Picture Book Review: Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate & Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Review: Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate & Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 3, 2018 by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

From Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Katherine Applegate, a sweet book of encouragement, filled with humor and insight into the effort behind any meaningful accomplishment in life. A perfect gift for baby shower, birthday, or graduation.

This gorgeous gift book, equally perfect for preschool graduations or college commencements, baby showers or birthdays, is an inspirational tribute to the universal struggles and achievements of childhood. Beginning with a first birthday, the scenes travel through childhood triumphs and milestones, coming full circle to graduation. A magical blend of succinct text and beautiful watercolors renders each moment with tenderness and humor and encourages readers to “remember then, with every try, sometimes you fail . . . sometimes you fly.”

Before the cake…
before the peas…
before the laugh…
before the seas…

So begins the heartfelt, sweet and wonderfully illustrated picture book Sometimes You Fly by Newbery Medal winner Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Blue Ethel).

A starred review from Booklist (a snippet of which is also quoted on the book jacket) notes Sometimes You Fly as a ‘natural successor’ to the perennially gifted Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. Which, yes, absolutely, given the hopeful, commemorative and forward-looking nature of Sometimes You Fly! In addition to that though, Katherine Applegate’s rhyming and rhythmic text reads as genuine and natural, while Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s artwork- which I fell in love with in Blue Ethel– makes this picture book truly stand-out and sing as an all-ages kind of celebratory read.

Image from Sometimes You Fly via Mr. Schu Reads blog post

With each short line of text of ‘before’, full page illustrations (front and back) illustrate or highlight the before and after of a momentous occasion. For example, with ‘before the team…’ readers see a girl try multiple swings at bat, while the back side shows the young girl jumping up in excitement at having made a softball team. After numerous and varied ‘before’s’, the book gently shifts to take readers through some of the highs and lows of attempting new things, of making mistakes, of saying goodbyes, and softly stresses the importance of what we take and learn from our experiencea. Applegate’s writing here, as in her children’s novels, is composed and reassuring, this lovely mix of gravitas mixed with lightness. Reinhardt’s illustrations are such a brilliant complement to Applegate’s text: the illustrations show such detail, such expressiveness and nuanced emotions- from moments of joy to catastrophe to everything in between.

Overall, Sometimes You Fly is a kindhearted, hopeful read with marvelous illustrations that will indeed make it an appealing (and rightfully so!) gift to celebrate graduations and other such occasions, but it’s also a lovely read in its own right that can be enjoyed quietly or aloud at anytime by any reader.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

 

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Picture Book Picks: Not Just for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day!

In the last few months, we’ve had celebrations for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. While I do love reading themed/holiday picture books on and for specific dates, I must say I do enjoy reading picture books on all subjects throughout the year…(even more so now that I have a three year old who loves to have Halloween-themed books read aloud all the time!). Picture books that celebrate parents, grandparents, family members and families in general, are always welcome, I think. Here, I’m sharing some of my picks (picture books and board books) that can be appreciated any time of the year:

 
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
Made for Me by Zack Bush, illus. by Gregorio De Lauretis*
Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad by Liz Climo
Wish by Matthew Cordell
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato
Little Cub by Olivier Dunrea
My New Mom and Me by Renata Galindo
Baby Penguins Love Their Mama! by Melissa Guion
Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton
Mother Bruce (Bruce #1) by Ryan T. Higgins
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee, illus. Eliza Wheeler
My Dad Used to Be So Cool by Keith Negley
A Family Is a Family Is a Family by Sara O’Leary, illus. Qin Leng
Where You Came From by Sara O’Leary, illus. Julie Morstad
The Mommy Book by Todd Parr
Harris Finds His Feet by Catherine Rayner
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illus. Henry Cole
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam Schiffer, illus. Holly Clifton-Brown
Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illus. Sydney Smith
David Gets In Trouble by David Shannon
One Family by George Shannon, illus. Blanca Gomez
Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein
Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein
You and Me, Me and You by Miguel Tanco*
Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins
Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston, illus. Misa Saburi
A Bedtime Yarn by Nicola Winstanley, illus. by Olivia Chin Mueller**

