Picture Book Reviews: Gemma and the Giant Girl & Merry Christmas, Anne

Today, thanks to lovely friends at Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada, I have the pleasure of talking about two splendid picture books: Gemma and the Giant Girl by the Canadian duo of author Sara O’Leary and illustrator Marie Lafrance; and Merry Christmas, Anne (Inspired by Anne of Green Gables) by another Canadian team of author Kallie George and illustrator Geneviève Godbout. Happy reading!

“Gemma lived in a very nice little house and had a very nice little life. She had always slept in the same room, had always played with the same toys and had always worn the same clothes. Things had been the same forever and ever.” A captivating picture book by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Marie Lafrance, Gemma and the Giant Girl marvellously explores perception and the sheer magic and vastness of worlds outside of our own. For the story’s protagonist Gemma, just about everything in her life is the same: everything, from the toys she plays with, to her neat-as-a-pin surroundings, are always and have always been exactly the same. Even when she asks her beautifully attired Momma and Poppa if she will ”grow up one day”, they tell her: ”You will always be our little girl”. They do tell Gemma of a time before– with giants! And that outside their own small house there actually exists an even larger house! When Gemma looks out of her bedroom window, though, she cannot see anything– making it all the more difficult to fathom a world outside of her own, not to mention one with giants! However, one extraordinary day, readers see a bright eye- taking up the entire space of Gemma’s window- peering into Gemma’s bedroom! In a sudden tornado of flying, dropping, and sliding furniture, lamps, tea sets, and fruit, and Gemma are tossed about, upside down, and around. And when things come to a calm, a newly disheveled Gemma wants nothing more than to investigate the possibility of giants and a world outside of her own. I don’t wish to give away too many spoilers here as Gemma and the Giant Girl is a tale full of magic, wisdom, and gorgeousness waiting to be explored. I have had the opportunity (and delight!) of reviewing many of Sara O’Leary’s picture books (A Kid is a Kid is a Kid with Qin Leng and Percy’s Museum with Carmen Mok, among others), and what always strikes me is how perfectly childhood (or childlike) wonder and rumination are captured and expressed by the author’s storytelling- along with generous, welcome dollops of the fantastical. Gemma and the Giant Girl holds all of those elements, with Marie Lafrance’s strikingly beautiful contemporary yet of-another-time pencil and digital illustrations the perfect match. Wonderful, unusual, with a fantastically, richly told and presented story, Gemma and the Giant Girl is a noteworthy, memorable read. Readers who enjoy picture books by authors and/or illustrators like Giselle Potter, Cindy Derby, Grace Lin, or Deborah Marcero, might especially savour this read.

“My first dress with real puffed sleeves!/Dear, shy Matthew, how did you manage?/And dear, sensible Marilla, how did you agree?/It is utterly exquisite./I will wear it tonight for the concert./I only hope I make both of you proud.” Anne (with an e!) celebrates her very first Christmas in Avonlea in Kallie George and Geneviève Godbout’s gorgeously warm and heartfelt Merry Christmas, Anne (Inspired by Anne of Green Gables). The second picture book in George and Godbout’s Anne of Green Gables-inspired series, Merry Christmas, Anne, follows Anne’s narrative as she lets readers back into her life with Marilla and Matthew in Avonlea. With “bosom friend” Diana by her side, and Matthew’s surprise of a magical dress- complete with puffed sleeves!- Anne feels just about ready to recite “poems at the Christmas concert”. Anne feels a bit of a nervousness about the concert- but a “nice kind of a tremble, the kind that gives you a thrill”. While preparing for the concert, Anne shows readers all the glorious parts of the winter and Christmas season in Avonlea and in her home: Marilla’s gooose, Mrs. Lynde’s pudding, “divine” ornaments and decorations; the fields outside that are ”full of snowy dimples”, and trees ”that gleam like pearls”. With all the excitement of gifts, dresses, sparkles, and a feast, will Anne be able to make it through the concert a success? And what will Marilla and Matthew make of it all? To borrow from beloved Anne, in her quote above, Merry Christmas, Anne, is exquisite. George wonderfully captures Anne’s clear yet whimsically musing voice, while Godbout’s pastel and pencil crayon illustrations are simply sublime- the combination of the two collaborators adding fresh, comforting warmth to a dearly loved series. Readers of all ages who are new to Anne of Green Gables; who have already loved it for years; or who wish to introduce Anne with an e, Diana Barry, and Gilbert Blythe to a new generation of readers- look no further than this series! Readers who have already read and loved the collaborators’ lovely Goodnight, Anne will likely adore this holiday entry.

I received copies of these titles courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for honest reviews. 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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