picard
Illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Monsieur Ed
978-2-924663-03-5
64 pp.
Ages 4+
August 2017

When her family travels far from the city to the country to attend her grandmother's birthday celebration, Arianne enters a marvelous world of lush vegetation, magnificent creatures and an adventure of epic proportions, like all in Le Jardin Invisible (translation: The Invisible Garden).

As pleased as she is to see her grand-maman, Arianne is the lone child in a house full of guests.  A parent suggests she go play in the garden.  A city child, unaccustomed to making play in the outdoors, Arianne is bored and lays down in the grass. A small pebble (caillou) brings her to see another world in which the pebble is a mountain, locusts are as big as cars, and plants like trees.  She chases after the locusts but loses them and catches a ride on a dandelion seed to continue her quest.  Skipping her pebble into the water, she drops in too, witnessing the wonders of the sea including the evolution of aquatic creatures to land dinosaurs who assist her in capturing a star that she releases into the cosmos.
From Le Jardin Invisible 
by Valérie Picard 
illus. by Marianne Ferrer
Perhaps Le Jardin Invisible is but the imaginative dream of a child bored with adult activity who takes bits and pieces from her surroundings and builds them into a story.  Ah, but what a story!  She sees mountains, and travels on fluffy seeds, races with creatures small and large and reaches into the heavens for a touch of magic.  No wonder when the family is returning to the city late at night, Arianne declares to the sky of stars and ethereal shapes, "À beintôt, les dinosaures!" (translation: See you soon, dinosaurs).
From Le Jardin Invisible 
by Valérie Picard 
illus. by Marianne Ferrer
Surprisingly, in 64 pages, there are few words.  The text is essentially a series of questions and exclamations.  But Valérie Picard's sparse text blossoms into a full story with Marianne Ferrer's illustrations.  Marianne Ferrer's art, first reviewed here from her picture book Racines (Monsieur Ed, 2016), gives an ethereal context to Arianne's journey from city to country to Le Jardin Invisible.  When the insignificant child is delegated to the garden, she becomes part of something larger, much larger than herself but still part of it.  Marianne Ferrer's locusts are majestic in every facet, her plant life varied and sumptuous in tones of blue, green and rose and her underwater scenes are resplendent in shades and hues of blues.  Like Arianne, these worlds are largely ignored until looked at with a closer lens.
From Le Jardin Invisible 
by Valérie Picard
 illus. by Marianne Ferrer
Whether Arianne visited this lavish garden by way of her dreams or simply her imagination is irrelevant.  Le Jardin Invisible is one to be seen and appreciated from any perspective.


n.b. The interpretation of this French-language book is solely my own.  I take full responsibility for any errors in translation and interpretation of words and art, and apologize for any discrepancies from the author/illustrator’s intent.

September 06, 2017

Nipêhon/I Wait

Written by Caitlin Dale Nicholson with Leona Morin-Neilson
Illustrated by Caitlin Dale Nicholson
Translated by Leona Morin-Neilson
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-914-0
24 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2017

The waiting that happens in Nipêhon/I Wait is not of the onerous variety but one that is reserved for companions coming together to complete a task.  It's a part of the process and one gladly done to achieve something worthwhile.

In Nipêhon/I Wait, three generations travel by RV to a site where they will pick yarrow flowers and leaves in order to produce a tea used for medicinal purposes. (A recipe is appended to the story.)  It is evident that Nôhkom (grandmother) leads, as daughter and granddaughter wait for her to gather her supplies.  Then, with every action that Nôhkom makes, the narrator and granddaughter follows as does Mom.  When she walks, they walk.  When she takes out her Medicine Bundle and prays, so too do her granddaughter and daughter.  But, when Nôhkom picks, placing the white flowers and leaves in her paper bag, it is only her granddaughter who follows.  Mom is busy blowing the seed heads from what looks like a Tragopogon.  So now Nôhkom and the narrator must wait. Eventually Mom begins to pick the yarrow and the three complete their task, ending the simple story of family coming together with the words, "We are done!"

