Board Book Look: Titles from Xavier Deneux, Joyce Wan, Christopher Silas Neal & more!

A while back, I realized I had fallen rather behind on posting about board books! So, here’s a look at some the standout board books I have read and enjoyed over the last few months. Most all I have shared as read alouds with my littlest one, as well as with my three year old to pretty solid acclaim; some have already been featured on my Twitter feed! Some, such as the titles by Xavier Deneux, Joyce Wan, Molly Idle, Matthew Van Fleet, Janik Coat, Becky Davies and Gareth Lucas, or Yujin Shin are more interactive; these are innovative titles featuring pull tabs, fold out pages, fun tactile surfaces- standout ways to get kids involved in the reading process. Deneux’s books also feature grouped vocabulary; for example, in Little Critters, the words featured on the ‘spider’ and ‘fly’ page go from animal parts (legs, abdomen) to action verbs (weaving, spinning). Some, like the ones by Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert are, quite simply, beautiful, vital classics for learning and exploration that I was so happy to reread and rediscover. The board book titles by Christopher Silas Neal are knockouts, with very clever wordplay and concept learning (shapes and colours), all highlighting his unique illustrative style (my three year old was positively cackling while we read together). For Canadian loveliness, or unicorn joy, or an all-around delightful story, there are titles by Trish Madson and David W. Miles, Dana Simpson, and Sandra Boynton and George Booth, respectively. (Note: For double the unicorn awesomeness, pair My Magical Unicorn with Today I’ll Be a Unicorn!)

 

Here, George! by Sandra Boynton, illus. George Booth
The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s ABC by Eric Carle
Llamaphones by Janik Coat
Peekaboo Pals: A to Z by Becky Davies, art by Gareth Lucas*
TouchThinkLearn: Little Critters by Xavier Deneux*
TouchThinkLearn: Wild Animals by Xavier Deneux*
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Lick!: Mini Board Book by Matthew Van Fleet
Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book by Molly Idle (Flora’s Board Books) by Molly Idle*
C Is for Canada: A Canuck ABC Primer by Trish Madson, illus. David W. Miles*
Animal Colors by Christopher Silas Neal
Animal Shapes by Christopher Silas Neal
My Magical Unicorn by Yujin Shin
Today I’ll Be a Unicorn by Dana Simpson
Count My Cupcakes 123 by Joyce Wan

*These titles were received courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Recently Read: Great Children’s Non-Fiction!

Forgive me for sounding a bit like a broken record, but: my goodness, the world of children’s lit just keeps broadening and upping itself! Within the larger realm of children’s non-fiction, I have recently read some incredible biographies, as well the more traditional kind of non-fiction. Looking at the biographical books, the recent highlights include: Patricia Hruby Powell’s Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, amazingly illustrated by Christian Robinson; a condensed look at the life of literary great Jane Austen called Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen thoughtfully written by Deborah Hopkinson and beautifully illustrated by the prolific Canadian artist Qin Leng; Fiona Robinson’s Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer is a memorable, enlightening and wonderfully drawn done work; the stunningly told and drawn Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky and Canadian award-winning artist Isabelle Arsenault; the utterly intriguing Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez with standout art by Felicita Sala; and last but not least, the brilliantly told and illustrated Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Canadian author Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk.

On the more traditional side of non-fiction we have: The Mushroom Fan Club by Canadian favourite Elise Gravel, a totally fun and informative look at kinds of mushrooms; Canadian Jan Thornill, who authored and illustrated the award-winning The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk (which is superb!) returns with fascinating and eye-opening The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow; the very cool and captivating What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by author and zoologist Jess Keating, with illustrations by David DeGrand; the delightful Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World by Yee-Lum Mak, with fantastic art by Kelsey Garrity-Riley*; a fun look at animal feet called I’ve Got Feet!: Fantastical Feet of the Animal World by Julie Murphy, with art by Hannah Tolson; and How Tall Was a T.rex?, a simple, bold, visually striking and awesome look at tyrannosaurus by Alison Limentani.

Happy reading!

