Must Read Monday (59): New Heavenly Nostrils, HiLo and Bird & Squirrel!

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!

This week is all about children’s graphic novel series!  New series entries are either out or soon to be out for: Dana Simpson‘s Heavenly Nostrils, Judd Winick‘s HiLo, and James BurksBird & Squirrel, three wonderful, fun and vibrant graphic novel series that I adore and often recommend (the kids love them!).

 

31445569Unicorn Crossing (Heavenly Nostrils #5) by Dana Simpson
Expected publication: March 28, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Book Description:

Phoebe and Marigold are back for a fifth installment of the award-winning series. Join in on their latest adventures – and experiments – in being themselves!

Time flies in this fifth volume of Phoebe and Her Unicorn! Follow the lovable duo as they experience somewhat-spooky Halloween parties, ecstatic snow days, and looming summer reading assignments. Although the journey of growing up can sometimes be difficult, along the way Phoebe and Marigold discover something more enduring than goblin fads, unicorn spa vacations, and even a Spell of Forgetting—their one of a kind friendship.

 

30407983The Great Big Boom (HiLo #3) by Judd Winick
Publication: February 21, 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Hilo may look like an ordinary kid, but he s DEFINITELY not! When we last saw Hilo, DJ, and Gina, Gina had been sucked into a mysterious portal to who knows where! But friends don t let friends disappear into NOWHERE! It s up to D.J. and Hilo to follow her. Will there be danger? YES! Will there be amazing surprises? OF COURSE! Will Gina end up being the one to save them? DEFINITELY! With the help of Polly, the magical warrior cat, the friends will have to battle bad guys and face disgusting food, an angry mom, powerful magic, and more! Will they survive . . . and make it back to Earth before the portal closes again?! Find out in the third Hilo adventure!

 

30652339Bird & Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Publication: January 31, 2017 by GRAPHIX
Book Description:

It’s been a long, crazy trip around the world. Now the duo is back in their beloved forest, and Bird wants to throw a party! But Squirrel isn’t in the mood to celebrate. His house needs a good cleaning, the river has been dammed up by a pesky beaver, and the forest animals are jittery about a growing menace. Will the dam dry out the forest? Will the mysterious new danger ruin the party? Will Bird finally convince Squirrel to let go and just have a good time? Find out in their hilarious new adventure!

Coming up: Blog Tour for Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli!

Next week, I am participating in the Raincoast Books organized tour for Fish Girl, a graphic novel by multiple Caldecott winner David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli! I am delighted to be taking part as I am a huge fan of David Wiesner’s illustrative work (Sector 7, Flotsam, Mr. Wuffles) and Donna Jo Napoli’s work (Zel, Sirena, and many more!). Take a look below to check out the terrific lineup of bloggers; the tour stops here on Friday, March 3.

Look forward to the Fish Girl tour coming up as well as some new reviews!

fish-girl-blog-tour-postcard

 

Picture Book Review: The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam & Natalie Nelson

9781554988518_hr_1024x1024Review: The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam, illus. Natalie Nelson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press. Thank you!
Publication: September 2016 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

In this picture book, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer. Includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor.

A picture book inspired by the life of celebrated author Flannery O’Connor? If you think the idea might sound…perhaps too grand or ambitious for a picture book, then please let me assure you that the team of author Acree Graham Macam and illustrator Natalie Nelson have done it! The duo has crafted something fascinating, funny and altogether idiosyncratic with their picture book The King of the Birds.

The story begins with a chicken who can ‘walk backwards and forwards’. A young girl named Flannery and her chicken become famous after being seen by a newspaperman…but after the excitement and fame dies down, Flannery decides she needs more birds. After buying every kind of bird imaginable, Flannery decides she needs even more. The ‘more’ ends of being a spectacularly proud, reticent peacock who refuses to show his tail, who grows increasingly lonely and squawks and screeches loudly (oh so loudly) into the night. As Flannery comes up with a royal solution to the King’s loneliness and lack of tail display, she ends up with even slightly more than she bargained for, making for a very funny (and wordless) ending. Nelson’s illustrations here are vibrant, eye-catching and stylishly atypical, while Macam’s writing of the story is a perfect blend of offbeat and wry yet totally accessible for a picture book audience.