Caitlin Dale Nicholson, a teacher and student of UNBC instructor of Cree Leona Morin-Neilson, takes her lessons of traditional plant medicines and her observations about generations connecting to create the unique story that is Nipêhon/I Wait.  Nôhkom, undoubtedly modelled after Leona Morin-Neilson, is the elder who guides the trio on their journey of collection and family as she did in their first picture book collaboration, Niwechihaw/I Help (Groundwood, 2008).  The story is told in English and Cree (the Y dialect), with the Cree text presented in both standard roman orthography and syllabics, the translation provided by Leona Morin-Neilson.
From Nipêhon/I Wait
by Caitlin Dale Nicholson and Leona Morin-Neilson
 illus. by Caitlin Dale Nicholson
The acrylic illustrations are the work of Caitlin Dale Nicholson who ensures accuracy and reality while going beyond true likeness and sharing the feel of the people and the place.  The patience and connection between the three generations is palpable, even as they work separately and seemingly silently.  Like the few words that tell the story, few words are needed between them.  They understand each other without verbalizing it every moment. It is calming and still intense with kinship.  (Those social media hounds who feel the need to overshare could take a lesson here.)  The strokes of Caitlin Dale Nicholson's paint give movement to the grasses, the trees, the plants, and of course the people and dog.  From Mom rubbing the dog's belly with her foot to the picking of the yarrow, life is going on, telling a story of a bond borne in tradition and affection.
From Nipêhon/I Wait
by Caitlin Dale Nicholson and Leona Morin-Neilson
 illus. by Caitlin Dale Nicholson

June 30, 2017

The Mysterious Librarian

Written by Dominique Demers
Translated by Sander Berg
Illustrated by Tony Ross
Alma Junior (Alma Books/Bloomsbury)
978-1-84688-415-3
79 pp.
Ages 6-9
June 2017

Reading this translation of Dominique Demers' original La Mystérieuse Bibliothécaire (Québec Amérique, 1994) is like being transported to another time and place, one in which children are children, not junior adults, and books are vehicles of imaginative transport.  There are no cell phones or e-book readers or computers or any of the technology that makes life faster and connections immediate.  It's a time when a woman can appear out of nowhere and become The Mysterious Librarian of the small town of Saint-Anatole and no one can start researching her on the internet.  Simpler, easier times.

When Miss Charlotte appears at the office of Mayor Peevish to apply for a position of librarian, a position unfilled for 30 years, he hires her.  Miss Charlotte "who was very tall and very skinny and seemed to come out of nowhere ... wearing a massive hat and a long blue dress, which was quite elegant, although it had seen better days" (pg. 3) takes her position very seriously, cleaning the broom-closet of a library, taking an inventory of the books and resident spiders and mice (who become pets) and requesting additional funds for the purchase of new books, to replace those she deemed "as disgusting as old, overcooked broccoli." (pg. 16)
She imagined fabulous books, books that make you laugh, cry, shiver and dance.  Books that take you to the far-flung corners of the earth.  Books that tickle your brain, touch your heart and lift your spirits. (pg. 15)
Leo, a boy whose mother owns the pet store, meets Miss Charlotte when she comes in for spider and mouse food, and suspects she is the odd woman his friend Marie had told him about at summer camp (see the first book in the series, The New Teacher, 2016).  Intrigued, he visits Miss Charlotte at the library, fortuitously as he finds her seemingly unconscious on the floor of the library.  Leo realizes that she is alive but cannot be roused because she has become so involved in the book that she has been sucked in.  Reading aloud helps bring her back.

Unconventional as she is, Miss Charlotte wants to bring readers to the books, so she encourages the children at the school to visit the library.  Although they also witness Miss Charlotte in her sucked-into-a-book state, the library becomes a reading home to the children who take on the tasks of feeding a menagerie of animals, bringing in tents and blankets and other comforts, and helping with miscellaneous library chores.  But when Miss Charlotte cannot be roused from her reading of Beauty and the Beast, the children, led by Leo, find the means to help her back.