*I received a copy of Other-Wordly: Words Both Lovely and Strange from Around the World courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey

Review: The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey, art by Victoria Jamieson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Tundra Books. Thank you!
Publication: June 19, 2018 by Tundra Books (paperback). First published 2017.
Book Description:

Eddie, a passionate reader and a shiny green bug, saves the school library in this funny, heartwarming tale that fans of Flora & Ulysses and Charlotte’s Web will love.

Eddie is a tiny green bug who loves to read and who lives behind the chalkboard in Mr. Wang’s fourth-grade classroom with his parents, his 53 brothers and sisters, and his Aunt Min. But when Aunt Min goes to the school library and never returns, Eddie leaves the comfort of his home for the first time and begins the dangerous trek through the elementary school. After dodging running sneakers, falling books, and terrifying spiders, Eddie reaches the library, where he finds Aunt Min stuck on a desk with two broken legs! To top it all off, there’s a substitute librarian who has terrible plans to close the library and turn it into a local testing center. No more books at all! Encouraged by the brave deeds done by small creatures like Stuart Little and Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web, Eddie comes up with a plan to save the library–a plan that requires all the courage one little bug can muster. Perfect for fans of Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Lynne Rae Perkins’ Nuts to You. Featuring extensive black and white art from Newbery Honor Medalist and New York Times bestseller Victoria Jamieson as well as references to classic children’s literature sprinkled throughout.

Gazing into the room, he felt a jolt of recognition, even though he’d never been there before. Maybe it was the gentle hush of the air. Or the glorious, fusty smell of hundreds of books in one place. The paper. The ink. The stories. Oh, the stories! He stood there, breathing it in…

Award-winning Canadian author Linda Bailey (Stanley’s Little Sister, Carson Crosses Canada) and award-winning artist Victoria Jamieson (Roller Girl) come together to present the story of a determined, story-loving, bright green bug named Eddie in The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library.

Eddie and his family live in a “crack behind a chalkboard” of Room 19 of Ferny Creek Elementary School; since the day his ancestors “had the bad luck to get scooped up one evening and dropped into a glass tank”, they have called Room 19 home. Eddie, however, unlike his many, many grub siblings and his Ma and Pa, has serious ambitions involving books and readings- ambitions inspired by his Aunt Min, a lover of storytelling, books, and the library. One day, Eddie overhears a conversation between his Ma and Pa regarding Aunt Min-who has gone missing somewhere in the school’s library. Eddie’s personal decision to take on the challenge of finding his aunt forever changes the course of his life, as well as the fate of Ferny Creek Library. Eddie faces a number of tremendous challenges (and adversaries) throughout his odyssey, including numerous Squishers, a spider, and a deadly mop and bucket belonging to the school cleaner. But the biggest threat to Eddie, Aunt Min, and their beloved library turns out to be a woman named Estelle Grisch, sister of the new school superintendent, and serious enemy to all things bookish and wonderful. As Eddie contemplates this new, seemingly unstoppable threat to all things dear to his heart, he and Aunt Min turn time and time again to the words and worlds of children’s literature for comfort, reassurance, and guidance. The way in which Eddie attempts to take on Ms. Grisch and in turn inspires the Squishers of Ferny Creek and beyond are wonderfully written; inspired and full of heart. Bailey’s storytelling is strong, clear and passionate; Jamieson’s clean, unfussy black-and-white illustrations are evenly distributed throughout the novel, rendering characters and scenes to great affect. Almost reading as a love letter to the magic of storytelling, libraries (and librarians!), The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library is a sparkling and truly fortifying kind of read.

Any reader who has ever fallen in love with Charlotte and Wilbur, or other similar fictional favourites might adore the story and characters in The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library. Eddie is a curious, fervent and genuinely brave protagonist to root for, with Ms. Grisch as the perfect villain and antidote to Eddie’s innate kindness. Those who enjoy the work of authors such as Kate DiCamillo, George Sheldon, Elise Broach, Kathi Appelt, E.B. White or Laurel Snyder (and really, any library lover or ardent read out there!), might especially appreciate Linda Bailey’s stirring and beautifully optimistic read.