Board Books:
Edgar Gets Ready for Bed by Jennifer Adams, illus. Ron Stucki
My Mommy (Peppa Pig) by Neville Astley
Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins
My Dad is Amazing! by Sabrina Moyle, illus. Eunice Moyle
My Mom is Magical! by Sabrina Moyle, illus. Eunice Moyle
Little You by Richard Van Camp, illus. Julie Flett
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, illus. Julie Flett
We Belong Together by Joyce Wan

*Titles were sent in for review consideration courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you! Inclusion on this list, opinions and comments are my own.
**Title was sent in for review consideration courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you! Inclusion on this list, opinions and comments are my own.

Picture Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: April 11, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

 

Image from Alma and How She Got Her Name via Juana Martinez-Neal’s site

Juana Martinez-Neal makes her debut as both author and illustrator with the critically-lauded Alma and How She Got Her Name. Gorgeously illustrated, poignant, and starring an endearing protagonist, Martinez-Neal’s notable picture book is not to be missed.

When readers meet Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, she is writing her name and requires two pieces of paper- taped together- to get her full name down! We learn that she considers her name to be “too long, if you asked her”. She approaches her dad and reiterates her stance that her name is just too long and that “it never fits”. Her dad responds by taking a photo album off of a shelf: “…Let me tell you the story of your name. Then you decide if it fits”. Beginning with the name Sofia, and ending with the name Alma, Alma and her dad take a look at a photograph of each namesake and speak in a brief and thoughtful fashion about each respective relative- whether personal notes about their interests, their beliefs, their crafts, etc. At each name, Alma thinks about how remarkable it is that some parts of her relatives’ personalities and passions are somehow reflected in her or even an intrinsic part of her own person! As one can imagine, the more Alma hears from her father about her family’s history, the more her consideration and awe about her namesakes blossoms, as does her own sense of self and the uniqueness of her story.

Image from Alma and How She Got Her Name via Candlewick Press

A picture book that packs meaning, nostalgia, and general loveliness within its pages, Juana Martinez-Neal’s Alma and How She Got Her Name is an all-around wonderful read- beautifully told, beautifully illustrated (I am just in love with the art)- that also offers inspiration for readers. I have been reading this book with my three year old and she not only enjoys hearing about Alma’s name, but also hearing the stories behind her own full name which has quite a bit of family history nestled within it! Due to its more concise text length, I could see Alma and How She Got Her Name being used with a smaller Kindergarten and up group (or really, with any group of children perhaps working on family trees, or studying their own family!). Be sure to read “A Note from Juana” at the end of the book; Martinez-Neal talks about her own name’s history, as well as offering some related prompts for writing or discussion!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Recently Read: Kate Messner’s Breakout & Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise

Review posts featuring a children’s lit title and young adult lit title don’t often (if ever!) appear on this site. However, after reading Kate Messner’s Breakout (the children’s title) and Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise (the young adult title) in succession, I thought it might be interesting to pair them together in a review. Both titles deal with the criminal justice system (incarceration, punishment, and the complicated responsibility of prison wardens) albeit in different capacities, degrees and vantage points. While weighty and controversial issues surrounding the justice system and prison system are never off the grid, I feel as though these reads- and the subjects they proffer for sincere examination- might be considered even more timely and significant. (Just a warning, there are some plot spoilers ahead in the reviews!).