Dominique Demers is an award-winning Quebec author of picture books, chapter books, young adult and adult books, having written well over fifty books.  Because they are primarily French-language books, I have not had the opportunity to review any on CanLit for LittleCanadians so I am delighted to review this translation of The Mysterious Librarian here.  The Mysterious Librarian is charming and innocent and makes me long for libraries in which reading was everything.  We have gone so far into making libraries places of entertainment, with makerspaces and more, that the library and librarian of The Mysterious Librarian are refreshing and inviting, though many would say old-fashioned.  Maybe Miss Charlotte and her library are out of fashion but I like to think of them as classic, elegant and exemplary.  Having Tony Ross, who has illustrated books penned by Roald Dahl and Astrid Lindgren as well as the Horrid Harry, Amber Brown and Dr. Xargle series, is brilliant.  There's that lightness and gentility of line that conveys the essence of Miss Charlotte and her mission to encourage reading.
From The Mysterious Librarian 
by Dominique Demers 
illus. by Tony Ross
Miss Charlotte would love to have The Mysterious Librarian in her library for the children.  Your children can read The Mysterious Librarian themselves but, if you do read it aloud to them–and I encourage teachers and parents to do so–try not to laugh too much when the bully Martin wants a book with bare bottoms in it (and gets a book about a pig) and try not to get sucked in, unless you have someone nearby to get you out.

April 26, 2017

Grandfather and the Moon

Written by Stéphanie Lapointe
Illustrated by Rogé
Translated by ShelleyTanaka
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-963-4
100 pp.
Ages 10-13
May 2017

Grand-père et la Lune won the 2016 Governor General's Award for French-language children's illustration and Groundwood Books has astutely engaged Shelley Tanaka to bring this jewel as Grandfather and the Moon to English-language readers. It's sensitive and nostalgic and emotive in a finely understated approach, blending a grandfather-granddaughter relationship with an exceptional journey into space.

Though it is evident from the subtle words and illustrations at the onset that the young girl's grandfather has passed, this is her story of how she remembers him.  He affectionately called her Mémère and, though he spoke few words, he said much to her.  He told his granddaughter of his past work, and always insisted she go to university and get her degree.  He drove around in a tank of a Chrysler and loved spaghetti that came out of a can.
From Grandfather and the Moon 
by Stéphanie Lapointe
illus. by Rogé

Life passed through Grandfather
like one long breath.
Warm,
and slow.

He adored his wife Lucille and was devastated by her death, slipping into a depression of fewer words, "Like his heart ran out of gas." When the Who Will Go to the Moon Contest is announced (though Grandfather hadn't heard of it, since he rarely watched TV, declaring that "Television is something that ends up doing our thinking for us"), the young girl is selected from hundreds of thousands of people for the space journey.

From Grandfather and the Moon 
by Stéphanie Lapointe
illus. by Rogé
After a booming launch, the girl ponders the beauty and silence of space, infusing her deliberations with her perspective on the history of space travel.  Just like the overwhelming emptiness her grandfather endured upon the death of his wife, the girl is staggered by the desolation.  Her response is stunning, to herself and others, but her grandfather in his box of a car is still there for her.

From Grandfather and the Moon
by Stéphanie Lapointe
illus. by Rogé
The relationship between granddaughter and grandfather is everything in Grandfather and the Moon.  There may be an extraordinary trip into space by an ordinary girl but even that does not surpass the profound connection between the two as the most important feature of the book.  Hardly effusive, the two still nurture their relationship as you would a fragile glass sphere, taking care with it but not engulfing it.  And even though I never knew either of my grandfathers, I know this young girl and this man who says so much in his actions and impacts her choices.  This must be a relationship very familiar to author Stéphanie Lapointe as her perspective is so intimate and touched with affection.

Award-winning artist Rogé who has illustrated countless French- and English-language books, his own and those of other authors,  uses pencil to evoke both the delicacy and the transparency of the relationship between the two generations in Grandfather and the Moon.  Moreover, the contemplative nature of the story comes out in Rogé's illustrations, from scenes of Grandfather at Lucille's bedside or the young girl's sojourn into space.  The colours are ever muted, with only glints of red, green or blue like stars in an oppressively darkened sky.  Together Stéphanie Lapointe and Rogé ensure that Grandfather and the Moon is loaded in gravitas in both words and art but with twinkles of humour and sweetness.  Because that's what life is generally like.  

