Must Read Monday (83): Adult Fiction from Miriam Toews, A.J. Pearce, Uzma Jalaluddin & 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.
 


 
It’s been…a while since the last Must Read Monday, even though I’ve been reading quite a bit and adding too many book to my TBR! But I’m back for this week and have quite a roster of adult fiction titles here. Here’s the rundown: the newest from Canadian award-winner Miriam Toews, entitled Women Talking (which I am ridiculously excited about); Kristen Iskandrian’s contemporary coming-of-age novel Motherest; a Pride and Prejudice retelling called Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, which sounds splendid and intriguing; the gothic-sounding Women of the Dunes by The House Between Tides author Sarah Maine; the historical fiction novel Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce, which sounds utterly touching and lovely; and last but not least, the mystery novel The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) by Jane Harper, which I’ve heard and read terrific things about.

 

The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) by Jane Harper
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Flatiron Books (first published 2016)
Book Description:

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

 

Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Twelve
Book Description:

Marrying the sharp insights of Jenny Offill with the dark humor of Maria Semple, Motherest is an inventive and moving coming-of-age novel that captures the pain of fractured family life, the heat of new love, and the particular magic of the female friendship — all through the lens of a fraying daughter-mother bond.

It’s the early 1990s, and Agnes is running out of people she can count on. A new college student, she is caught between the broken home she leaves behind and the wilderness of campus life. What she needs most is her mother, who has seemingly disappeared, and her brother, who left the family tragically a few years prior.

As Agnes falls into new romance, mines female friendships for intimacy, and struggles to find her footing, she writes letters to her mother, both to conjure a closeness they never had and to try to translate her experiences to herself. When she finds out she is pregnant, Agnes begins to contend with what it means to be a mother and, in some ways, what it means to be your own mother.

 

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Publication: June 12, 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers
Book Description:
Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on.  Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

 

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce
Publication: July 3, 2018 by Scribner
Book Description:

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

 

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine
Expected publication: July 24, 2018 by Atria Books
Book Description:

From the author of the acclaimed novels The House Between Tides and Beyond the Wild River, a rich, atmospheric tale set on the sea-lashed coast of west Scotland, in which the lives of a ninth-century Norsewoman, a nineteenth-century woman, and a twenty-first-century archeologist weave together after a body is discovered in the dunes.

Libby Snow has always felt the pull of Ullanessm a lush Scottish island enshrouded in myth and deeply important to her family. Her great-great-grandmother Ellen was obsessed with the strange legend of Ulla, a Viking maiden who washed up on shore with the nearly lifeless body of her husband—and who inspired countless epic poems and the island’s name.

Central to the mystery is an ornate chalice and Libby, an archaeologist, finally has permission to excavate the site where Ulla is believed to have lived. But what Libby finds in the ancient dunes is a body from the Victorian era, clearly murdered…and potentially connected to Ellen.

What unfolds is an epic story that spans centuries, with Libby mining Ellen and Ulla’s stories for clues about the body, and in doing so, discovering the darker threads that bind all three women together across history.

 

Women Talking: A Novel by Miriam Toews
Expected publication: August 21, 2018 by Knopf Canada
Book Description:

Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events.

The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.

By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.

 

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Picture Book Review: Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel & Suzanne Del Rizzo

Review: Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. Suzanne Del Rizzo
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: May 25, 2018 (in Canada) by Pajama Press
Book Description:

From Suzanne Del Rizzo, award-winning illustrator of My Beautiful Birds, and author Deborah Kerbel comes a unique story about a brave sled dog puppy’s adventures under the Arctic Circle’s midnight sun

Juno and her boy live in a red house at the top of the world. One day Juno will be big and strong enough to help pull a sled across the tundra, but for now she is just a small puppy with a big-dog heart. Small puppies have to go to bed when their boys do, but Juno can’t sleep with the midnight sun shining out across the town. She slips outside to play. Returning to see a hungry polar bear sniffing around the open door, Juno has no time to be afraid. It’s time to find her voice, summon the big dog inside her, and save her beloved boy.

With Deborah Kerbel’s warm, expressive text, Sun Dog is a love letter to life in the Arctic Circle from the perspective of a sled dog pup. Suzanne Del Rizzo’s dimensional art in polymer clay and acrylic wash offers both an intimate romp with a young puppy and a sweeping celebration of the vast and beautiful tundra.

Juno might be little, but there’s a big dog inside of her. She know it because it comes out every evening after dinner.

Canadian author Deborah Kerbel and Canadian artist Suzanne Del Rizzo have teamed up for the recently released picture book Sun Dog. A story told from the perspective of a young puppy named Juno who lives with her much loved boy at “at the very top of the world” in the tundra, Sun Dog is at once a tale of love, adventure and bravery.