In Kate Messner‘s latest middle grade novel Breakout– already receiving a number of positive critical reviews- multiple middle school characters tell the complicated story of what happened over the course of a summer in which two prison inmates escaped a high-security prison located in the heart of their small town of Wolf Creek. Best friends Nora and Lizzie, along with new classmate Elidee, through journal entries, recorded conversations, text messages, posters, new clippings, and recorded morning announcements (and the addition of Nora’s younger brother’s comics), track the events, aftereffects, and transformations of their community after the breakout of two maximum security prisoners. Breakout tackles and confronts a number of heavy-hitting issues, including privilege, spreading of misinformation, prejudice and racism (in and out of the prison), and what foolishness and fear can breed- or inflame. Elidee’s narrative is a standout here: her being a newcomer to town, her being a racial minority in Wolf Creek, and the the fact that her brother is serving time in Wolf Creek’s prison works to highlight the biases of even the most well-minded and well-meaning children and adults. Moreover, through Elidee’s narrative, Messner rather wonderfully ties in the brilliant and influential voices of Jacqueline Woodson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nikki Grimes (among others): as Elidee finds Wolf Creek and its residents increasingly stifling, explicitly and appallingly racist at times, her study of lyricists and poets inspires her to write and try to make her own breakout from Wolf Creek. Breakout is definitely a read to get dialogue and self-reflection going; I can see elementary classes getting their teeth into this layered read. Well-written, absorbing and truly substantial in terms of content and subject matter, Breakout is a read that offers much for serious consideration.

Sarah Crossan‘s newest young adult novel Moonrise is a read that moved me to tears, and like Breakout, one that I keep thinking back on. Crossan, author of the acclaimed novels One, Apple and Rain, and Ireland’s new Children’s Literature Laureate, has written a novel in verse about a seventeen year old whose older brother receives the date of his execution while on death row in Texas. There is, as one might expect, a tremendous amount of sadness and brutality in this novel, as well as the pervasive atmosphere of desperation and tension that threatens to overflow at every turn. When readers meet Joe, we learn that he hasn’t seen his older brother Ed in ten years- since Joe was seven years old. While Joe and his older sister Angela have never forgotten about Ed and his incarceration, the prospect of his being put to death- even while serving time on death row in Wakefield, Texas- seemed unreal. But when Ed receives his date of execution, and chances for appeal are almost out, Joe makes the difficult trip to Wakefield. The reason for Ed’s incarceration is a slow reveal: the exploration into his making a false admission of guilt and claim of innocence becomes almost secondary to Joe and Ed’s reunion; their remembrances of a childhood fraught with a terrible parent; Joe’s memories of some moments of true happiness with Ed; and how Joe, Angela and Ed come to fathom the looming possibility of saying a final goodbye. Crossan’s writing is deceptively smooth and effortless- so much profundity is imbued in Joe’s often stark narrative. As with Kate Messner’s Breakout, Moonrise offers so much for contemplation here regarding fallacies and serious fractures within the justice and prison systems (and regarding those who work on the inside). Moonrise is a potentread, where the knowledge of unalterable, irrevocable character decisions and repercussions make for a haunting, unsettling read. Readers who have previously read and appreciated Crossan’s affecting work, readers of novels-in-verse, and those searching for contemporary, weightier YA, might especially be interested in seeking Moonrise out.

I received copies of Breakout and Moonrise courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. Thank you! Both titles have been published and are currently available. All opinions and comments are my own.

Recently Read: Great Picture Books (16)!

A look at some wonderful picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading lately! All are titles I have read and enjoyed and would recommend. Let’s start off with two funny books featuring bears: first up is Don’t Feed the Bear by Kathleen Doherty, illustrated by Chip Wass, a riotous story about an escalating battle of wit and words between a determined-to-get-food bear and an equally stubborn ranger (a bit of a loving nod to Yogi Bear and Disney’s Humphrey the Bear!); second up is Bear and Chicken by Jannie Ho, an adorably illustrated title that gently builds up tension between an anxious chicken and the hungry bear who rescues her from the cold (…this book would pair nicely with That Is Not A Good Idea! or The Doghouse!). Next is Red Sky at Night, from paper artist Elly MacKay, which looks at various weather sayings (e.g.red sky in the morning, sailors take warning) with beautiful, dreamlike accompanying pictorial representations. If you’d like to take a wonderfully sweet trip across Canada, may I recommend Linda Bailey and Kass Reich‘s terrifically told and illustrated Carson Crosses Canada, about a sparkling, funny dog and his equally sparkling and awesomely adventurous owner. Readers who love stories about invention and treehouses, be sure to check out Carter Higgins and Emily Hughes‘s glorious Everything You Need for a Treehouse, a book to inspire and to be pored over and read again and again. If you’re looking for a cat-centred jewel of a picture book with minimal text, try Isabelle Simler‘s marvelously illustrated Plume. Sophie Blackall’s latest title is Hello Lighthouse, a fascinating- and gloriously illustrated- detailed look inside a lighthouse and the life of its current keeper. Last but definitely not least we have I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët, a remarkable, necessary wordless picture book.