April 19, 2017

Water's Children: Celebrating the resource that unites us all

Written by Angèle Delaunois
Illustrated by Gérard Frischeteau
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-015-4
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2017

Of course water is important.  Everyone knows it is the basis for life.  But water is so, so much more than just the liquid that sustains life. It enriches, energizes, moves, alters and drenches and Water’s Children is truly a celebration of that life force in a global context.

From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
Quebec author, visual artist and publisher Angèle Delaunois takes the reader across the world to witness the importance of water to the children of different countries.  Each child describes their experiences with getting water, using water, and what water represents, with a final summation statement.  Canada is represented by two spreads, one from Quebec and one from Nunavut, both which speak in terms of what is most familiar to young  Canadian readers.

For me, water is everywhere:
the tap that I turn on without thinking,
the bathtub full of bubbles,
the sprinkler that greens the grass,
the lake that summons us for vacation fun.
For me, water is a burst of laughter. (pg. 7)

For me, water is winter:
the ocean and the river trapped beneath the ice,
the snowflakes that blur the horizon where earth becomes sky,
the frost that whitens my lashes,
the solitude and silence of the long polar night.
For me, water is a perfect crystal of snow. (pg. 8)

While other texts and illustrations will be familiar or at least obvious such as the Russian child of a fishing village and the rain experienced by an urban child in Germany, many spreads will rouse thoughtful discussions of unfamiliar depictions of water.  There’s the flooded lands after a dam is built, the Brazilian rainforest, the orange groves on lands that were once desert, and water trucks in Mauritania.  Imagine worlds in which water is  “an outstretched hand” or “a cup of mint tea.”  The ultimate word goes to an unborn child for whom “water is the song of my mother” and who speaks for the world declaring that “For me, for all of us, water is a matter of life.

From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
The artwork of Montreal animator, graphic artist and illustrator Gérard Frischeteau rings with authenticity, depicting each global child in both personal and expansive landscapes, often providing details about daily life and family.  From the scarlet macaw of the rainforest to the bowler hat of the South American girl with her alpaca, each spread provides a glimpse into another world in which water is life.
From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
In fact, “Water is Life” is a special touch in Water’s Children. On watermarks adorning each spread, the term “water is life” is translated into a corresponding language, including French, Inuktitut, Catalan, German, Portuguese, Tamil, Arabic and Wolof with a final listing of all regions and languages represented in the book.

I know I’ve listed the reading audience as 4 to 8 years of age but don’t follow that.  Water’s Children’s audience should read “All ages” or “Everyone” because it is an extraordinarily inspirational examination of the importance of water throughout the world.  You can save it for World Water Day (March 22) but I recommend it for this weekend’s Earth Day (April 22) and anytime meaningful attention be paid to a global resource i.e., always.

March 02, 2017

Under the Umbrella

Written by Catherine Buquet
Illustrated by Marion Arbona
Translated by Erin Wood
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-016-1
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2017


