Hello everyone! I hope everyone is staying as safe and cool as possible during this heatwave hitting much of North America. On the review docket today, I will be taking a look at four- yes, four!- new and fantastic picture books. Thanks to a number of kind publishing folks, I have the following books to share my thoughts on: from Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, I will be taking a look at Percy’s Museum by Sara O’Leary and Carmen Mok; from Raincoast Books, I will be taking a look at Shawn Harris’s Have You Ever Seen A Flower?; from Penguin Random House Canada/imprint Templar, I will be talking about My Nana’s Garden by Dawn Casey and Jessica Courtney-Tickle; and last but not least, from Owlkids Books, I will be talking about Frogness by Sarah Nelson and Eugenie Fernandes. Happy reading to you all!
Written by Sara O’Leary (This Is Sadie, illustrated by Julie Morstad) and illustrated by Carmen Mok (A Stopwatch from Grampa, written by Loretta Garbutt), Percy’s Museum is a thoughtful, quietly profound picture book. A young child named Percy has moved into a new house, leaving his home in the city behind where “there was always something to do, and always someone to do it with”. Percy does not think much of his new house until he spots a “Percy-sized house” nestled in their new backyard. Finding much to explore in the backyard and in the outdoor world around him, Percy climbs, crouches, collects, and contemplates. In his explorations, Percy experiences moments of profundity and perception, including the realizations that being alone doesn’t mean that one is lonely, that wild can be “small and sweet”, that the dark “can seem empty but really is very full”, and that new “friends can sometimes find you”. Percy’s Museum is almost a kind of deceptive read: a seemingly fast swoosh of a read that talks to subjects explored in numerous picture books (…of moving, of the wonders of nature and outdoors, of making new friends, etc.). However, much like Percy taking the time to explore things close to the ground, up high in branches, and finding surprises along the way, Percy’s Museum also proffers many surprising treasures within. The lyrical, wonderfully thoughtful storytelling of Sara O’Leary in tandem with the delicate, inviting illustrations of Carmen Mok make Percy’s Museum a quiet gem of a reading experience.
You may think you have seen bright and colourful in picture books, but once you read Shawn Harris’s Have You Ever Seen A Flower? your perspective might be forever altered. One of the most deeply, gorgeously, intensely vivid picture books I have ever seen and read, Harris’s latest is a bold, effervescent ride. Have You Ever Seen a Flower? opens on a gray cityscape, with just a tiny burst of colour courtesy of our protagonist. As our protagonist and their dog are driven away from the gray city, readers soon find themselves surrounded by peaks, mountains and fields of colour- of life- of flowers so bright and achingly beautiful. AS readers are asked: “have you ever seen a flower using nothing but your nose” or really explored a flower “way down in the clover with your face down in a flower”, Harris takes us on a visually stunning adventure of the surreal and real, exploring the possibilities that might await us inside of a flower, or the experiences we might face when we really, truly try to become and feel just what a flower might feel when we get watered and bloom. Incredibly vibrant and eye-opening pencil and coloured pencil illustrations, pared with conversational text and contemplative questions for readers, Shawn Harris’s picture book is a true delight. And it may just inspire readers of the book to “breathe deep”, listen, feel, wonder, and test their senses and imagination in the natural world around them. Readers who enjoy picture book authors and illustrators such as Cindy Derby, Raissa Figueroa, Sarah Jacoby, or Brendan Wenzel might be especially captivated by the lush experience of Have You Ever Seen A Flower?.
My Nana’s Garden, written by Dawn Casey and illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, is a beautiful story that features an intergenerational relationship at its core. As a young girl meets with her nana and explores her grandmother’s busy garden, she finds that things are not necessarily what they seem. While assuming that a crooked tree or what looks like a mess of weeds are simply signifiers of an unkempt garden, the little girl’s nana teachers her about the importance of having wildflowers to attract bees, and that trees with nooks and crannies make for perfect houses for animals who need shelter. The young girl’s perspective of her Nana’s garden soon changes, and as she visits and helps her nana through the seasons, readers see the girl take on more responsibilities and she and her nana both grow older. Then, in the turn of one snowy winter, overwhelming sadness strikes as readers see the girl and her mother, and the garden “empty and bare”. Sensitively written, speaking to the cycle of life, and coping with the loss of a loved one, My Nana’s Garden is a poignant read; the pairing of Dawn Casey’s gentle, poetic text with Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s glowing, warm illustrations make for beautiful reading. Readers who have read and loved Julie Flett’s Birdsong, Pete Oswald’s Hike, or The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey might particularly appreciate the tender-hearted, poetic nature of My Nana’s Garden.
Frogness, written by Sarah Nelson and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, is a wonderfully happy, bright and noisy read. A child named Sammy and Chocolate the dog are waiting: “behind the house, in the muddy marsh, it starts. Yeep, yeep, yeep!”. But what is it? What are the friends waiting for? “Tiptoeing, barefoot, as the chorus grows”, Sammy and Chocolate are on their way to “catch one”…aha! Frogs! Sammy lets readers know, through her first-person narrative, that she “can hear them everywhere- millions, probably- croaking and chirping and clucking and burping…My heads is full of frogs”. As readers read and watch on, Sammy and Chocolate wriggle and crawl and sneak their way around to find a frog or a million or more of them. When it seems as though the friends might not be successful in their search, they decide to “flop down in the grass…[and] fade off into frognesss”, just appreciating the alliterative cacophony of frog noises. But wait! Could it be? Could the friends finally be coming face to face with a frog? Or…many, many, many frogs? Well, readers will just have to explore Frogness for more excitement, splashes, and busy noises! Full of happy adventure and discovery, with lively storytelling from Sarah Nelson and deeply charming (and adorably frog-filled!) illustrations from Eugenie Fernandes, Frogness is a real delight to explore. Readers who love their picture books and read alouds filled with onomatopoeic fun, joyful sounds and opportunities to make noise, then Frogness is a perfect pick. Note: Ne sure to check out the back matter which includes a section called “A Chorus of Frogs”- all about the vocal noises of frogs!
I received copies of these titles courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, Raincoast Books, Penguin Random House Canada, and Owlkids Books, in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.