Image from Sun Dog via Pajama Press site

When we meet puppy Juno and her boy, we learn a few things about the playful, happy pup: she loves her boy, she loves to play, and she wants to become a sled dog one day. As the summer months set in, “for days, weeks, months, the sun never sets”, and Juno does not want to go to bed. While her boy tries to get Juno to settle and get some good sleep, we see Juno playing with a striped sock on her boy’s bed, “puppy legs…itching to play”. So Juno decides to sneak out of their red house and go on an adventure of her own. At the beginning of her adventure, Juno sees rabbits, seals and even narwhals tucked in their various beds, but then her escapade takes a turn. After a close call with a (rather fearsome!) snowy owl, Juno runs home only to see a prowling polar bear right by their house. While frightened, Juno thinks of her boy who might be in danger and summons all of her courage to stand up and protect her beloved boy. Kerbel’s writing is so fluid and measured; while so much activity happens over the course of the picture book, Kerbel’s writing is focused, utterly inviting, and perfectly action-packed (yet not frightening for younger readers) when the climactic action occurs. Del Rizzo’s clay and acrylic art is so meticulously detailed and dynamic (from larger scenery to the smallest particulars)- I am in awe. There is one spread in particular in Sun Dog featuring the story’s polar bear that is incredible- quite a work of art. (Side note: If you haven’t yet had a chance to read Del Rizzo’s award-winning My Beautiful Birds, I highly recommend). The combination of Kerbel’s storytelling and Del Rizzo’s art make for terrific reading, and I hope we get to see further collaborations from the duo.

 

Image from Sun Dog via Pajama Press site

Overall, what a gorgeous picture book! With a terrific combination of warmth, playfulness and love, and moments of excitement and danger that lead to a sunny ending, Sun Dog is sure to please readers and/or an audience of young and old.  With such appealing and vibrant art, and a beautifully written, well-paced story, Sun Dog would make for great read aloud material (for preschool ages and up), as well as for quiet reading and sharing. Dog lovers might especially adore this story of Juno and her boy, and the overarching devotion and protective bond that the two share with one another.

Bonus: Don’t miss the notes on the endpapers about a different kind of sun dog, and the midnight sun! 

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

Blog Tour Stop & Giveaway: Maddie Dawson’s Matchmaking for Beginners!

Welcome to one of stops on the Thomas Allen & Son blog tour for Maddie Dawson’s latest adult fiction release, Matchmaking for Beginners! Read on for my thoughts on the novel as well as giveaway information!

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son. Thank you!
Publication: June 1, 2018
 by Lake Union Publishing (imprint of Amazon/Brilliance)
Book Description:

Marnie MacGraw wants an ordinary life—a husband, kids, and a minivan in the suburbs. Now that she’s marrying the man of her dreams, she’s sure this is the life she’ll get. Then Marnie meets Blix Holliday, her fiancé’s irascible matchmaking great-aunt who’s dying, and everything changes—just as Blix told her it would. When her marriage ends after two miserable weeks, Marnie is understandably shocked. She’s even more astonished to find that she’s inherited Blix’s Brooklyn brownstone along with all of Blix’s unfinished “projects”: the heartbroken, oddball friends and neighbors running from happiness. Marnie doesn’t believe she’s anything special, but Blix somehow knew she was the perfect person to follow in her matchmaker footsteps. And Blix was also right about some things Marnie must learn the hard way: love is hard to recognize, and the ones who push love away often are the ones who need it most.

But no. It’s true. Marnie MacGraw is just like the old, glorious me, standing there, facing this onslaught of Southern gentility, and I see her both young and old, and feel my own heart pounding like it used to.

Come over here, sweetheart, I beam toward her.

So this- this- is why I’m here. It wasn’t to give some closure to years of family strife. It wasn’t to drink these absurd cocktails or even to revisit my roots.

I was meant to meet Marnie MacGraw.

Author Maddie Dawson’s latest adult fiction novel, Matchmaking for Beginners, takes readers deep into the lives of two women at very different junctures in their lives, Blix Holliday and Marnie MacGraw. A meant-to-be meeting between Blix and Marnie sparks off an incontestable and extraordinary bond and friendship of souls that comes to transform each of their lives.