If Under the Umbrella proves anything, it's that there's always a little sunshine associated with the gloominess of rain if you just open your eyes to see beyond the umbrellas.
From Under the Umbrella 
by Catherine Buquet 
illus. by Marion Arbona
A grumbling man dashes through the streets of the town, bracing himself and his umbrella against the sleeting rain.  The man’s suit and umbrella seem as colourless as he is, the only colour the pink of his  raw hands.  He is wet, he is cold and he is late.  It’s not surprising that the older man does not see the young boy mesmerized by the edible treats glowing from within a bright and warm inviting shop.  But when the wind hurls the man’s umbrella away, the rosy-cheeked little boy retrieves it for the man who shows his gratitude with a red rhubarb-raspberry tart. That delightful treat brings the two into a shared experience that takes the chill off the weather for the two unlikely friends.  
From Under the Umbrella
by Catherine Buquet 
illus. by Marion Arbona
Under the Umbrella was first published in French as Sous le parapluie (Les 400 coups, 2016) and garnered much attention for its simple but restorative story told with the pencil and gouache illustrations of Marion Arbona, the artist behind numerous French-language books like Arachnéa and English-language picture books The Good Little Book and Sam’s Pet Temper.  Catherine Buquet’s text suggests a darkness to the man’s trek in the rain, using words like "grumbled", "growled", "muttered", "attacked", "forced", and “With striding feet and stormy heart” (pg. 15), making it evident that the man’s mood is as foul as the weather.  Yet when she introduces the boy who is “entranced” “at a warm and glowing window” and uses words like “gazes”, “the wonders”, “delight”, “shimmered” and “treat”, the atmosphere changes completely, though the rain continues to fall.  What a great lesson in word choice for older readers and writers to witness the impact vocabulary has on atmosphere.  Marion Arbona’s artwork conforms to that climate, using dusky greys and sharp angles for the dreary scenes  while shining bright yellows and reds and pinks within the patisserie and then upon the two as they savour a shared treat.  The interaction between the balding older man in the pin-striped suit and the little boy in cap and short pants is fleeting but colossal in its momentary importance.  I’m glad the boy was taking the time to enjoy the visual display and that the man took the time to acknowledge the boy.  It’s a small thing, but it’s a good thing.

November 10, 2016

Little Fox, Lost

by Nicole Snitselaar
Illustrated by Alicia Padrón
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-004-8
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
September 2016

This is certainly a week for Pajama Press on CanLit for LittleCanadians with Little Fox, Lost being the third book from this publisher that I've reviewed in the past 4 days.  That says a lot about Pajama Press's releases. Except for review copies, which I get from many publishers, I receive no renumeration for any reviews. I just review those books that I believe need to be read and Little Fox, Lost is such a book.  Written by French author Nicole Snitselaar and illustrated by Venezuelan Alicia Padrón, and translated by Pajama Press’s own Erin Woods, Little Fox, Lost is a beautiful, soft book in textual sentiment and physical texture (it has that wonderful cushioned cover) with illustrations evocative of the majesty and solitude of a forest in winter.

After a brilliant snowfall, Mama Fox takes Little Fox out of their den for a walk.  Though cautioned to stay close, Little Fox becomes distracted by his paw prints in the snow while his mother chats away with Mrs. Gray Fox.  It doesn’t take long for Little Fox to realize that he’s gone a little deeper into the forest than he’d planned.  He can’t even retrace his steps which run in every direction.  Fear overcomes Little Fox who starts to cry.  Even when an old owl tries to reassure Little Fox and suggests leading him out of the forest, Little Fox recalls his mother’s wise words:

"If ever you are lost, my child,
Don’t let a stranger guide you.
Be still, and I will search the wild
Until I am beside you." (pg. 20)
From Little Fox, Lost 
by Nicole Snitselaar 
illus. by Alicia Padrón
Even better, Little Fox begins to sing his mother’s rhyme aloud, with the owl’s help, hoping to draw his mother to him.  With the help of some other animals who are also drawn to the singing, Little Fox is reunited with Mama Fox.

From Little Fox, Lost 
by Nicole Snitselaar 
illus. by Alicia Padrón
Little Fox, Lost has a happy ending to a fearful situation for both parent and child, and I suspect that the rhythmic verse in Little Fox, Lost could become a go-to teaching tool for telling a child what to do when lost.  If there is a tune with it, that verse could become widespread in child safety measures.  But, in the meanwhile, read Little Fox, Lost with your children at home and at school to inform them about what to do if lost and reassure them that they will be found.  Because of Alicia Padrón’s stunning artwork, children will lulled into the story and captivated by her delicate creatures and expansive landscapes. There’s a softness and quiet that comforts and envelops the reader in a blanket of safety and support, and even have you looking forward to winter and snow. (I just wish my scanner could depict more accurately the colours within.)

Everything about Little Fox, Lost is sublime, from the lyrical text and its message, to the artwork, the cover, the framing of the words on the page, and the endpapers. Little Fox, Lost is lovely, through and through, and deserving of appreciative readings, over and over.