Overall, The King of the Birds is a unique and wonderful picture book. Unusual and visually splendid, with an interesting story to boot, Macam and Nelson have designed and presented something special for their debut here. While a story inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, younger children will likely enjoy the story as a great and funny story about a young girl named Flannery and her surprising assortment of fowl. Older kids (and adults!) unfamiliar or less than familiar with O’Connor‘s life will likely find much of the story- and the author’s note- fascinating (and perhaps even an inspiration to read more about O’Connor’s life!). I have been loving the burst of non-fiction, and biographical picture books in children’s lit, and The King of the Birds is another fantastic title to add to the growing list. Any readers who have enjoyed titles such as The Iridescence of Birds, Swan, Henri’s Scissors, Radiant Child, or Viva Frida, might especially appreciate the singular beauty and quirkiness of The King of the Birds.

9781554988518_1_1024x1024

Image courtesy of House of Anansi website

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank

28107411Review: Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

Charlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. If he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll grow older than the brother he recently lost. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. When his parents sign him up for Opportunity Busing to a white school in the Hollywood Hills, all he wants to know is “What time in the morning will my alarm clock have the opportunity to ring?”

When these two land at the same desk, it’s the Rules Boy next to the Rebel, a boy who lost a brother elbow-to-elbow with a boy who longs for one.

From September to June, arms will wrestle, fists will fly, and bottles will spin. There’ll be Ho Hos spiked with hot sauce, sleepovers, boy talk about girls, and a little guidance from the stars. Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds. Different, yet the same.

Armstrong & Charlie, the middle grade debut of Steven B. Frank has already received high praise with a starred review from Kirkus. A fantastic historical novel with two protagonists you’ll not forget, Armstrong & Charlie seamlessly combines serious heartache and humour to tell the story of two young boys who meet during school desegregation in 1970s California.

We meet Armstrong Le Rois and Charlie Ross as they set out to start sixth grade at a Los Angeles school called Wonderland. Both boys are beginning their new school year under stressful, difficult circumstances, and in alternating first-person narratives, we experience and follow their often turbulent connection as their paths cross over and over again in and out of school. For Armstrong, he, as well as a few other students from South Central LA, will be integrated into a white school in the Hollywood Hills as part of an Opportunity Busing program. For Charlie, the start of the sixth grade means starting a school year at Wonderland without his brother and with the terrifying realization that he’s soon going to have lived longer and get to experience more than his beloved older brother ever had the chance to. A story replete with substance, era and significant historical movements, Frank has more than capably interwoven the unforgettable voices and personal heartbreak of Charlie and Armstrong as they experience and navigate their new surroundings. Through the main characters’ incredible, engrossing voices, Armstrong & Charlie explores everything from grief, death, trauma, racism, bullying, as well as family, loyalty, and adolescent matters of the heart. Frank navigates through Charlie and Armstrong’s experiences of ugliness and happiness, moments of soaring and moments of dishonour with grace, insight, and some unexpected and satisfying humour.

Overall, Armstrong & Charlie is a standout read. Well-written, focused, rich with exceptional characters and a terrifically done dual-narrative, Steven B. Frank has done a super job with his children’s debut. Readers who enjoy the excellent offerings of children’s authors such as Firoozeh Dumas, Rebecca Stead, Karen Harrington, Kwame Alexander, Erin Entrada Kelly, or Sarah Weeks, or readers who enjoy historical or hard-hitting, significant middle grade lit might especially love this wonderful story.

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 Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

dcover-584Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Farrar Straus & Giroux

Book Description:

Hollis Darby-Barnes has never met her father, but she hates him.  For making her feel like a lab experiment, a half-person, a freak.  Sometimes she fantasizes about tracking the guy down, setting up a time and a place to meet, and then—right after she says, “Hi, I’m Hollis”—slapping him across the face.

Milo Robinson-Clark has never met his father, but he wants to.  He’s memorized the profile: Height (six feet).  Eyes (hazel).  Hair (dark, thick, and curly).  Does he need to cut it every four weeks to avoid looking like a mushroom?  Does he also have dark, thick eyebrows?  What about body hair?  These are the things Milo wonders about.

When Hollis and Milo met on a seesaw in Brooklyn a gazillion years ago, in some weird sperm donor/lesbian mom reunion, neither of them thought twice.  But when they reconnect as teenagers to find the man who gave them life, everything changes.  Only together can Hollis and Milo discover that family—in all of its weird, messy, freakish permutations—is the only thing that really matters.

