Must Read Monday (80): Picture Books from Anna Walker, Shinsuke Yoshitake, Jessie Sima & 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: all about picture books! These are titles from authors and illustrators that are favourites or automatic must-reads, as well as new and wonderful-sounding and looking titles that I have been fortunate to hear about. Here we go!


Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake
Publication: September 26, 2017 by Harry N. Abrams (first published 2015)

Rot, the Cutest in the World! by Ben Clanton
Publication: December 19, 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, illus. Jen Hill
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Roaring Brook Press

Jinx and the Doom Fight Crime! by Lisa Mantchev, illus. Samantha Cotterill
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Florette by Anna Walker
Publication: February 20, 2018 by Clarion Books

Once Upon a Zzzz by Maddie Frost
Publication: March 1, 2018 by Albert Whitman Company

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima
Publication: March 6, 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Everything You Need For a Treehouse by Carter Higgins, illus. Emily Hughes
Publication: March 13, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Big Bunny by Rowboat Watkins
Expected publication: March 20, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Expected publication: April 10, 2018 by Candlewick Press



Picture Book Review: Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel

Review: Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 20, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Hello, Hello! Beginning with two cats, one black and one white, a chain of animals appears before the reader, linked together by at least one common trait. From simple colors and shapes to more complex and abstract associations, each unexpected encounter celebrates the magnificent diversity of our world-and ultimately paints a story of connection.

Brendan Wenzel’s joyous, rhythmic text and exuberant art encourage readers to delight in nature’s infinite differences and to look for-and marvel at-its gorgeous similarities. It all starts with a simple Hello.”

The book includes:
– An afterword from author Brendan Wenzel about the importance of conservation and protecting the wildlife on our planet.
– A glossary of the animals featured in the book and a notation on their status (Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered).”

Author and illustrator Brendan Wenzel won a Caldecott Honor for his brilliant They All Saw A Cat. Picture book readers might also already be familiar with his utterly vibrant and eye-catching illustrative work for Ellen Jackson’s Beastly Babies and Angela DiTerlizzi’s Some Pets. With Hello Hello, Wenzel returns with a rhyming, strikingly illustrated story that also calls attention to the diversity of the animal kingdom and conservation.

Hello Hello is a gorgeous tour of sorts through a great number of creatures in the animal kingdom; everything from domestic animals to well known animals like the cheetah and tiger to perhaps lesser known animals like the strawberry poison dart frog and superb lyrebird! As an example, the picture book begins with a spread of a white cat and a black cat facing each other with a ‘Hello Hello’, and follows with a spread of creatures representing ‘Black and White’ animals to animals to go along with the themes of ‘Hello Color’ and ‘Hello Bright’. The picture book very sweetly ties in its gentle missive of awareness, appreciation and kindness for the animal kingdom with a lovely spread of a ring-tailed lemur along with two young children getting a thumbs up from (an unfortunately critically endangered) Sumatran orangutan.

Hello Hello is another excellent title from Wenzel. The illustrations are beautiful and bright (Wenzel’s artwork is stunning and likely to be appreciated by all ages!), and likely to be loved as a rhyming read aloud for a storytime (toddlers or preschoolers and up). Hello Hello works on a few levels: due to its rhythmic feel and rhymes, it might work very well as a read aloud due its straightforward and streamlined text and eye-catching illustrations; for older children, the title can work as a exploration of animal species (or looking at efforts to conserve particular animals, the list goes on!). As noted in the book description, there is also an afterword from Wenzel on the topic of wildlife conservation, as well as a splendid (and highly useful!) glossary of all of the animals drawn in the book and information about the status of their species.



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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 Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer

Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Bryony Gray is becoming famous as a painter in London art circles. But life isn’t so grand. Her uncle keeps her locked in the attic, forcing her to paint for his rich clients . . . and now her paintings are taking on a life of their own, and customers are going missing under mysterious circumstances.

When her newest painting escapes the canvas and rampages through the streets of London, Bryony digs into her family history, discovering some rather scandalous secrets her uncle has been keeping, including a deadly curse she’s inherited from her missing father. Bryony has accidentally unleashed the Gray family curse, and it’s spreading fast.

With a little help from the strange-but-beautiful girl next door and her paranoid brother, Bryony sets out to break the curse, dodging bloodthirsty paintings, angry mobs and her wicked uncle along the way.