Told in rotating first-person narratives for the first half of the novel, readers get to meet both Marnie and Blix in quick succession. Marnie is on her way to meet her soon-to-be-husband’s family. Noah Spinnaker, Marnie’s extremely handsome fiancé, has quite a family, but there is one relative in particular that captures Marnie’s thoughts and attention: his great-aunt Blix, estranged fro the family, living in Brooklyn, and considered to be a loose-cannon…and possibly a spell-making witch (Which…well, the marvelous Blix kind of is!…). From Blix’s vantage point, readers dive into Blix’s uncensored thoughts about her great-nephew Noah, her immediately felt, inextricable connection to Marnie, her belief in genuine kinds of magic…and perhaps most pressing, Blix’s firm comprehension (her innate and not-of-this-world matchmaking sense has never been wrong) that Noah and Marnie are absolutely not meant to be together and will not make it as a married couple. As is outlined briefly in the book’s description, readers are aware of the fact that Blix is nearing the end of her life. Up to her final moments, Blix remains firm in her conviction that Marnie is a kind of soulmate: that Marnie will end up living a happy and full, always surprising life Brooklyn and finally meet the man that is really and truly worthy of her and meant for her.

Losing touch with Blix after her and Noah’s flop of wedding, and even more disastrous honeymoon that ends in a split, Marnie is completely shocked to find that life has thrown her yet another curveball: Blix has left her entire Brooklyn brownstone to Marnie in her will. Reeling from that news- and in a tentative new relationship in her Floridian hometown- Marnie makes the decision to travel to Brooklyn in an attempt to sell the brownstone. We follow Marnie’s often messy journey in Brooklyn: she runs into headaches with Noah’s family (who want the brownstone for themselves) and Noah himself (who shows himself to be a truly unappealing, insincere person). Noah drama aside, she slowly folds herself into Blix’s pretty incredible, animated world, immediately making warm, new friends with Blix’s old neighbors and her closest friends- even beginning a lovely friendship with the secluded downstairs neighbor that Blix had predicted to be Marnie’s perfect match. Dawson keeps a solid pace with novel, enticing the reader from the get-go, deftly working and weaving multiple levels and storylines to both Marnie’s and Blix’s stories. Marnie’s narrative takes full focus about halfway through the novel, and Dawson further shapes and fills Marnie’s story with even more vibrancy, missteps, heartbreak, and hope. Matchmaking for Beginners builds its way to a beautiful climax of endings (and beginnings!) for Marnie and the core cast of characters we come to know and enjoy during our reading. Unabashedly hopeful, cozy, and romantic, showing how terribly messy yet wonderfully fated life can be, Dawson’s latest is a thoroughly enjoyable read that caught my happy attention from beginning to end.

Overall, Matchmaking for Beginners is a warm, unexpected and well-written novel about the possibilities of meaningful, life-changing love, deep friendship, and how richly lives can change for the better with a little (or a lot of!) trust in magic and fate. For readers who enjoy contemporary, romantically-oriented reads with vivid protagonists- and a dash of enchantment- or those who enjoy the work of authors such as Laura Dave, Sophie Kinsella, Sally Thorne, Beth Harbison, or Jasmine Guillory, might especially enjoy this heartening treat of a novel.

 

About Maddie Dawson:

Maddie Dawson grew up in the South, born into a family of outrageous storytellers. Her various careers as a substitute English teacher, department-store clerk, medical-records typist, waitress, cat sitter, wedding-invitation-company receptionist, nanny, day care worker, electrocardiogram technician, and Taco Bell taco maker were made bearable by thinking up stories as she worked. Today she lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with her husband. She’s the bestselling author of five previous novels: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness, The Opposite of Maybe, The Stuff That Never Happened, Kissing Games of the World, and A Piece of Normal.

 

Follow Maddie:

Website: http://www.maddiedawson.com/
Twitter: @maddiedawson1
Facebook
Goodreads

 

Get Your Copy of Matchmaking for Beginners:

Indigo

Amazon.ca

Amazon.com

Available in Canada through Thomas Allen & Son

Add to your Goodreads!

 

Tour-wide Giveaway:

The winner will receive 1 (one) copy of Matchmaking for Beginners (HC) by Maddie Dawson! Giveaway details:

  • Canada Only (full rules found in the T&C on Rafflecopter)
  • Giveaway ends on July 13th at 11:59 pm EST
  • Winner will be drawn randomly through Rafflecopter, contacted via email & will have 48 hours to claim their prize.

Good luck, everyone!

Direct link to giveaway!

 

 

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments regarding Matchmaking for Beginners are my own. Giveaway fulfilled by Thomas Allen & Son.