Picture Book Review: Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston & Misa Saburi

Review: Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston, illus. Misa Saburi
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 20, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

When Sakura’s father gets a new job, she and her parents leave their home in Japan. In America, Sakura misses the blossoming cherry tree where she and her grandmother would play and picnic. How will she feel at home in this new and unfamiliar place? What if she forgets the beloved grandmother she left behind? Making friends with her neighbour helps Sakura feel more settled and when springtime finally arrives, a gorgeous and fateful surprise awaits her.

Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms captures the beauty of the healing power of friendship through Weston’s Japanese poetry-inspired text and Saburi’s breathtaking illustrations.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

“I’ve watched this tree grow
all my life,” said Obaachan.
This is how I learned

seeing these blossoms in bloom
is always finest with friends.”

Author Robert Paul Weston (Blues for Zoey) turns to picture books with Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms, illustrated by Misa Saburi (Monster Trucks, with Joy Keller). Written in a series of tanka poems, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms tells the story of a young girl named Sakura- whose name means cherry blossoms- as she and her parents leave Japan and her beloved Obaachan for America.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

When Sakura arrives at their new home, she is understandably sad and lonely, missing her grandmother, their picnics, as well as the “soft and sweet scent” of cherry blossoms. A thoughtful young boy from next door named Luke tries to lift her spirits by offering to look at the night sky together through his telescope. After night adventures of contemplating the world above them- and its fleeting nature- Sakura soon finds that with a friend by her side, her new home and new school does not feel quite so daunting or cold. Sakura’s story, however, takes a sad turn with news about her Obaachan. Sakura and her family make a trip back to Japan to spend time with her now-ailing Obaachan. Quiet notes about love, grief and remembrance lace through the final spreads of the picture book, with the incredible reveal of cherry blossoms and a tender nod to Obachaan’s thoughts about enjoying “blossoms in bloom…with friends”.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

Overall, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms is lovely- quietly and poetically- told, with illustrations to match the changing tones throughout the story. While it is indeed a story that touches upon a few more serious, pensive topics, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms is still a hopeful read that emphasizes the reach of love, kindness and friendship. Weston’s approach to telling Sakura’s story in tanka form is unusual but great, and works very well in allowing the more momentous topics to be broached without overwhelming readers. Regarding the artwork, I particularly appreciate Saburi’s idiosyncratic illustrative style and how it works so well with Weston’s poetic writing: characters (and often objects) are well-defined and outlined in dark colours, while some inanimate objects and scenery (like the cherry blossoms) are softly drawn; a broad colour palette is used as well, lively and rich colours to denote happier scenes, while darker, muted shades are used to denote contemplative and sad scenes. Sakura’s Cherry Blossom is a picture book that could be used as a gentler fiction read on loss and mourning, about moving and making a new home, or even about making new friends; used in a classroom or home, this story could also even be used to inspire students to explore and attempt tanka poetry. Be sure to check out the final page: there is notation from the author regarding tanka poetry- an introduction to the style, its structure, as well a brief historical note.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (82): Titles from Emily Carpenter, Tayari Jones, Matt Haig, Rumaan Alam & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction! You may have noticed that these Must Read Monday posts are less frequent; it’s been a bit of a gong show keeping up with my to-read list and constant changes with my reading list depending on my reviewing schedule (and life, in general!), so I’ll be aiming for around once a month (maybe twice). Any recommended titles, especially with regard to picture books, I’ll do my best to add to ‘Recently Read’ posts so you can see what’s been on my radar!