When I saw the great cover and read the blurb for E. Latimer‘s The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray I thought it sounded terrifically spooky and added it to my reading list. A gothic historically-set middle grade novel, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray? Count me in! More sinister and more fantastical than I imagined, Latimer’s novel is a surprising treat.

The novel opens with a prologue that takes us into the extravagant, lush and self-indulgent life of Lady Dashworth, who is eagerly awaiting the delivery of a portrait of herself done by a supposedly odd but extremely talented thirteen year old girl. Upon opening, Lady Dashworth finds the portrait stunning…remarkable…so remarkable in fact, that the portrait seems too life-like. It is then that Latimer takes the already eerie opening and takes the story to its darker core: the portraits being done by that thirteen year old artist- Bryony Gray- are coming to life, ripping from their canvases and causing deadly mayhem in London. As readers meet Bryony and the terrible aunt and uncle who keep her prisoner in their attic, the story takes one fascinating turn after another.

Having planned an escape from her attic confines for some time, Bryony finds herself freed quite suddenly by accident when a portrait she purposely painted to look monstrous tears itself to life off the canvas. It is then, as Bryony escapes into the city slowly being tyrannized by her art, that she meets siblings Mira and Thompson- the next-door neighbors she had only dreamed to meet one day. Latimer weaves multiple elements as the story continues to unfold: Bryony experiencing London, her surroundings, and children her own age for almost the first time in her life; the trio of children having to escape for their lives time after time while attempting to help Bryony stop the madness; and perhaps the biggest thing of all, Bryony finally learning truths about her long-absent father who presumably cursed the Gray family. It is a lot to pack into a tale, but Latimer does a solid job of maintaining all of the elements, adding some bombshell reveals, and threading in some very interesting ties to an imagined incident that lead to The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Overall, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray is wonderfully unusual and atmospheric, with terrifying and surprising moments. It is written with such precise, intriguing detail that I vividly pictured the story from beginning to end, and even thought to myself how incredible it would be to see this story brought to life on-screen! Readers who enjoy gothic, scary stories or the work of authors such as Claire Legrand, Charis Cotter, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl or Laura Amy Schlitz might especially enjoy this dark tale.

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

Picture Book Review: What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston & Tim Mack

What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston, illus. Tim Mack
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Inhabit Media. Thank you!
Publication: August 4, 2017 by Inhabit Media
Book Description:

Nalvana feels like all of her friends have some type of superpower. She has friends with super speed (who always beat her in races), friends with super strength (who can dangle from the monkey bars for hours), and friends who are better than her at a million other things. Nalvana thinks she must be the only kid in town without a superpower. But then her mom shows Nalvana that she is unique and special—and that her superpower was right in front of her all along.

“Nalvana always thought about what it would be like to have superpowers…”

What’s My Superpower?, written by author Aviaq Johnston (Those Who Run in the Sky) and illustrated by Tim Mack, is an utterly charming, wonderfully optimistic story about one young girl’s search for her superpower and what happens along her journey.

The picture book centers around Nalvana who wears “a yellow cape made from a blanket and a pair of snowmobiling goggles resting on her head” everywhere she goes. A seemingly adventurous, buoyant person, Nalvana wonders about the possible answer to a rather big question: what is her superpower? As Nalvana goes about trying to discover her superpower, however, she begins to recognize some of her classmates’ impressive superpowers! For example, one day at the playground, Nalvana sees her friend Maata swinging high on the swing set and suddenly fly to her landing! Maata can fly! On another day, Nalvana sees her cousin Joanasie building an inuksuk at the the top of a hill. While talking to Joanasie about all the things he can make, she tells him that his superpower must be being able to build “whatever he can think of”! Joanasie can build anything in the world! But…what about Nalvana herself? What if she is the only one left without a superpower? As Nalvana recounts Maata’s, Joanasie’s and other encounters and happy discoveries of friends’ superpowers with her mom, a happy realization is made about what Nalvana’s pretty incredible superpower might just be.