Natasha Friend is an author whose work I have been reading and enjoying since I first picked up her YA novel, My Life in Black and White. Her recent middle grade novel, Where You’ll Find Me, is a terrific read and made my Best of 2016 Children’s Fiction list. In her latest contemporary YA novel, The Other F-Word, Friend takes on family– the other f-word- and all of its complicated, thorny, wonderful, heartbreaking and awesome parts.

The novel follows two protagonists (in alternating third-person narratives) through the course of the story: fifteen year old Milo and fourteen year old Hollis. Milo and Hollis met years before as children, when their respective moms connected via a sperm donors group. Now teenagers, Milo and Hollis are essentially strangers and have not been in touch since that fuzzy childhood meeting. The only connection they currently share is DNA: they have the same sperm donor as their biological father. Milo attempts to reconnect with Hollis due to medical reasons and his own frustrations of having to live such a protected, restricted and careful life: from childhood, he has been suffering from severe (some near-fatal) allergic reactions, and his doctor floats the possibility of learning more about his half-sibling’s health history and his biological father’s as a way to do more progressive/advanced allergy testing and trials on Milo.

The opening chapters  of The Other F-Word are a wee bumpy in parts, but do give it time to settle in as once it finds and gets into its quick, witty and heartfelt rhythm, it is a winner. As noted, the early few chapters of the novel come across as a little hasty: the voices of both Milo and Hollis seem a but rushed, Hollis reads as much older than fourteen, and the medical reason for Milo reconnecting with Hollis arguably feels a wee tenuous. However, as Hollis and Milo begin their first steps in messaging, emailing and talking, and sharing their lives, the story takes on tremendous meaning. With great thoughtfulness, Friend takes on subjects such as: same-sex marriages and partnerships; rights (and lack thereof) afforded to same-sex couples; and what connotations and emotional weight (and pain) terms such ‘biologically related’ or ‘non-biologically related’ can bring to families. Once Milo and Hollis find their half-sibling circle is even larger and possibly stranger than previously thought, their intertwined story opens up even more, leading up to an incredible reunion of family.  As the roster of characters grow, Friend does a wonderful job in keeping the increasingly engaging and bustling story moving along smoothly. In tandem, Friend ably keeps Milo and Hollis’s distinct voices and senses of humour running well, and the expanding role of Milo’s best friend JJ is a superb addition to the story.

Overall, The Other F-Word is a well-written, surprising and insightful contemporary YA story. While a funny read with laugh out loud moments of wackiness and sweetness, Friend also meaningfully writes about significant contemporaneous issues as related to family, and pulls off some emotional moments that are tender and so lovely. Already picking up steam with starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist, I do hope The Other F-Word gets read and enjoyed by a wide and appreciative audience. Readers who enjoy YA lit by authors ranging from Hilary T. Smith to Susin Nielsen or from Julie Halpern to Lindsey Leavitt, or those who like any unique YA that tackles real-life, family-centred issues with a great dose of humour and compassion, might especially adore The Other F-Word.

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

Must Read Monday (58): Children’s Fiction from Casey Lyall, Mike Grosso, Jennifer Torres & 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!

This week is all about middle grade fiction! I am consistently impressed and wowed by how phenomenal children’s lit is; the following five titles below look incredible and I cannot wait to read them. Save for the book two in the Pumpkin Falls series by Heather Vogel Frederick, the other four authors- Casey Lyall, Mike Grosso, Jennifer Torres, and Ali Standish- are new-to-me authors…and believe it or not, out of those four, three of these works are author debuts! Here is a rundown of the wonderful-sounding (and looking) titles:

 

28256492

Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall
Publication: September 6, 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books
Book Description:

“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”
“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”
“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”
I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”
Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

 

28114562I Am Drums by Mike Grosso
Publication: September 6, 2016 by Clarion Books
Book Description:

Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people.

But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud—even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high?

 

 

25150366Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
Publication: January 17, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for her dad to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be put out to pasture. It’s no fun being known as the “Taco Queen” at school. But just when it looks like Stef is going to get exactly what she wants, and her family’s livelihood is threatened, she will have to become the truck’s unlikely champion.

 

 

30037871The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
Publication: January 24, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.

 

 

30227919Yours Truly (Pumpkin Falls Mystery #2) by Heather Vogel Frederick
Publication: January 31, 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Another wild mystery needs to be solved and it’s up to the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes to solve it in this hilarious follow up to the heartwarming middle grade mystery, Absolutely Truly.