Preamble over, let’s get to some new must-read titles! For this edition, I’m turning to adult fiction and mysteries which have not been featured in some time! My (awesome) tower of must-read children’s titles has meant that adult fiction takes a bit of a backseat. However! There are a number of adult fiction titles that I am clamouring to read: the recent Pulitzer Prize winning Less by Andrew Sean Greer which a friend and library colleague gave top rating to; the fantastically reviewed An American Marriage by Tayari Jones; Matt Haig’s fascinating-sounding How to Stop Time; Celeste Ng’s bestselling and strongly received sophomore title Little Fires Everywhere, a title I can’t believe I haven’t read yet (!!); That Kind of Mother, by critically acclaimed writer Rumaan Alam; the twisty thriller The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter, which sounds right up my alley; and last but not least, the terrifically described mystery The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Let’s take a closer look:

 

The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter
Publication: June 6, 2017 by Lake Union Publishing
Book Description:

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of a privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first, island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon, Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.

 

Less: A Novel by Andrew Sean Greer
Publication: July 18, 2017 by Lee Boudreaux Books
Book Description:

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Published September 12, 2017 by Penguin Press
Book Description:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Published February 6, 2018 by Viking (first published July 6, 2017)
Book Description:

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

So Tom moves back to London, his old home, to become a high school history teacher–the perfect job for someone who has witnessed the city’s history first hand. Better yet, a captivating French teacher at his school seems fascinated by him. But the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

How to Stop Time is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness.

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Algonquin Books
Book Description:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

 

 
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Publication: February 8, 2018 by Raven Books
Book Description:

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.

 

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
Publication: May 8, 2018 by Ecco
Book Description:

Like many first-time mothers, Rebecca Stone finds herself both deeply in love with her newborn son and deeply overwhelmed. Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help—Priscilla Johnson—and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.

Priscilla’s presence quickly does as much to shake up Rebecca’s perception of the world as it does to stabilize her life. Rebecca is white, and Priscilla is black, and through their relationship, Rebecca finds herself confronting, for the first time, the blind spots of her own privilege. She feels profoundly connected to the woman who essentially taught her what it means to be a mother. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.

 

Review: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe

Review: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 8, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

All it takes is one: one coral gamete to start a colony, one person to make a difference, one idea to change the world. The ongoing efforts to save and rebuild the world’s coral reefs-with hammer and glue, and grafts of newly grown coral-are the living legacy of Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation. Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe tell the true story of the coral restoration pioneer in this brilliant tribute to the wonders of nature and the power of human hope.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

Award-winning children’s author Kate Messner (The Seventh Wish) and acclaimed Canadian artist Matthew Forsythe (The Gold Leaf) have teamed up for the children’s non-fiction title, The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation. A pictorial biography as well an introductory examination into conservation efforts of coral reefs, The Brilliant Deep is a fascinating true story brought to life by beautiful artwork.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

The Brilliant Deep begins in the water, with one coral illuminated and the words “It begins with one”. Messner takes readers on a brief look at the spawning of corals: how “corals begin to spawn- releasing first one, then millions of tiny lives”, and that if one “is lucky” and not eaten or washed away, it “lands in a place where it can grow…[beginning] a coral reef”. Messner then switches to a summarized look at Coral Restoration Foundation founder Ken Nedimyer’s childhood, and how his love of swimming and exploring the Florida Keys reefs spurned what would become his lifelong captivation and passion for protecting and restoring reefs. Messner balances some tricky work here: as the story turns to follow Nedimyer as an adult, there is a significant amount of terminology and (necessary) explication of Nedimyer’s experiments of growing and planting coral colonies. However, Messner makes it work smoothly, particularly with the repeated emphasis on how it takes just “one”, and the neatly woven narrative circle that the entire story makes from coral back to coral. It would be absolutely remiss not to mention how stunning Forsythe’s artwork is here, as his golden and blue/green-toned artwork masterfully captures Messner’s narrative and allows the reader to actually ‘witness’ steps involved in coral restoration. You can get a sense just from the selected images above and below how rich and ambient Forsythe’s illustrations are, whether invoking Nedimyer’s childhood seeing Jacques Cousteau on the television, with his array of aquariums or (not pictured) seeing hands gently apply glue on coral. The last few pages of The Brilliant Deep include links to organizations, books, and articles that readers can further explore; a succinct note about coral reef decline and protection; how to help/get involved; as well as a select set of vocabulary definitions.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