Overall, what a lovely, heart-warming picture book! Nalvana’s story is one of sharing kindness, holding onto one’s own kernels of hopefulness and determination, and the excitement in finding your own happy and cool discovery along the way. Mack’s illustrations are strong and vibrant with their unique yellow and green-focused palette; it is interesting, graphic novel-like artwork that works so well to compliment and enhance Johnston’s winsome, wholly approachable storytelling style. What’s My Superpower? also contains an Inuktitut Glossary at the back, so readers and audiences will be engaging and learning even further as they go!

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

#PlayTestShare Giveaway: Spring Break 2018!

I am delighted to be hosting a Spring Break 2018 round of #PlayTestShare, courtesy of the lovely and generous folks at Raincoast Books!

Open to Canadian residents, ages 18 and up, one lucky person will have the chance to win one of the amazing #PlayTestShare items below! I had the chance to play and test out Llamanoes
 as well as After Dinner Amusements: Which Would You Choose?
, so you will see some photos and get my thoughts on those two items. Read on for even more information about all the #PlayTestShare items on offer and how to enter the giveaway!


Llamanoes: Dominoes . . . with Llamas! by Chronicle Books, illustrated by Shyama Golden
 A hilarious herd of llamas star in this laugh-out-loud twist on the game of dominoes. From Llama-nardo da Vinci to Super Llama (it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s . . . a llama?), kids, families, and llama enthusiasts will have a blast matching heads to tails to complete the chain and win! It’s a goofy gift, a boredom-busting game, and a great way to develop matching and fine motor skills, all in one appealing and colorful package.

Readers, what a fantastic batch of games! First up we have Llamanoes: Dominoes…with Llamas! which is exactly as it is described! I cannot do justice to describing the awesomely vibrant llama illustrations by Shyama Golden, so hopefully the pictures entice you. Llamanoes is terrific fun with easy-to-follow instructions; it’s perfect for a family game night and good for kids ages 3 and up. My daughter- preschool age- loves the pieces (I mean, how could one not? The llama pieces are bright, funny and eye-catching!), and it’s not complicated for us to play together. This is a good one, folks- especially for those with younger kids who love to get involved in family games!


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After Dinner Amusements: Which Would You Choose? by Chronicle Books

With 50 hilarious and thought-provoking questions asking players to choose between two equally good, unpleasant, or absurd scenarios, this revealing party game leads to interesting conversations and good fun for all ages!

If you ever played ‘Would you rather…’ or any similar version of that growing up, then you know what you’re getting in to with After Dinner Amusements: Which One Would You Choose?! This wonderfully compact game (keeps nicely tidy in a tin), contains fifty questions meant to get conversation started. I really like the assortment of questions in this Chronicle Books version- you can take a look at some of the pictures to get a sense of the types of questions there are. You can see it’s not only choosing between all weird or gross scenarios (which ARE fun, sure!), but also choosing between okay and/or interesting scenarios. My husband and I are both games people, though I tend to lean toward the more straightforward, streamlined games that get people active or talking. This one hits all the marks for me!


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The rest of the terrific #PlayTestShare items:


Pass the Parcel: A Party Game by Louise Lockhart
Everyone wins in this modern take on a classic British party game! Players take turns unwrapping the parcel to uncover cheeky dares that will soon have the whole group beaming. Under the last layer, there’s an envelope containing a special surprise!



Draw Like An Artist: Pop Art by Patricia Geis
A collection of eighteen fun and colorful activities for aspiring Warhols, Hockneys, and Lichtensteins ages ten and up, or anyone who enjoys working with color, pattern, and pop-culture imagery, and gaining a better understanding of the 20th century’s most popular art movement. Sixteen perforated pages provide plenty of raw material for collage, drawing backgrounds, and inspiration.


The Mystery Mansion Storytelling Card Game illustrated by Lucille Clerc
Reviving the Victorian craze for ‘myrioramas’, the 20 picture cards can be placed in any order to create seamless scenes. Almost infinite combinations of cards provide endless storyscaping possibilities. Find sinister suits of armour and the aftermaths of strange accidents, butlers with a grudge and glamorous couples where revenge is never far from the surface. With many games to play and millions of stories to tell, each turn of the card is a new adventure. Where will the story take you?