Even Truly Lovejoy has to admit that teeny-tiny Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, has its charms—like the annual maple festival, where tourists flock from all over to sample the local maple syrup, maple candy, maple coffee, and even maple soap! But when someone tries to sabotage the maple trees on her friend Franklin’s family farm, Truly has to rally the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes to investigate. Meanwhile, she uncovers another, more personal mystery under the floorboards of her very own home—a diary written centuries ago by her namesake, the original Truly Lovejoy…and it might just prove her family’s ties to Pumpkin Falls run deeper than anyone ever could have imagined.

 

Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

9781770497825Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Source: ARC courtesy of Susin Nielsen and Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 21, 2017 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Petula’s funny, and a crafting genius, but no social star at high school, and it doesn’t help that she’s isolated herself after her adored toddler sister died. Petula feels responsible for this death, though her parents say it was a tragic accident. No one’s fault. Now, Petula sees danger everywhere: every activity and every bite of food could kill you. Then a new boy, Jacob, joins Petula’s group in the school’s lame art therapy program; he has a prosthetic arm and darkness behind his sunny surface. Petula and Jacob become friends, then, something more. But a secret behind why he’s in the group could derail them.

A heartbreaking yet humorous first YA from award-winning author Susin Nielsen, Optimists Die First continues Susin’s tradition of creating memorable characters and genre-bending narratives.

Governor General Award winning author Susin Nielsen has written some of my favourite children’s titles: Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, We Are All Made of Molecules, and last, but absolutely not least, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. Nielsen’s novels are ones I recommend time and again to kids (and their caregivers) in my work as a children’s librarian, and I have also often mentioned Nielsen’s work in top ten lit lists. So, needless to say, as soon as I saw/read/heard about a new book from the author- a young adult debut, no less- I was there. And I have been an extremely lucky reader indeed to have had the opportunity to read Nielsen’s already multi-starred (!) YA debut Optimists Die First.

In Optimists Die First, we follow the first-person narrative of Petula De Wilde. Petula is, as other protagonists of Nielsen’s novels, imminently likable, wonderful and slightly (or intensely) hurt in some way. Whether working through or surviving family tragedy, loss, life-change…Nielsen’s characters might be some of the most tenacious, stubborn, lovely, and brave kids or teens you will meet. Here, we have Petula: shaken to her core, reshaped since a horrifying and fatal accident forever altered her and her family. Now constantly fearful, experiencing debilitating panic and anxiety, and exhibiting compulsive behavior, Petula is forced to attend an art therapy group for emotional troubled kids as well as talks with her watery-eyed but exceedingly patient and kind principal. Through circuitous circumstances, a new student at her school- who Petula has nicknamed Bionic Man- Jacob, joins her art therapy program and takes an interest in getting to know her.

Jacob, as we learn, is also suffering- and more intensely than Petula realizes. He and Petula are both dealing with tremendous scars of aftermath, regret and guilt; but once their tentative connection in and out of art therapy begins, it grows into something tangible. Nielsen writess Petula and Jacob’s relationship as such a beautifully aching, fluttery, strange and hazy-happy first-love; it sincere, genuine, and unforced, and something that clicks naturally and necessarily (as we see) with the arc of each character’s story. Lest you wonder whether Nielsen has taken the route of ‘troubled teens meet, fall in love and quickly heal’ (which can be grating and oft-abundant in YA…), I can assure you that it is not the case. The author works Petula and Jacob’s relationship from the very beginning as something that occurs within and among the chaos of their internal voices and immediate surroundings, which means that while Petula’s psychological traumas about her family and school life might ebb and flow, they simply do not heal due to first-love (Jacob does not magically heal, either). I do not want to give away too much more of the story’s intricacies here, as I hope for readers to get to experience it for themselves…but I will say that Optimists Die First offers some terrifically surprising and wonderfully weird moments à la Breakfast Club, intense heartache and rawness (think Judy Blume), as well as loveliness mixed with hope and possibility- all in Nielsen’s incredible style.

Overall, Optimists Die First is a gorgeously written, funny and heart-rending read. As with Henry K. Larsen, my reading experience with Optimists Die First was one ranging from belly laughter to tears and everything in-between. Nielsen takes a sensitive and thoughtful approach to covering serious, raw subject matters in all of her novels and that consideration always comes forth in her writing- this novel is another great example of that. I cannot recommend Nielsen’s novels enough, and would highly encourage readers new to Nielsen to check her books out. I loved meeting and spending time with Petula, her family, and Jacob, and I hope you get the chance to as well.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of the author and publisher. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (57): YA from Nina LaCour, Robin Roe & Katie Kennedy

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!