Overall, a timely, mesmerizing and truly interesting non-fiction children’s title that has multiple ways of being enjoyed (and used!). Thinking of books like Hello Hello or Bloom, one can see that children’s titles (whether categorized as picture books or more strictly non-fiction) are exploring and offering up tremendous scope of topics for children (and adults). Children’s book efforts on conservation are blossoming and the possibilities for education and literacy (in schools, in libraries, at home, etc.) is exciting. Messner and Forsythe have, with The Brilliant Deep, added a very strong (and beautiful!) title to the booming roster of children’s biographical and science books- a title that might spark readers to learn even more about the Coral Restoration Foundation and Ken Nedimyer’s legacy of conservation.

News note: Here is a link to a May 16, 2018 news article about Ken Nedimyer stepping down from a leadership position with the Coral Restoration Foundation.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Picture Book Review: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Review: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: May 22, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

In an exuberant picture book, a glimpse of costumed mermaids leaves one boy flooded with wonder and ready to dazzle the world.

While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.

The picture book debut from author-illustrator Jessica Love, Julián is a Mermaid already has multiple starred reviews and critical praise to its name- from publications including The Horn Book and The New York Times Book Review. This picture book title had been on my must-read radar for a few months, after reading multiple rave comments from reviewers and bloggers on social media, and some sneak peaks- needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating this title. And readers, Julián is a Mermaid is a gorgeous, tender, outstanding reading experience.

Image from Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love via SLJ

Jessica Love’s debut is about a young boy named Julián who absolutely loves everything about mermaids. On the subway with his abuela, a book about mermaids open in his lap, he sees three women who are stunningly, amazingly dressed as mermaids- from the tips of their colourful hair to the tails of their gowns. Julián then imagines himself taken under the sea, swept up in a rush of sea life, transforming into a mermaid. He later gets the opportunity to actually turn himself into a mermaid- emulating the real-life mermaids he sees around him- while Abuela goes to take a bath. With great ingenuity, Julián uses various objects around their place- a willowy curtain, plant fronds, and more- to slowly transform himself into a stunning, unforgettable mermaid. Our protagonist’s joy is sharply faded, though, as he wonders and worries what Abuela might say as she sees the mess he has made while bringing his mermaid dream to life. The author takes the story in a truly wonderful direction after a moment of decision hangs in the air: how Julián’s Abuela responds to seeing the mess, and seeing him as a mermaid is something that embraces and touches the core of the heart. (I don’t want to reveal the ending here as I loved being surprised by it, but if you’re curious to read more about the finale, take a read through this wonderfully detailed look in School Library Journal by Elizabeth Bird that talks more in-depth about possible readings of the ending). I have returned to reading and poring over Julián is a Mermaid countless times since my first read. An exploration and deep celebration of a young person’s character, imagination and uniqueness, as well as love and understanding, Julián is a Mermaid is an exceptional read. Whether read aloud, used during storytime, recommended to mermaid enthusiasts, or finding its way to readers of any age who might just need to have Julián’s story in their lives, Julián is a Mermaid should be read, shared, and loved.