Crocodile and Friends: Animal Memory Game by Natacha Andriamirado, illustrated by Delphine Renon
Fossil, a good-natured crocodile who just wants some peace and quiet, quickly won the hearts of children everywhere in the delightful picture book The Quiet Crocodile. Now Fossil and his friends are back, ready to play, in this fun memory game. The fifty-two cards feature twenty-six charming illustrations of Fossil and his many friends, nested in a handsome keepsake box. An added bonus is a folded poster showing all of the animal friends together, from Fippo the Hippo and Ryan the Lion to Pat the Cat.


In the Ocean: My Nature Sticker Activity Book by Olivia Cosneau
The world’s oceans are home to many different species and plants, from tiny organisms like plankton to the world’s largest animal, the blue whale. Deep down in the seas’ depth, you will even find some monstrous-looking creatures that seem to have come straight out of a fairy tale. Vivid digital illustrations help introduce a variety of aquatic creatures in this addition to the My Nature Sticker Activity Book series.


Alpha Shapes by Chronicle Books
This modern twist on alphabet blocks offers a new way to see the beauty of letterforms. Adults and children alike can build letters and words out of the 39 colorful wooden pieces, spelling out names or creating personalized messages for display.


Bob the Artist: Dominoes illustrated by Marion Deuchars 
Bob the Artist, first introduced in the quirky Bob the Artist picture book, loves to paint with brightly colored splashes, but he has got into a bit of a mess. Help Bob clear up his paints by matching the colors and numbers in this fun game of dominoes. A wonderful concept game for toddlers!


Giveaway Info:

The contest is open to Canadian residents only, and entrants must be aged 18 and up. The contest will run from March 5, 2018 to March 12, 2018. One winner will be randomly selected at the end of giveaway via Rafflecopter. The winner will have 48 hours to respond by emailing me at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com, confirming their name, their mailing address, and their ONE (1) giveaway prize pick. The winner has 48 hours to email me with their prize pick and Canadian mailing address, or another winner will be chosen.

Contest is now closed.

The winner is: LINDA! The winner has 48 hours to confirm their mailing address and prize pick or another winner will be drawn.

Thank you to all who participated!

Click here to enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter!


I received copies of Llamanoes and After Dinner Amusements: Which Would You Choose? from Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews and for the purposes of this giveaway. Thank you! Opinions and comments regarding the items are my own. Prizes provided by Raincoast Books.

Spotlight: Christopher Silas Neal’s I Won’t Eat That

Welcome to a special post featuring award-winning author and illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and his latest picture book, I Won’t Eat That! Please read on for a closer look at I Won’t Eat That as well as a bonus Author-Illustrator Insight section with some interesting facts and notes from the author himself!

Christopher Silas Neal has worked on such fantastic and well-reviewed picture books like Over and Under the Pond, Over and Under the Snow (written by Kate Messner) and Everyone. His latest picture book I Won’t Eat That is a vibrantly illustrated and entertaining story about a cat who is a very picky eater.

As readers dive into I Won’t Eat That, they meet a bright-coloured cat with a rather displeased if not disbelieving expression on his face. Cat explains his predicament: that while he is indeed a cat, he “will NOT eat cat food”. Other animals like dogs and fish, he claims, may eat the food set out for them, but he will not follow. In the next spread we see Cat as he imperiously kicks his bowl of “dry, dull and not very yummy food” out of the way and simultaneously wonders what he will eat…

We then follow Cat as he navigates his way through conversations with multiple animals as he discovers more and MORE things he does not want to eat. For example, as Cat meets Chimp, he finds out that they eat ants…ants that bite! Cat learns that Lion eats zebras, which is just too large of a creature for Cat to contemplate, and Elephants eat grass which is even “MORE BORING than cat food”. Cat begins to look more than despondent as he leaves Whale and his peculiar, hard-to-pronouce meal of bioluminescent phytoplankton…until he meets Mouse and a short conversation about what to eat turns into a rousing and open-ended finale.

Perfect for reading aloud- and likely to be a hit at preschool-age storytimes- I Won’t Eat That is an enjoyable, amusing read that builds and betters on the basic concept of picky eating with great use of repetition, intriguing word choices, and a surprising- exciting!- ending. Neal’s artwork is appealingly bright and natural in this title; strong, vivid, and as always, refined- to perfectly match the tone and flow of the text. I have had the pleasure of reading this title aloud with my own preschool-age child and it’s been requested multiple times since the first reading! Readers who have enjoyed such titles as A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals, Buddy and the Bunnies: In Don’t Play with Your Food, or the work of authors such as Kevin Sherry, Adam Lehrhaupt or Ame Dyckman might especially adore this title.