A Closer Look: Covers by Jon Klassen

Canadian writer, illustrator, and animator Jon Klassen was very recently (just a few days ago!) appointed to the Order of Canada! Known and beloved for I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, multiple collaborations with Mac Barnett (Square, Extra Yarn), in addition to numerous other acclaimed works and memorable illustrative contributions, Klassen has also been the recipient of the Caldecott Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal. As a gentle tie-in to this Canada Day weekend and celebrating a Canadian artist, I wanted to present a collage of Klassen‘s fabulous works here (including all collaborations and titles Klassen provided cover art for). I am truly such an avid admirer of his work- writing and art- and my three year old is already quite in love with his work as well. Enjoy this feast for the eyes!

 

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews: A Dog with Nice Ears & The Other Dog

From Lauren Child‘s Charlie and Lola dreaming of and picking out a rather unexpected dog, to Madeleine L’Engle‘s dog Touché telling her story- brought to life by artist Christine Davenier– of having to come to terms with a new, unusual sort of dog, canines are on the roster today!

In Lauren Child’s A Dog with Nice Ears (Featuring Charlie and Lola), the effervescent and irreverent brother and sister duo talk about their plans for getting a pet…more specifically, what kind of perfect dog they would like to get! Now, Charlie and Lola’s parents have told them “Absolutely no dogs!”, but little Lola has a plan. Though their dad has promised to “take Lola to the pet shop one Saturday” so that “she can choose whichever rabbit she wants”, Lola will try and bring a dog home instead. With a promise made to Charlie that she will choose a dog, not a rabbit, Lola and Charlie go back and forth about dog names, what kind of tail they’d like their dog to have, as well as the imperative of their dog having nice ears (for wearing its reading glasses!). Their friend Marv comments that with all their various wants and wishes for a dog, Charlie and Lola are definitely going to have a weird dog. The story leads to an adorable, sweetly funny and perfectly on-brand off-kilter ending when Lola brings home a most peculiar, wiggly-nosed, large-eared, puffy-tailed, hopping sort of dog. I have long loved Lauren Child’s writing and artistry: my first foray into her work was the fabulous Clarice Bean picture books, later the Clarice Bean novels, and I’ve been happily reading Child’s work since! A Dog with Nice Ears is a solidly fun and completely charming addition to the popular Charlie and Lola series.

The Other Dog, written by A Wrinkle in Time Newbery Medal winner Madeleine L’Engle and illustrated by prolific artist Christine Davenier (illustrator of Miss Lina’s Ballerinas, The Very Fairy Princess series), is a story narrated by L’Engle’s poodle Touché. When readers meet the great, refined, proud poodle, Touché L’Engle-Franklin lets us know the she, in fact, wrote this story with the help of an “inferior canine” named Jo. As we delve into the story, we find out that Touché’s mistress disappeared for several days and dared to came back home with another dog named Jo (readers see L’Engle cuddling a little baby!). For Touché, this rates as rather silly: dogs are expensive and surely “one dog is enough for any family”! Touché is talented, has acted on stage, is beautiful, loves sitting on laps, has a tail “like a little chrysanthemum”, and knows to never go to the bathroom inside the house, so “why another dog?”. However, when Jo-dog (as Touché refers to her) starts to grow and explore her world bit by bit, Touché finds that, actually, not all is lost. Yes, Jo-dog requires a lot of looking after, and will never grow a chrysanthemum tail, but Touché enjoys that Jo-dog is a great listener and seems to appreciate her company, so much so that Touché has to admit: “in spite of everything…I am getting very fond of our other dog”. In all, dog lovers of any and all ages might just fall in love with Touché’s terrific story. Touché’s narrative is observant, dry and witty all at once, while Davenier’s signature loose yet refined pencil and watercolour style so wonderfully captures Touché’s learned manner, the story’s overall elegance, and the gently sentimental feel of the story. Be sure to read the lovely forward included in this edition of The Other Dog, written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis, L’Engle’s granddaughter and daughter of Jo (Josephine) of the story. It was very surprising to learn that this children’s title was not accepted for publication until fifty years after L’Engle first wrote it! There is also a fantastically detailed Author’s Note (including sketches!) from Madeleine L’Engle detailing how Touché came into her life, Touché’s life with their family, and how much L’Engle and family clearly loved and cared for their furry friends.

I received a copy of A Dog with Nice Ears courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. I received a copy of The Other Dog courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments regarding the titles are my own. Thank you to the publishers! Both titles have been published and are currently available.

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 perennial graduation gift Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. And yes, absolutely: given the hopeful, commemorative and forward-looking nature, Sometimes You Fly is a super new choice or alternative pick to the usual! With Katherine Applegate’s rhyming and rhythmic text reading as so genuine and natural, and Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s memorable artwork- which I fell in love with in Blue EthelSometimes You Fly truly stand-outs and sings 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 experiences. 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 looking for a little assurance or hope.

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 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.