Image from Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love via SLJ

Overall, an incredible, radiant picture book. Jessica Love has done a tremendous job here with her debut: the illustrative work is stunning, so saturated and evocative and fluid, and the text is just light enough to let the art and beautiful story shine. I highly recommend taking a read of this title and spending time with Julián, Abuela, and his world. Be sure to take a look at the picture book’s page here, as you’ll be able to get a further inside look!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: May 11, 2018 by Pajama Press (in Canada)
Book Description:

He’s a rescue, a mutt. Maybe there’s a little golden retriever in him, although he’s not exactly pretty. He’s had a run-in with coyotes and he’s missing an eye. But Mike is eleven-year-old Cara Donovan’s dog, and they love each other absolutely. Usually her pet follows Cara everywhere, but on the day the family first smells smoke in the air, Mike becomes anxious. Pine Grove is in the path of a wildfire, and the family is ordered to evacuate. In the ensuing chaos, Mike runs off. And then the unthinkable happens; there is no time to search for Mike. They are forced to leave him behind.

Shocked and devastated, Cara watches helplessly as the family drives through a nightmare, with burning debris falling from the sky and wild animals fleeing for their lives. Once in the city far from the burn zone, the Donovans are housed with a volunteer host family. Jewel, the hosts’ daughter, is nice, but Cara can only think about what she may have lost. What will happen if nothing is left? But as she reflects on what “home” means to her, Cara knows only one thing. She is not going to lose Mike. She will do what it takes to find him, even if it means going back to Pine Grove on her own.

The wildfires are bad this year
new ones popping up every day

It’s hard to tell how far away the smoke is
but the tightness in my gut
says it’s not far enough.

Canadian author Shari Green, author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel-in-verse Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, returns with Missing Mike, a middle grade novel (also in free verse) about a young girl’s unbreakable bond with her rescue dog Mike and what happens to Mike, her family, and their community when a devastating, seemingly unstoppable wildfire hits their town.

That’s when I saw Mike.
He wasn’t a puppy
and he wasn’t cute
but I was pretty sure
he needed somebody to love him.

We meet Cara Donovan and her dog, Mike (full name Mike Wazowski, after the famous monster), shortly before she and her family have to evacuate their home of Pine Grove (hours north from Vancouver) due to rapidly-spreading wildfires. In first-person narrative, Cara takes readers through the terror she, her older sister Sloane, and their mom and dad feel as they are faced with ten minutes to vacate their house. In the immediate sharpness and disorientation of the moment, Cara and her family quickly pack, taking their pre-prepared ‘just in case’ bags with whatever they think their must-have items could be. Cara, in the middle of brushing her beloved one-eyed rescue mutt, leaves Mike in their backyard, with the plan to take him to the car promptly after packing. The only thing is, when Cara goes back to their fenced-in backyard, Mike is gone: “Mike’s not in the yard / probably jumped clear over the lousy fence / searching for a cool spot / a not-so-smoky spot / a safe spot”. Cara pleads with her family to let her search for her best friend, but the utter urgency of their evacuation orders overrides everything. Even looking for a much-loved family member. We follow Cara and her family as they are taken in by a well-meaning, hospitable couple and their child Jewel, who becomes a friend and ally when Cara attempts, multiple times, to locate her dog. Woven in Missing Mike is Cara’s exercise- stemming from her love of crossword puzzles- in figuring out different words for home…and what ‘home’ really means in the midst of tragedy and displacement, while feeling and receiving kindness and warmth from strangers brought together in crisis. The main thread in Missing Mike, though, is that of Cara’s unyielding quest to, beyond all hope, find her much loved dog. Never resting, Cara is proactive in her multiple searches, helped by Jewel and even her strangely distant sister, providing readers with just enough small rays of hope to believe that her resilient dog Mike might just be out there, facing down coyotes and fires, waiting for his best friend to come back.

Overall, Missing Mike is a touching, lyrical story with the beautiful, boundless relationship of Cara and Mike as its core and achor. Shari Green’s writing style is effortless and candid, a perfect match for Cara’s natural and appropriately trusting, childlike narrative. Readers who love stories about human-animal bonds, children’s novels told in free verse, or middle grade titles that explore family dynamics and strength in facing adversity might find much to love about Missing Mike. Those who enjoy the writing of authors such as K.A. Holt, Katherine Applegate, Barbara O’Connor, Beth Vrabel or Alison Hughes might also want to check this moving middle grade novel out.

I received a copy courtesy of Pajama Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.