Author-Illustrator Insight with Christopher Silas Neal!

  • When I sold my first book idea (Everyone) to Candlewick they asked if I had any other ideas. I didn’t really have anything but quickly jotted down a few rough sketches and words about a cat who doesn’t like cat food and asks other animals what they eat, and I sent those scribbles to my agent. I ended up getting a two book deal. A deal for Everyone which I had spent a year fine tuning, writing, and sketching, and a deal for what would become I Won’t Eat That which was really just a quick sketch done on the spot.
  • The cat in this book is based on my orange tabby named Fabrizio. He’s super picky and has lots of attitude, but he’s also a super lovable mush of a cat.
  • The turtle in this book was originally a bird. Then someone pointed out that the cat might want to eat the bird so I changed it to a turtle which also eats worms on occasion, but whose hard shell would be unappetizing to the cat.
  • In I Won’t Eat That, we meet many animals who fall prey to a hungry, wild animal. I myself have eaten one of the animals in this book. Can you guess which one?
  • I make all of my art in pieces. Everything is done in black and white. I start by creating shapes and silhouettes on one paper. Then textures and details on other papers using paints and brushes and pencils. Each piece or layer is scanned into Photoshop. From there I arrange the pieces and add color on the computer. A single spread will have many, many layers each one made by hand, scanned and then colored on the computer.

Thank you so much for your time, Christopher!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of the author and Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog post. Thank you! All opinions and comments regarding the title are my own. Thanks as well to Christopher Silas Neal who provided the information for the Author-Illustrator Insight section.

Review: Bringing Me Back by Beth Vrabel

Review: Bringing Me Back by Beth Vrabel
Source: ARC courtesy of Sky Pony Press. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Sky Pony Press.
Book Description:

Noah is not having a good year.

His mom is in prison, he’s living with his mom’s boyfriend—who he’s sure is just waiting until his mother’s six month sentence is up to kick him out—and he’s officially hated by everyone at his middle school, including his former best friend. It’s Noah’s fault that the entire football program got shut down after last year.

One day, Noah notices a young bear at the edge of the woods with her head stuck in a bucket. A bucket that was almost certainly left outside as part of a school fundraiser to bring back the football team. As days go by, the bear is still stuck—she’s wasting away and clearly getting weaker, even as she runs from anyone who tries to help. And she’s always alone.

Though Noah ignores the taunts at school and ignores his mother’s phone calls from jail, he can’t ignore the bear. Everyone else has written the bear off as a lost cause—just like they have with Noah. He makes it his mission to help her.

But rescuing the bear means tackling his past—and present—head-on. Could saving the bear ultimately save Noah, too?

Bringing Me Back is the latest contemporary middle grade title from children’s author Beth Vrabel. Having read and enjoyed Vrabel’s well-received and well-reviewed Pack of Dorks series, A Blind Guide to Stinkville and A Blind Guide to Normal, I was looking forward to Vrabel’s newest children’s title immensely.

In Bringing Me Back, we follow the first-person narrative of middle schooler Noah Brickle. Noah, as we learn, is going through a very difficult time. His mom is serving time in prison, he’s become a social pariah at school- almost entirely without any friendly face- and is now under the guardianship of his mom’s boyfriend Jeff. In just a short span of time, Noah’s world has gone from pretty great- having a best friend, playing football at school, and having his mom and Jeff in a stable and good relationship- to just about everything being broken. Readers learn about Noah’s mom’s struggle with alcohol and how one night of relapse- and a dangerous football accident caused by Noah the day after- changed his world. On top of everything Noah is experiencing at home and at school, he also becomes fixated with a lone bear cub seen around the perimeters of the school. Soon Noah becomes determined to save the life of the young bear, especially when the bear is spotted with a bucket stuck on its head and looks to be growing frail. As the prison release date of Noah’s mom grows closer, Noah finds himself at a head with emotions: his remorse for the accident he caused; complicated feelings for his mom and the damage she caused; his growing feelings for his new friend Rina; with how much Jeff really means to him; and for how far he’s willing to go (and why) to save the life of a dying bear cub.

