Children’s Reviews: Monster and Boy & Willa the Wisp

Hello everyone! I am back with more children’s book reviews, this time featuring some STELLAR illustrated chapter books! Thanks to the lovely folks at Raincoast Books, I will be looking at two books in the Monster and Boy series by Hannah Barnaby and Anoosha Syed to talk about; and thanks to friends at Penguin Random House Canada, I will be sharing my thoughts on Willa the Wisp, the first book in The Fabled Stables series from Jonathan Auxier and Olga Demidova. Happy reading to you all! And, wishing everyone a wonderful International Women’s Day 2021!

Are you ready for something special? Something cheeky and funny and all-around delightful? Let me dive into the series Monster and Boy written by Hannah Barnaby with illustrations by Anoosha Syed. An illustrated chapter book series with an omnipresent narrator as our guide, the first book in the series, Monster and Boy, introduces readers to the unforgettable pairing of a monster and a boy: a monster who lives under the bed of a boy who he grows to love very much. One night, after the boy’s mom reads a story about monsters and tells her son that monsters don’t exist, monster decides to prove to the boy that HE DOES. So, he makes himself appear to the boy and…well, accidentally swallows him. Not to harm him! Just in a moment of panic! He just didn’t want the boy to scream and he panicked! Readers are then treated to a series of tummy-set conversations and minor adventures around the boy’s home, involving a curious and confident younger sibling, a toilet mishap, and some revelations about monster’s lives and how their dreams work. In book two, Monster’s First Day of School, readers are taken along further adventures with the boy and monster as monster (through monster-logic magic) shrinks down to stuffed animal size and goes to school with the boy. Now, the idea of bringing a monster to school is already rife with comedy potential, and Barnaby storytelling here, with Syed’s adorably vibrant bichrome illustrations, is *chef’s kiss*. Perfect. Even better- more thoughtful, more unexpected, and funnier- than you could imagine. Incidents involving beautiful words, show and tell, a hedgehog, an intense monster-urge to hug animals, and discussions about being nocturnal versus crepuscular are all part of the story. A sincerely lovely series, unique in its cozy yet profound storytelling, in its voice and characters and storytelling, Hannah Barnaby and Anoosha Syed have brought readers something so wonderful here. Perfect for independent reading, or as a read aloud, the Monster and Boy books are definitely worth checking out!

Jonathan Auxier, the Governor General Award-winning author of Sweep, teams up with illustrator Olga Demidova (Bernard Pepperlin, written by Cara Hoffman) for the gloriously magical and exciting chapter book Willa the Wisp, the first book in The Fabled Stables series. From the opening lines, Willa the Wisp brings readers right into the world of a young boy named Auggie, who lives in the “heart of an island” “at the top of the world”, whose job is to look after creatures of all kinds in the Fabled Stables. With his extraordinary “Horn of Plenty” to take care of creatures, and the company of island resident Miss Bundt, and Fen, a magical, grumpy, yet ultimately loyal Stick-in-the-Mud, Auggie is busy and kept occupied. But he sometimes wonders about friends and friendships…and how even having “the best job in the world can get lonely without a friend”. The sudden appearance of a new stable door, followed by the thrilling rescue of a creature called a wisp from sinister hunters, as well as the promise of even richer storytelling to come, make Willa the Wisp wonderfully exciting reading. Combining the best of fairytale storytelling, standout characters and creatures, thrills, magic, and humour, featuring out of the ordinary storytelling from Auxier and singular, effervescent artwork from Demidova, Willa the Wisp is sublime and wonderfully peculiar- and meant to be enjoyed as a read aloud!

On Jonathan Auxier’s website, there is a post in which the author talks about how The Fabled Stables “is meant to be read aloud”; how he wanted to craft a series with “the more complex plotting and language of chapter books with the illustration-every-page excitement of picture books”- something for “readers of all ages”. When I read a book for review it is almost always a solitary endeavour. I will share as many picture books or children’s titles with my kids as I can, but almost always after the review is done. However, a few chapters into my quiet reading of Willa the Wisp, my daughter, who is six, wandered into our room, looked at the cover, and asked if I could please read it to her. So I did. I read the entire book to her in one sitting as she did want want any breaks; she laughed out loud, pored over the illustrations, and asked some creature questions and magic questions. In all, she loved it. And my experience of the story- something I was already enjoying tremendously- was elevated and made all the richer because I ended up sharing it and enjoying it as the author had intended. Book two in the series looks set to publish in May of 2021, so look forward to more adventures with Auggie, Miss Bundt, Fen and Willa!

I received a copy of Monster and Boy and Monster’s First Day of School courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. I received a copy of Willa the Wisp courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada, imprint Puffin Canada, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.

Author: michelle@fabbookreviews

Reference & Children's Librarian. Reader. Reviewer.

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