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

Picture Book Reviews: Ta-Da! & We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book

Ta-Da! by Kathy Ellen Davis, illus. Kaylani Juanita
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: June 26, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

What makes a good story? One little girl thinks it’s a princess with magic powers that can (ta-da!) overcome any obstacle. Her friend thinks it’s (dun dun duh!) a host of dragons, pirates, and volcanos that cause total chaos. But as each of their stories intertwine and interact, these two young storytellers soon learn that a good story needs both destruction and triumph, conflict and resolution. Ta-Da! is an irresistible celebration of imagination, storytelling, and the joys of collaboration.

If you are in the mood for a very fun, totally appealing, winningly illustrated picture book, Ta-Da! might be the perfect pick for you. The picture book debut of both author Kathy Ellen Davis and illustrator/artist Kaylani Juanita, Ta-Da! features a young duo of friends who have pretty different takes on what makes a story good. The young girl in Ta-Da!– with the help of her gallant and amenable little dog- likes to use “Ta-Da!” to make story turns like scary fire-breathing dragons into kind dragons that fly “away into the sunset”. The girl’s friend, on the other hand, relishes the use of “Dun Dun Duh!” to make pirates attack and take prisoners, and have people living “horrible ever after”. Readers see one wonderfully imagined scenario after another, with the young friends going back-and-forth, ta-da-ing and dun-dun-duh-ing, fixing or putting the kibosh on the others’ imagined scene after imagined scene. But after one big flourish of a ta-da! that erases the young boy’s attempts to shake up the story with conflict, the young boy says “never mind” and walks off. At first, the young girl thinks how perfectly smooth and calm things are, how lovely the happily ever after is…until it’s really…not! Is there a way for the two friends to make their different approaches to storytelling work so that they can both have a good time…together? A truly fun, engaging story start to finish with delightfully vibrant full-page illustrations (I am IN LOVE with Juanita’s artwork!) that emphasizes collaboration (and highlights the utter magic of stories and make-believe!), Ta-Da! is a treat for an enthusiastic read-aloud, as well as for quiet reading exploration. Beware, though, you might just have too much fun exclaiming “TA-DA!” and “DUN DUN DUH!”! What a terrific debut; I hope we see more children’s lit from Kathy Ellen Davis and Kaylani Juanita!

Image from Ta-Da! via Amazon Japan

 

Image from Ta-Da! via Amazon Japan

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

 

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book by Michael Rosen, illus. Helen Oxenbury
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: May 22, 2018 by Candlewick Entertainment
Book Description:

Bear lovers rejoice! Pull the tabs and watch the pictures transform in an interactive edition of the award-winning classic.

Follow and join in the family’s excitement as they wade through the grass, splash through the river, and squelch through the mud in search of a bear. Pull the tabs to change the pictures along the way — we’re going to catch a big one!

“We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.

Uh-oh!…”

And so begins the arguably well-known, much-recited and often-read classic (from 1989!) We’re Going on Bear Hunt, by prolific author Michael Rosen, illustrated by celebrated illustrator Helen Oxenbury. This “changing picture book” edition is an innovative version of the classic picture book, with pull tabs that slowly transform a page’s inset black and white image into a colour image that magically blends into the full-colour page it is nestled in. I personally love this interactive element to the story; it brings a fun freshness to this classic! I have seen how my three year-old has been absolutely adoring this particular edition: now you’re not just working with the catchy refrain and fun noises to mimic, you also have the addition of the tabs which add an interactive, playful element for children, getting them even more into the story. This is great interactive and fun edition of a classic!

 

 

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: The Night Garden by Polly Horvath

Review: The Night Garden by Polly Horvath
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Puffin Canada
Book Description:

It is World War II and Franny Whitekraft lives with her parents, Sina and Old Tom, on a farm on Vancouver Island. Their peaceful life is interrupted when their neighbor, Crying Alice, begs Sina to watch her children while she goes to visit her husband at the military base where he is stationed because she suspects he’s up to no good. Soon after the children move in, letters start to arrive from their father and they don’t understand what they mean until it is too late to stop him from doing something that threatens to change their whole lives. Can the ancient, forbidden night garden that supposedly grants everyone one wish help? And if it does, at what cost?

“See the sun sinking over the edge of the sea? This day is done. This day will never come again. Everything has changed. Remind yourself of that every morning and every night, and then you won’t come to expect anything but what is. It’s expecting anything but what is that makes people unhappy.”