Noah is a terrifically written, interesting young narrator: complicated, open, hurting, and struggling to keep his head above water. The course of his relationships with two supporting characters- his one new and surprising school friend Rina and now-guardian Jeff- are so well-done and at different turns, emotional and heart-wrenching. Vrabel gets the voice of young protagonists spot on and writes them brilliantly; I think Bringing Me Back, with its well-drawn cast of main characters and excellent story, is the strongest of her novels so far. Overall, a strong, beautifully written, affecting middle grade title, with wonderfully drawn characters set in a unique story. Readers who have enjoyed Beth Vrabel’s previous children’s titles or readers who enjoy the work of authors such as Leslie Connor, Kate Messner, or Sarah Weeks might especially enjoy Vrabel’s latest.

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

Must Read Monday (79): Children’s Titles from Angela Dominguez, Tae Keller, Jarrett Lerner, Dana Simpson & 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: children’s fiction, including graphic novels and middle grade fiction! We have the Zoey and Sassafraas series by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay; Susan Tan and Dana Wulfekotte’s Cilla-Lee Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire; Angela Dominguez’s Stella Diaz Has Something to Say— I have been hearing and reading terrific things about these titles from authors and illustrators I follow on Twitter! Next up are children’s fiction titles EngiNerds from Jarrett Lerner, and The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller. Last but definitely not least, we have new entries into series I adore: Judd Winick’s HiLo, Dana Simpson’s Heavenly Nostrils, Elise Gravel’s Olga, and the third and final entry in Chronicles of Claudette by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado.

Dragons and Marshmallows (Zoey and Sassafras #1) by Asia Citro, illus. Marion Lindsay
Publication: March 14, 2017 by The Innovation Press (paperback)
Book Description:

With magical animals, science, mystery, and adventure — the brand new series Zoey and Sassafras has something for everyone! Easy-to-read language and illustrations on nearly every page make this series perfect for a wide range of ages.

In the first book of this series, Zoey discovers a glowing photo and learns an amazing secret. Injured magical animals come to their backyard barn for help! When a sick baby dragon appears, it’s up to Zoey and Sassafras to figure out what’s wrong. Will they be able to help little Marshmallow before it’s too late?


Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan, illus. Dana Wulfekotte
Publication: March 28, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best—herself! And Cilla has a lot to write about: How did she deal with being bald until the age of five? How did she overcome her struggles with reading? How do family traditions with Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins differ from family traditions with her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye?

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire is a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.


EngiNerds by Jarrett Lerner
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Aladdin
Book Description:

Ken is an EngiNerd: one of a super-smart group of friends—all nerds—who have been close since kindergarten.

They may be brainiacs, but they’re just like everyone else: they fight with one another, watch too much TV, eat Chinese food, and hate walking their dogs. Well, maybe not just like everyone because Ken’s best friend Dan has been building robots. He then secretly sent one to each of the EngiNerds, never letting them know he’s the mastermind.

At first Ken is awed and delighted: what kid hasn’t dreamed of having a robot all their own? Someone who can be their friend, clean their room, walk the dog, answer homework questions…how amazing is that?

But be careful what you wish for: Dan’s robot, Greeeg, may look innocent, but his ravenous consumption of food—comestibles—turns him into a butt-blasting bot. And once the other robots ‘come alive’ it’s up to the motley crew of EngiNerds to not only save the day, but save the planet!


HiLo Book 4: Waking the Monsters (HiLo #4) by Judd Winick
Publication: January 16, 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

DJ and Gina are TOTALLY ordinary kids. But Hilo isn’t! Has Hilo finally met his match? Not if D.J. and Gina can help it! ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! Mega Robot Monsters are suddenly waking up all over and they’re TOO BIG and TOO STRONG for Hilo to fight on his own! Luckily, he doesn’t have to! He has GINA and some brand new SUPER POWERS on his side! Being heroes can be super fun-but it can also be SUPER dangerous! And the closer Hilo and Gina get to saving their world from the monsters–the closer Hilo gets to the dark secret of his past. Does he really want to know? Do WE?!


Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez
Publication: January 16, 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

In her first middle-grade novel, award-winning picture book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez tells a heartwarming story based on her own experiences growing up Mexican-American.