December 27, 2015

The Biggest Poutine in the World


by Andrée Poulin
Translated by Brigitte Waisberg
Annick Press
978-1-55451-825-8
160 pp.
Ages 9-12
March, 2016
Reviewed from advance reading copy 

Using food to fill the void of loneliness and to quench the anguish of abandonment would not be unusual but using a 650-kilogram poutine to smother the emptiness of a cold, distant father and an absentee mother is definitely unique.  But that’s what twelve-year-old Thomas Gagné of Sainte-Alphonsine believes might offer his pathetic life some hope.
A glimmer of hope lights up in my mind.  A tiny, fragile, trembling glimmer.  I try not to pay too much attention to it. I’ve tasted disappointment before, and it doesn’t taste good. (pg. 11)
Though it has been seven long years since he’s seen his mother–and yet he does receive  very brief notes with cash from her at his birthday–Thomas has fond memories of her making poutine for him: peeling whole bags of potatoes, buying cheese curds together, making the gravy and cooking the fries.  Taking a cue from his favourite website, the Guinness World Records, Thomas concocts the idea of making a giant poutine and feeding hundreds of people so that he might earn a world record and become worthy of the attention of his parents.  So begins the Phenomenal Poutine Project, PPP, for which Thomas enlists the help of his best friend, Sam Bernier; Sam’s godfather and French fry truck owner Fat Frank; and Irene Ladouceur, who runs the local cheese shop and insists Thomas include her daughter Elie in the project.  But things run amok when the mayor, Thérèse Tartatcheff, refuses to rent the arena to Thomas for the event.

Thomas is not deterred, however, and cooks up a plan to kidnap the mayor’s Senegal parrot and then recover the bird, all to sway Tartatcheff into relenting to his PPP.  But, as with so many good plans, things go awry.  His friendships with Sam and Elie, his missing mother, his aloof father, an allergic reaction, a wayward parrot, and a candy-pink note all get heaped on top of each other and smothered in emotions.  Fortunately, all culminates in a satisfying fusion of humour and coming-of-age drama, with a side order of dysfunctional family.

The Biggest Poutine in the World is the English translation, by Annick Press’s Brigitte Waisberg, of Andrée Poulin’s La plus grosse poutine du monde (Bayard Canada, 2013) which won the 2014 Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse and the 2015 Le Prix Tamarac of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading.  The story is a visually-appealing mixture of graphics, including fun text messages between Thomas and Sam, drawings of emails between Thomas and Elie, an album of types of poutine (who knew there were so many!), and black-and-white sketches, with text set in large font and broken into small chapters with massive titles.  Young readers will undoubtedly appreciate the organizational format of the book but it’s the story line with which they will empathize.  Thomas is a boy with much resentment, anger and jealousy and yet he can still see the potential for hopefulness.  He even has a willingness and positivity to accept a challenge to captivate that hope although obstacles and self-doubt test him.

With The Biggest Poutine in the World, Andrée Poulin demonstrates an understanding of the complexities of a child’s mind when faced with familial conflict.  Being an accomplished author of over 30 French-language picture books and children’s novels, Andrée Poulin effortlessly translates that strife with compassion and humour into an uplifting tale of friendship and determination and emotional growth.  It does pull a bit at the heart, but no more than the occasional high-cholesterol poutine might.



(A version of this review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.)

Kubiw, H. (2016, January/February). [Review of the book The Biggest Poutine in the World, by Andrée Poulin]. Quill & Quire, 82 (1): 44.

October 29, 2015

All Year Round

by Émilie Leduc
Translated by Shelley Tanaka
Groundwood Books
98-1-55498-411-4
28 pp.
Ages 2-5
August 2015

All Year Round is sure to become a teacher favourite for the teaching of the months of the year and all year round! It’s original French-launguage edition, La ronde des mois (Éditions de la courte échelle, 2012) has already garnered author-illustrator Émilie Leduc much acclaim as a Governor General finalist for illustration in French-language children’s literature, and now, through Shelley Tanaka’s astute translation, All Year Round can be enjoyed by all Canadian children in both official languages.