What a surprising and fantastic read this is! In Polly Horvath‘s terrifically magical The Night Garden, the Newbery Honor and National Book Award winning author takes readers on a beautiful, often funny, often extraordinary adventure.

This middle grade novel takes place in 1945 on Vancouver Island, over the course of the last months of World War II, with twelve year old Franny Whitekraft as our narrator. Franny has been living with Old Tom and Sina since she was a baby due to “a series of mistakes involving their neighbors”, which included a fire and an adoption worker having a heart attack. Franny lives a life of comfort and habit with her mom and dad in their Victorian home on a rambling property called East Sooke Farm, just outside of Victoria. Franny and her parents’ regular- some would argue “medieval”- life comes to major, irrevocable upheaval when a desperate, overwhelmed and emotional neighbor they call Crying Alice has to attend to her possibly unstable husband named Fixing Bob, a plane mechanic for a top secret Canadian military plane called the Argot. Crying Alice not only needs to leave her three children in the care of Sina, Old Tom and Franny, but also has no idea of when she might return for her children. While all three Whitekrafts attempt to adjust to Winifred, Wilfred, and Zebediah in their lives, the bizarre mystery of Fixing Bob’s potentially fatal trouble comes to light, and the closely guarded magical night garden that Old Tom forbids anyone from entering takes center stage. Horvath weaves a great number of elements in The Night Garden; readers may wonder how on earth the hermit who lives off the East Sooke Farm property, or the Whitekraft’s terrible yet unintentionally funny new cook named Gladys, or the inclusion of Sina believing she has seen a UFO, or the actual wish-granting night garden itself will tie together… but they all do in the end, in some truly unexpected, very moving ways. There is also a bit of wonderful madcap humour in The Night Garden, which brings some levity and bursting humour as the novel delves into more serious scenes and some frightening, heart-stopping moments.

Overall, a wonderful and unexpected read that effortlessly blends magic, poignancy and adventure with a good dose of surprising comedy. I was very taken in by The Night Garden; deeply invested in Franny’s dry and frank narration of the incredible moments of her twelfth year from beginning to end. Readers who enjoy Canadian children’s literature, the work of authors such as Kit Pearson, Katherine Applegate, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Wendy Mass, or titles such as Once Was a Time by Leila Sales that work magical elements into affecting stories might especially adore the beautiful peculiarity of The Night Garden.

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: Shelved Under Murder (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #2) by Victoria Gilbert

Review: Shelved Under Murder (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #2) by Victoria Gilbert
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: July 10, 2018 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

October in Taylorsford, Virginia means it’s leaf peeping season, with bright colorful foliage and a delightful fresh crew of tourists attending the annual Heritage Festival which celebrates local history and arts and crafts. Library director Amy Webber, though, is slightly dreading having to spend two days running a yard sale fundraiser for her library. But during these preparations, when she and her assistant Sunny stumble across a dead body, Amy finds a real reason to be worried.

The body belonged to a renowned artist who was murdered with her own pallet knife. A search of the artist’s studio uncovers a cache of forged paintings, and when the sheriff’s chief deputy Brad Tucker realizes Amy is skilled in art history research, she’s recruited to aid the investigation. It doesn’t seem to be an easy task, but when the state’s art expert uncovers a possible connection between Amy’s deceased uncle and the murder case, Amy must champion her Aunt Lydia to clear her late husband’s name.

That’s when another killing shakes the quiet town, and danger sweeps in like an autumn wind. Now, with her swoon-inducing neighbor Richard Muir, Amy must scour their resources to once again close the books on murder in Shelved Under Murder, the charming second installment in Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library mysteries, perfect for fans of Jenn McKinlay and Miranda James.

Shelved Under Murder is the strong sophomore entry in Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library Mystery series, which is proving itself to be an intelligent and thoroughly pleasurable and engrossing cozy mystery series. Balancing thrills with warm, delightful characters, light romance and small-town dynamics, Shelved Under Murder is a great read.