This week: new and upcoming young adult fiction titles on my radar! Since reading Nina LaCour‘s Hold Still and absolutely loving it, the author has been on my must-read- and I have adored all of her books. I’m eagerly anticipating We Are Okay; it has been receiving some terrific reviews from review journals as well! Next up is A List of Cages by Robin Roe– another YA title that’s been receiving some incredible praise from journals and love from YA book bloggers I follow. Last but not least is Katie Kennedy‘s Learning to Swear in America– a title that came up as a recommended read on Goodreads, if I recall, and immediately hooked me with its great, stand-out description. All three look like stellar YA reads!

 

28243032We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Expected publication: February 14, 2017 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

“You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.”

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

 

25613472A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
Book Description:

When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives…

 

23018259Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy
Publication: July 5, 2016 by Bloomsbury
Book Description:

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize–if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri’s 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

Review: If This Is Home by Kristine Scarrow

9781459736504Review: If This Is Home by Kristine Scarrow
Source: ARC courtesy of Dundurn Press. Thank you!
Canadian Publication: January 28, 2017 by Dundurn Press
Book Description:

When her mom is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jayce searches for her estranged father, hoping he can fix everything.

Jayce Loewen has had to take on a lot of responsibility over the years. Her single mom works two jobs and long hours, leaving Jayce in charge of her four-year-old sister most of the time. When her mom is diagnosed with cancer, Jayce decides to track down her long-absent father in the hope that he will be able to make everything okay again.

Looking for her dad was one thing, but when she actually finds him, Jayce is in for a real shock. When everything in her life seems to be going wrong, Jayce has to figure out who her family really is, and how to live with the possibility of losing the person she loves most.

Canadian author Kristine Scarrow’s sophomore young adult novel, If This Is Home, is a contemporary story covering everything from terminal illness, complex teen friendships, sibling love and difficult family history. Taking place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Scarrow’s compact novel embraces much of what I personally love about Canadian YA: the overwhelmingly fluid, uncluttered, quiet yet potent writing; rooted protagonists and secondary characters that read as genuine and free of veneer; and the presentation of unidealized concepts of teenagers and ‘the teenage years’.

In If This Is Home, we follow the first-person narrative of sixteen year old Jayce Loewen- known as J.J.- as she and her four year-old sister Joelle deal with beyond devastating news: their mother is sick with lung cancer. A tight-knit family of three, with a long-absent father and long-estranged grandparents, J.J.’s mom has been her everything. When a doctor gently states an unspeakable prognosis, J.J. is overwhelmed but determined that she and Joelle stay strong and stay together. In the midst of high school chaos with her less-than-considerate best friend, and worried about what might happen if they lose the only parent they’ve ever known and had, J.J. goes in search of her father. With the help of a boy she meets in detention, a teen named Kurt, J.J.’s life begins a complicated roller coaster of major revelations and disappointments.

In a plot move I really appreciate, Scarrow grows the relationship between J.J. and Kurt as platonic and heartfelt. Perhaps due to the more serious nature of the crux of the story- that of J.J.’s intense love and protectiveness for her sister and mom and the threat of it being torn apart- Scarrow decided to keep that story element more neutral. Arguably a more unconventional route to take in a teen novel, yet one that works so well here with the direction the story takes. Scarrow also writes and develops the relationship between J.J. and her mom and sister, and- later- another family member very well. I would have appreciated more by way of introduction and background to J.J. herself, Kurt (I feel he was introduced and then suddenly so involved with the family), and more about the Loewen’s family history. Certain aspects of the story came across as rushed or a little surprising, or in need of elucidation: as a whole, If This Is Home is absolutely moving and interesting, but I feel as though more detail would have been of benefit to add even further richness and depth to the story.

Overall, If This Is Home is a moving read, deftly written, propelled by a solid, well-written protagonist. As noted above, I would have liked more exposition about Kurt, as well as background exploration into J.J.’s mom and grandmother to add more foundation to the story, but in all, I truly enjoyed this read. Readers who enjoy contemporary Canadian YA lit, or readers who enjoy authors such as Susin Nielsen, Robin Stevenson or Sarah N. Harvey (all write so beautifully on family and serious subject matters), might especially appreciate this lovely book. Scarrow has published one YA title prior to If This Is Home called Throwaway Girl; it is one title I’ve seen in local bookshops and am now inspired to pick up.