Stella Diaz loves marine animals, especially her betta fish, Pancho. But Stella Diaz is not a betta fish. Betta fish like to be alone, while Stella loves spending time with her mom and brother and her best friend Jenny. Trouble is, Jenny is in another class this year, and Stella feels very lonely.

When a new boy arrives in Stella’s class, she really wants to be his friend, but sometimes Stella accidentally speaks Spanish instead of English and pronounces words wrong, which makes her turn roja. Plus, she has to speak in front of her whole class for a big presentation at school! But she better get over her fears soon, because Stella Díaz has something to say!

Stella Díaz Has Something to Say introduces an infectiously charming new character with relatable writing and adorable black-and-white art throughout. Simple Spanish vocabulary is also integrated within the text, providing a bilingual element.


The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
Expected publication: March 6, 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

How do you grow a miracle?
For the record, this is not the question Mr. Neely is looking for when he says everyone in class must answer an important question using the scientific method. But Natalie’s botanist mother is suffering from depression, so this is The Question that’s important to Natalie. When Mr. Neely suggests that she enter an egg drop competition, Natalie has hope.

Eggs are breakable. Hope is not.
Natalie has a secret plan for the prize money. She’s going to fly her mother to see the Cobalt Blue Orchids–flowers that survive against impossible odds. The magical flowers are sure to inspire her mother to love life again. Because when parents are breakable, it’s up to kids to save them, right?

An extraordinary story about the coming-of-age moment when kids realize that parents are people, too, and that talking about problems is like taking a plant out of a dark cupboard and giving it light. Think THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH meets THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH.


Monsters Beware! (Chronicles of Claudette #3) by Jorge Aguirre, illus. Rafael Rosado
Expected publication: March 13, 2018 by First Second
Book Description:

Claudette is back AGAIN, and she’s ready to kick major monster butt!

She’s fought giants, clobbered dragons, and now Claudette faces her biggest challenge yet… herself! Well, that and a gang of vile monsters. It all begins when Claudette’s town hosts the annual Warrior Games. After some sneaky maneuvering, Claudette manages to gets herself, Marie, and Gaston chosen as her town’s representatives. But none of Claudette’s past battles has prepared her for this. And to make matters worse, they must stop the vicious Sea Queen and her evil children from using the Warrior Games to free the dark Wizard Grombach and conquer the world!

In Monsters Beware!, the third and final book of the Claudette graphic novel series, Claudette is put to the ultimate test. With her honor on the line will she learn that there’s more to a fight than just winning?


Olga: We’re Out of Here! by Elise Gravel
Expected publication: March 13, 2018 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Animal lover and kid scientist Olga is back! Great for fans of the acclaimed graphic novels Real Friends and Invisible Emmie.

In this second installment of a series Franny K. Stein creator Jim Benton called “great, kooky, monstrous fun,” Olga wants to leave earth in search of Meh’s home planet, but first she’ll have to discover why Meh is acting so strange.

Olga: We’re Out of Here is jam-packed with facts and fun: Elise Gravel’s classic comic illustrations, hilarious word bubbles, space travel facts, and a diverse cast of memorable characters.


Unicorn of Many Hats (Heavenly Nostrils #7) by Dana Simpson
Expected publication: March 20, 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Book Description:

In this installment, Phoebe decides to start the school year off right by offering a peace treaty to frenemy Dakota, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils becomes the unlikeliest of babysitters, and Phoebe is totally surprised to find out that her Secret Santa isn’t Dakota or Max!

Review: Small Things by Mel Tregonning

Review: Small Things by Mel Tregonning
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: March 1, 2018 (as per publisher site; first published 2016 by Allen & Unwin)
Book Description:

A stunning graphic picture book about childhood anxiety from an extraordinarily talented illustrator. On the cusp of having everything slip from his grasp, a young boy has to find a way to rebuild his sense of self.

In this short, wordless graphic picture book, a young boy feels alone with his anxiety. He isn’t fitting in well at school. His grades are slipping. He’s even lashing out at those who love him.

Talented Australian artist Mel Tregonning created Small Things in the final year of her life. In her emotionally rich illustrations, the boy’s worries manifest as tiny beings that crowd around him constantly, overwhelming him and even gnawing away at his very self. The striking imagery is all the more powerful when, overcoming his isolation at last, the boy discovers that the tiny demons of worry surround everyone, even those who seem to have it all together.