The central mystery in Shelved Under Murder focuses on the death of a popular and acclaimed local artist- whose body happens to be discovered by our protagonist, library director/librarian Amy Webber and her boyfriend, professional dancer and choreographer Richard Muir. As the investigation- headed by chief deputy Brad Tucker, the current boyfriend of Amy’s library colleague Sunny- begins, what first appears as a puzzling but possibly uncomplicated homicide then turns into a rather thorny deep dive into the high stakes world of counterfeit art and forgeries. In book one, we learned that Amy’s Aunt Lydia, a prominent and much-respected figure in their town, had lost her husband years before in a car accident. Her late husband, Andrew Talbot, had himself been a local artist, though never as successful as Lydia and art dealer and former family friend Kurt Kendrick had thought he should have been. As the present-day murder investigation into the local artist continues and an art expert is flown into town, a new leads turn up: one of which might be involving Aunt Lydia’s deceased husband and his possible knowledge of a counterfeit art circle in Blue Ridge. Shelved Under Murder has, arguably, a less shocking or surprising murderer (or murders…!) at the center of the story than in A Murder for the Books; however, Gilbert raises the stakes by weaving in fascinating layers to Amy and Lydia’s family history and how Andrew Talbot’s art connections while alive still thrum in present-day Blue Ridge. It is absolutely worth noting as well that Amy continues to be a capable and lovely protagonist, and she, along neighbor-now-boyfriend Richard (also deeply likeable), make for a delightful team, both as a romantic couple and as amateur sleuths.

Overall, a strong second entry in a series I am already thoroughly fond of and charmed by; well-written, engaging, with lovely and charismatic characters at its core. As mentioned above, while there is perhaps a less startling murder mystery at the center of this story than in the series opener, there are deeper elements examined in Amy and Richard’s relationship, as well as with Aunt Lydia and Kurt and their respective love for Amy’s deceased uncle- all of which are terrifically explored. Readers interested in looking into this series, I would recommend starting with book one, A Murder for the Books. I am looking forward to book three in the series, Past Due for Murder, coming out in early 2019!

Extras: Discussion Questions for book clubs via the author’s website!

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

Picture Book Review: Fox and Raccoon (Juniper Hollow) by Lesley-Anne Green

Review: Fox and Raccoon (Juniper Hollow) by Lesley-Anne Green
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: June 19, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

The first in a new picture book series featuring sweet felted creatures and a little village you won’t soon forget!

Welcome to Juniper Hollow! Meet Fox and Raccoon. They are best friends. They live next door to each other, and they spend every day together. Except for today! Fox is so busy she doesn’t have time to play. But never fear — Raccoon is here to help! He mails letters, goes to the fruit stand, picks up some yarn and even buys some sugar. But Fox is STILL busy. Will she ever have time to stop and play with him? As it turns out, she has a surprise up her sleeve . . .

Lesley-Anne Green’s endearing felted animals and adorable detailed sets create a world that readers will want to come back to again and again.

Are you ready to explore an utterly darling picture book? Canadian textile artist Lesley-Anne Green‘s picture book debut, Fox and Raccoon, is the first in the promised Juniper Hollow series, featuring some of the sweetest felted animals (in a most adorable village) you have had the pleasure to meet.

Fox and Raccoon follows the easygoing adventures of neighbors and best friends Fox and Racoon. We learn that the two have “had their ups and downs and their downs and outs” but always work it out in the end as “that’s just what best friends do!”. Their days together are usually filled with playing, sometimes relaxing in the grass, but this one particular day is a bit different. When Raccoon goes over to see his friend, he finds Fox is rather swamped. Fox has envelopes to mail, ingredients to pick up, and crafting to get done. Raccoon is undaunted and decides to help out with each task as best he can. He is more than happy to help his friend as “four paws are better than two when it comes to doing chores”, and he figures that the faster the work gets done, the sooner he and Fox will get to play. Of course, readers might figure out that Fox doesn’t just have a lengthy list of things to do, but might instead have a happy surprise up her sleeve for her best friend. I do not wish to use the words ‘charming’ or ‘adorable’ to the point where I’ve rendered them meaningless, but I hope I can convey just how delightful and cozy Fox and Raccoon and the world of Juniper Hollow is. The story itself is simple and warmly told, and the art (felting and sets) adds another dimension to it all. The detail in everything: from the stitching on Raccoon’s overalls; to Fox’s apron, and her tiny whisk and mixing bowl; to a spread of Raccoon running while tangled in yarn; to the perfect details on the set pieces (houses, fields, trees, etc.). Marvelous- Lesley-Anne Green’s work is a find. I have been happily reading through and poring over the pages since it arrived, and there is so much to discover and appreciate in Fox and Raccoon.