Before even examining the content of All Year Round, it becomes evident that much effort has been put in organizing the picture book into a visually-appealing and child-friendly format.  Its consistency will first and foremost be a compelling read for teachers and parents to little ones.  There is one double spread for each month of the year.  Except for June and November whose illustrations cover both pages, there is one full-page illustration on the right side of the spread (see October’s spread below) and on the left-hand side there is the free verse accompanying text, titled with the name of the month, and a small complementary artwork.


Émilie Leduc’s illustrations will be immediately identified as soft.  There’s a feel of rich oil pastels with blurred edges, though I read that she actually used coloured pencil on Mylar.  The Mylar paper gives a frosted, translucency to the artwork, perfect for her engaging child (who features in each spread and whose words, spoken in first person, are the basis for the book).  The broad-faced child traipses through the snows of January and February, enjoying a hot chocolate in the latter; celebrating a birthday in March; staying dry in April; communing with flowers in May; cycling in June; swimming in July; sand-sculpting on the beach in August; swinging amongst the falling leaves at the playground in September; costumed with a pumpkin for Halloween; and back to the snows in November and December.  Just like the year, All Year Round comes full circle.

And it’s evident from the text that the young boy finds everything he experiences, inside and outside his home, to be part of a sensory exploration that he enthusiastically relishes.  From his swimming “skin all pruney” in July, or the teasing winds of September, or tromping through the forest “Crunch! Swoosh!” in January, the little boy takes in everything that he sees, feels, hears and shares with his cat, Clementine.

All Year Round will be a welcome teaching tool but enjoy it with little ones as a refreshing exploratory of the senses by a much-loved little boy and cat as they traverse their world together both temporally and spatially.

May 26, 2015

Nut and Bolt

by Nicole de Cock
Translated by Margriet Ruurs
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
978-1-55455-364-8
32 pp.
Ages 3+
April, 2015


Nut is a mouse.  Bolt is a donkey. And they are friends.  Real friends.  And "real friends would do anything for each other!" is the message that Nut and Bolt shares with young readers.  

While the very simple story is based on the litany of Nut's generosity–providing games, shade, cleaning, entertainment– all provided with great effort, joy and efficacy, the young reader will start to wonder whether the friendship is one-sided.  Nut is working tirelessly for his friend and Bolt enjoys the fruits of Nut's labours, page after page, but what of Bolt and his friendship for Nut?

Margriet Ruurs, whose recent book A Brush Full of Colour (Pajama Press, 2014) demonstrates the breadth of her writing, keeps the message of Dutch author Nicole de Cock's text short, simple and powerful.  And just when the reader will start to wonder what Bolt does for Nut, Nicole de Cock provides a final illustration, an endearing rendition of what Bolt gives Nut.  It's Home. It's Shelter. It's Comfort. It's Life.

It's a Delight.

November 18, 2014

The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred

by Lili Chartrand
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
978-1-55455-346-4
32 pp.
Ages 5+
September 2014

The award-winning Monde fabuleux de Monsieur Fred (Dominique et Compagnie, 2012) has finally been translated into English, introducing new readers to the beautifully illustrated story of friendship, imagination and stories.

Pierrot is a daydreamer, a young boy who loves stories and using his imagination.  Coming across an older man sitting on a park bench and reading an invisible book, the boy introduces himself and joins the man, Mr. Fred.  Instead of treating the man as crazy, Pierrot encourages Mr. Fred to share the stories in his book.  Invited back, Pierrot enjoys Mr. Fred's magical stories, delighting in their mesmeric quality and the joy the story-teller derives.  Finally Mr. Fred feels comfortable to disclose his own story, revealing a tragedy that leads him to meeting Pierrot.  And, though Pierrot tries to excite other children about Mr. Fred and his book, they laugh at him.  That is, all but one little girl, Lila.  Sadly Lila never meets Mr. Fred.  But his friendship and stories become the catalyst for Pierrot and Lila's friendship and future.

Lili Chartrand's lovely story about the healing nature of friendship and the gift of imagination is enhanced with Gabrielle Grimard's expressive illustrations. Her use of watercolours gives the images an ethereal fluidity, though the intense gouache and definition with pencil help ground the story in bright reality.  The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred easily melds intensity and lightness of text and pictures to share a story of similar depth and tenderness.