Two unusual and enjoyable children’s books on the review docket today! Courtesy of friends at Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press , I will be talking about Son of Happy by Cary Fagan and Milan Pavlović, and the picture book Holiday! by Natalie Nelson. Happy reading, everyone!
Over the course of 2020, I have been reading and re-reading a fair share of Cary Fagan’s fantastic children’s books, so I was delighted to take a look at this recent collaborative effort! Fagan, a prolific and award-winning Canadian writer, teams up once more with Milan Pavlović, a well-regarded Canadian artist and educator, to bring readers the first fiction/early chapter book title Son of Happy. A thoughtful, introspective read at under fifty pages, Son of Happy explores a child’s changing feeling about his father’s unconventional job as a clown named Happy. At the opening of the story, our young protagonist tries to avoid attending birthday parties; at his mom’s insistence, the boy attends, and sees Happy the Clown- his dad- at each celebration. Wondering about other friends’ dads with ‘regular’ jobs- the kinds of jobs “that kids don’t understand”- the young boy questions his father’s choice of work. Questions whether he even likes clowns. However, when his dad has to revert back to a prior career for serious reasons, the young boy begins to reevaluate and reconsider how he viewed his father’s job as Happy. With a just-right ending, Son of Happy packs a lot of depth in its short page span. Fagan’s writing reads as effortless, as bittersweet as ever, with this uncanny ability to somehow perfectly capture mutable family dynamics. Pavlović’s expressive mixed-media illustrations, with their unexpected colour choices, are somehow grounded yet still offer an almost pop/surrealist feel to the story. Overall, Son of Happy is a lovely and insightful, altogether distinctively told children’s story, featuring a wonderful pairing of author and illustrator.
The author-illustrator debut of Natalie Nelson (A Storytelling of Ravens, written by Kyle Lukoff), Holiday! takes readers on an lively and offbeat journey with anthropomorphic days of the week. When we think HOLIDAY!, most reactions are arguably favourable…but that happy reaction is not necessarily the case for days of the week. You see, when Holiday suddenly arrives very early one morning and surprises Monday with a day off, Monday is taken aback. Monday is not prepared! Monday is not ready to be replaced so quickly, even if it is just for a day! As Holiday is gently but firmly told that their services aren’t needed, the other days soon get involved. Soon a kind of verbal battle breaks out: between Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, who really don’t want Holiday to stick around, versus Saturday and Sunday, who truly appreciate a fellow fan of rest and naps. With Tuesday mostly neutral and Wednesday changing their mind as soon as a fun protest breaks out, how will a decision or agreement reach the days? A very cool and uncommon take on a group at odds coming to a resolution, Natalie Nelson’s Holiday! makes for quietly kooky and witty reading. With a slightly longer narrative and a significant amount of text in speech bubbles, Holiday! is probably better for an older audience of children’s (and up) readers/listeners; but for those those appreciate an off-kilter, highly conversational and funny tale, Holiday! is a super pick. (And one, may I add, that I appreciate even more for its craftiness with each reading!).
I received copies of these titles courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.