What can I say but all-around enchanting and fun! Such a kindhearted, winsome and easy story about two best friends and their sweet adventures on their way to a surprise celebration among good friends. Readers (of all ages) who love felted characters featured in stories (like in Jack & Holman Wang‘s books, or Maggie Rudy‘s books), or stories by authors and artists such as Teagan White, Nancy Rose, Beatrix Potter, Kallie George, Stephanie Graegin, or Holly Hobbie might especially fall in love with this cozy and adorable new series. I look forward to more Juniper Hollow entries to come!

If you have a chance, do check out this video- part of the Tundra Illustrator Studio series- with Juniper Hollow creator and author Lesley-Anne Green. The felts and sets are just the sweetest. Extras: Here’s a link to a birthday activity kit!

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.

Picture Book Review: A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano & Lane Smith

Review: A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illus. Lane Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2018 by Roaring Book Press
Book Description:

The dynamic duo of Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning author Julie Fogliano and Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Lane Smith team up to tell a delightful story about a boy and a girl who explore an abandoned house and imagine who might have lived there in A House That Once Was .

Deep in the woods
is a house
just a house
that once was
but now isn’t
a home.

Who lived in that house? Who walked down its hallways? Why did they leave it, and where did they go?

Two children set off to find the answers, piecing together clues found, books left behind, forgotten photos, discarded toys, and creating their own vision of those who came before.

Readers who have already experienced the beautifully melodic writing of the Julie Fogliano (If You Want to See a Whale) as well as the lush (and sometimes wonderfully peculiar) artwork of Lane Smith (Grandpa Green), might already know that they are in for a treat with A House That Once Was!

At the top of a hill
sits the house
that is leaning.
A house that once wasn’t
but now is peeling.
A house that was once
painted blue.

Image from A House That Once Was via Macmillan site

Tinged with this happy-sad feeling of nostalgia, a little bit achy, bittersweet yet hopeful, A House That Once Was is story told through the eyes of two young kids who find an old, seemingly abandoned house in the woods. As a bright-eyed blue bird closely watches (and possibly judges!) the kids’ behaviour, the two explorers venture inside through “a window that now has no window at all, a window that says climb inside”. The children wander quietly- whispering to each other- making their way through the house, looking at photographs, emptied cans, books, cooking, and other forgone items, imagining who might have once owned and lived in the house that once was. Could the owner have been a “woman who painted all day in the garden portraits of squirrels…”, or “a boy who built planes and dreamt nightly of flying? A baby? A cowboy? A queen or a king?”. Thinking about why this house is in its current state, the children consider everything from past residents being involved in shipwrecks…or taking off to Paris…simply running away…Or! Is the house is simply waiting for their owner(s) to return? After some time has passed, the children venture out of the “house that was once but now isn’t a home”- blue bird still watching their movements- and ponder at their experiences as they make their way back to their own waiting, inviting home.

Image from A House That Once Was via Macmillan site

I have mentioned the feeling of nostalgia in a few picture books as of late (e.g. Alma and How She Got Her Name), and there’s just something that I quite love about a story with some wistfulness in it…Quiet, lyrical picture books such as A House That Once Was are an experience to read and to savour (A House That Once Was would be a lovely read to pair with A House Held Up by Trees and This House, Once). I have read this title a number of times to myself, but reading it aloud and relishing in performing Fogliano’s rhythmic texts makes for a new experience! Overall, a beautiful read that stands perfectly against the backdrop of Smith’s thoughtful and rather dreamy mixed-media illustrations. Readers who have have previously read and enjoyed Julie Fogliano’s work and are fans of Lane Smith’s art, or who enjoy more reflective picture books might especially enjoy the beauty of A House That Once Was.