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

Picture Book Reviews: Things to Do & My World: A Book of First Words

9781452111247Things to Do by Elaine Magliaro, illus. Catia Chien
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 7, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

With playful prose and vivid art, Things to Do brings to life the small moments and secret joys of a child’s day. There are wonders everywhere. In the sky and on the ground-blooming in a flower bed, dangling from a silken thread, buzzing through the summer air-waiting … waiting to be found. In this thoughtful and ingenious collection of poems, Elaine Magliaro, an elementary school teacher for more than three decades and a school librarian for three years, and illustrator Catia Chien provide a luminous glimpse of the ordinary wonders all around us.

“Things to do if you are a honeybee
Flit among flowers.
Sip nectar for hours.
Be yellow and fuzzy.
Stay busy.
Be buzzy.”

Things to Do, written by poet Elaine Magliaro and illustrated by Catia Chien (My Blue is Happy), is a lively verse-filled picture book about marvels- big and small- found in the world around us. With a young child and her canine companion as our guides, readers are taken into a world of poetry and wonder as we look at everything from the dawn to an acorn, the sky to an eraser.

Starting with waking up in the morning and considering the dawn and ending with a nighttime contemplation of the moon, child and pup traverse and explore the world around them and things various objects should do. Chien’s illustrations, rich and colourful yet soft and gauzy (and making such terrific use of perspective and angles) just perfectly compliment Magliaro’s sometimes rhyming, sometimes free, gorgeously lilting poems. Initially, I had wondered whether a consistent, repeated rhyming pattern would have made the flow of the story smoother. However, after some reflection and rereading of passages, I find that the variable nature of the poems to work very well here, as Magliaro alters tone and rhyme (as well as font size and style) to suit each object so wonderfully. As an example, the honeybee poem quoted above features shorter, to-the-point sentences that allow for a quicker reading- just as one might imagine honeybee might be! In contrast, the poetry for ‘Things to do if you are a snail’ uses ‘s’ words to great effect…drawing out sentences such as ‘slowly…slowly…’ and ‘slide along your trail of slime‘. I would argue that a more strict pattern of precise rhyming might not fit so well with the overall style and voice of the story!

In all, Things to Do is a beautiful meld of picture book and poetry. Readers who enjoy or are looking for something a little more contemplative and challenging, or those who enjoy work by authors such as Jon J. Muth, Joyce Sidman, Julie Fogliano, Helen Frost or Kate Coombs might especially adore this enchanting title.

 

9781627795302My World: A Book of First Words by Frann Preston-Gannon
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 28, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
Book Description:

A beautiful and entertaining visual catalog for toddlers – including things that go, cute fruits and veggies, undersea creatures, and more!

There’s no end to the fun in finding and naming each object in these chockablock spreads! Beautiful birds, adorable mommy and baby animals, colorful clothing, musical instruments, and more fill each page, with objects labeled and grouped by theme. A fun, gorgeous visual dictionary for the very youngest of readers.

If you are not yet familiar with Frann Preston-Gannon’s work in children’s lit, I recommend checking out any one of her gorgeous, vibrant books! From the board book Deep Deep Sea to the adorable picture book Pepper & Poe and many more, Preston-Gannon’s artwork and style is totally singular and recognizable.

Here in My World: A Book of First Words, the author-illustrator approaches a multitude of objects grouped by themes (e.g. Birds, Plants, Prehistoric Creatures, Fruits and Vegetables) in a spectacularly bright and lively fashion. For example, in the ‘Plants’ spread, Preston-Gannon illustrates everything from cattails and bluebells to a Venus flytrap and a stout cactus with enigmatic eyes- comparable to the all-knowing eyes found on Jon Klassen’s animals. Each and every object presented in this engaging, educational and FUN read is drawn ebulliently- children (and adults!) will undoubtedly love to pore over the illustrations large and small as well as find joy in learning new words. My World contains a tremendous variety of words for a range of ages- from words like kittens, chicken and car to very cool and tricky dinosaur names like Diplodocus and Prenocephale!

Overall, My World is a delight. Picture books and board books on ‘first words’ can indeed become repetitive or same-y, but this book from Preston-Gannon is indeed a treat. Perfect for a wider range of ages, with fresh and vivacious illustrations that will likely delight toddlers, preschoolers and adults, My World is definitely one to check out and add to your collection!

I received copies of these titles courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.