This short but hard-hitting wordless graphic picture book gets to the heart of childhood anxiety and opens the way for dialogue about acceptance, vulnerability, and the universal experience of worry.

Small Things is one of those tremendous reads that is an experience…the same potent feelings reading and poring over the work of incredible artists/creators like Julie Morstad and Shaun Tan is what I experienced during my reading of Tregonning’s work. Mel Tregonning‘s Small Things, a wordless graphic picture book, is all at once superbly illustrated, unforgettable, extremely emotionally resonant, beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful all at once. Far too often I have had conversations with a parent or caregiver at the library who does not see merit in wordless books; an adult who tries to dissuade their child from reading a wordless picture book as ‘there are no words in it, why would you read it’. I find this crushing and a total disservice to the potent, consequential nature of wordless graphic books like Small Things.

In Small Things, readers follow the story of a young boy who we learn is dealing with snowballing stress and anxiety. He tries to fit in with a group at school that rejects him; he gets chosen last for teams in gym class; and his marks for exams are not at the A level we understand he wants them to be. We see anxiety building in the young boy, illustrated by otherworldly creatures (floating objects in abstract, graphic shapes and patterns) hovering around the young boy, swelling in size and numbers as his anxiety grows. As anxiety bleeds with anger and lashing out at his sister and those that are kind to him at school, cracks appear on the boy’s body…metaphorically and literally, the boy’s body is fracturing and falling apart. Tregonning does, however, allow for flashes of hope and the possibility of healing towards the end of the story as the young boy opens up to his family…the last few panels also offer an auspicious and weighty ending to the story when the boy goes to school the next day and sees that anxiety, stress and isolation is all around him, even with his compassionate friend.

Overall, I highly, highly recommend this title for readers young and old. The initial thoughts I had when I added Small Things to my must-read list (not knowing anything about the creator or her body of work) was how stunning it looked and how much it reminded me of Shaun Tan’s exceptional work. If you are interested in reading further, there is an article in The Guardian that discusses how Shaun Tan actually helped bring Small Things to completion and posthumous publication after the death of Tregonning. An exceptional, stand-out piece that opens the way for discourse on mental health, I hope Small Things is a title that gets shared, talked about and appreciated.

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

Picture Book Review: The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan & Tom Knight

9780374301231Review: The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan, illus. Tom Knight
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Farrar Straus & Giroux
Book Description:

From the creator of the Honest Toddler blog, The Big Bed is a humorous picture book about a girl who doesn’t want to sleep in her little bed, so she presents her dad with his own bed – a camping cot! – in order to move herself into her parents’ big bed in his place. A twist on the classic parental struggle of not letting kids sleep in their bed.

Bunmi Laditan and Tom Knight’s The Big Bed is a witty and funny story about a savvy young girl who attempts to- not so subtly!- move her dad out of the ‘big bed’ so she can sleep with her mom. As a mom with a three year old who would often like nothing more than to sleep in our ‘big bed’, I could absolutely relate and happily giggled my way through the picture book.

In The Big Bed, we meet our young protagonist who has a major issue she needs to discuss with her father: who gets to have Mommy during the night? The young girl presents her father with all the ways he’s great during the daytime, but nighttime is another matter. The little girl wants to sleep in her parents bed- well, in the big bed with her mommy- and cannot fathom why this might be a problem. Why, the girl wonders, can’t her grandma tuck her father in at night? Why does her father mind when she accidentally pees a little in bed? A little pee-pee never hurt anyone- and in fact, readers learn, pee-pee will keep scary bears away! Why can’t her daddy just- maybe, possibly- let her sleep in the big bed along with mom while he sleeps on….a cot? A COT! Yes, the perfect solution for EVERYONE, the girl thinks! We’ll even buy new nice sheets for the cot for daddy to enjoy! As her mom laughs hysterically at the idea and dad smiles (and probably marvels) his way through his daughter’s detailed presentations, readers get to go along for a very entertaining story.

Overall, what a fun read; cleverly written and perfectly matched with bright, wonderfully expressive and lively illustrations! Parents with young kids who are facing sleeping issues might especially relate and find great humour in Laditan and Knight’s story, but The Big Bed stands on its own as a genuinely witty picture book.

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