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

Review: The Ruinous Sweep by Tim Wynne-Jones

Review: The Ruinous Sweep by Tim Wynne-Jones
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Candlewick Press. Thank you!
Publication: June 26, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

On the night Donovan Turner is thrown out of a car on a highway in the middle of nowhere, he can barely remember his own name, let alone the past twenty-four hours. Where is he? Where is his girlfriend, Bee? In an attempt to flag down the next passing car, he startles the driver, causing a fatal accident. With sirens in the distance and the lingering feeling that he’s running from something — or someone — Donovan grabs the dead driver’s briefcase and flees. Meanwhile, Bee is fighting for Dono’s life every bit as much as he is. But when the police show up and hint that he is the prime suspect in a murder, Bee is determined to put together the pieces of what happened and clear his name. With echoes of Dante’s Divine Comedy, this harrowing journey through hell and back is a page-turning tale of guilt, retribution, love, and redemption.

A rainy night. An empty highway. And no memory. From award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones comes a riveting murder mystery that will keep readers enthralled until the last page.

Donovan closed his eyes. He couldn’t take much more of this. He was so tired. Too tired to keep his guard up. Words were seeping from him in a slow drip. What was he doing? How did he get here? He searched the empty highway ahead. He was running from something. That had to be it. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw only darkness out the rear window, and below it the darkness of something under wraps, something still breathing but smelling as if it had stopped. 

Twice the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, critically-acclaimed Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones returns with The Ruinous Sweep, a labyrinthine young adult mystery. A thrilling read, both sinister and heartbreaking, The Ruinous Sweep lightly draws from Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Wynne-Jones’s novel tells the story of seventeen year old Donovan Turner’s harrowing journey through what appears to be an otherworldly plane as his brilliant girlfriend Beatrice seeks to discover the truth behind his accident and the suspicions that Donovan may have committed murder before he was struck by a car and left for dead.

The first section of The Ruinous Sweep, The Space Casket, is told in alternating third-person narratives between main protagonists Donovan (aka Turn and Dono) and Beatrice (aka Bee). In The Space Casket, readers learn that Turn is in critical condition in the hospital, barely alive after being hit by a car. As his girlfriend Bee sits beside him in the hospital bed, despairing, horrified and angry, she decides to jot down every word or noise Turn makes in the hopes that it may help her figure out what happened. When the narrative shifts back to Donovan’s, readers are taken on an arguably hallucinogenic-like odyssey, equal parts terrifying, isolating, and bizarre. Is Donovan dreaming these strange journeys, in which his manipulative, unkind father and past acquaintances appear…in which gruesome scenes and also happier scenes from his childhood emerge? Has Donovan been tasked to fight his way through some kind of hellish limbo in order to get back to Bee and his mom? Readers might understandably get slightly frustrated with Donovan’s nightmare-like journey: Bee’s narrative is the more immediately viable and present (more directly focused on solving the mystery), and Donovan’s narrative is indeed complicated and sometimes puzzling. However- do go along with Donovan’s journey through The Space Casket: not only is it meticulously written, carefully plotted and planned, but also all comes together in part two, The Bowhunter. In part two, the focus shifts to Beatrice- who grows and truly maintains herself as a hero (faults, mistakes, exceptional moments and all). Through chapters in The Bowhunter, readers are along an unstoppable ride- tense and genuinely frightening- as Bee begins a deep dive into Donovan’s uttered words at the hospital. Looking back into Donovan’s childhood and Donovan’s father’s connections, Bee starts shifting puzzle pieces into play, trying to figure out who might have had cause to harm Turn. While the police assigned to Turn’s case are mostly reticent and on Bee to stay out of their investigation, Bee carries on, leading to an incredibly charged end, both satisfying and bittersweet- one that ties all of novel’s loose strings together.

Overall, a thoroughly compelling, intricately woven, strongly written young adult novel- deeply unusual and unsettling from beginning to end …(I can see The Ruinous Sweep in contention for Canadian lit awards come the season).  Be sure to give yourself the patience and space to let yourself sink first into Donovan’s story and then into Beatrice’s captivating turn. Readers who are fans of authors such as A.S. King, Laurie Halse Anderson, Courtney Summers or Brenna Yovanoff might especially find themselves thoroughly entrenched in the macabre of The Ruinous Sweep.

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

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.