Must Read Monday (81): Supriya Kelkar, Natasha Farrant, Ashley Herring Blake & 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: middle grade titles! A mix of debuts, series entries, and new titles from read and loved authors. All of the following titles are ones that I have either read tremendous reviews for, happily discovered through social media or through browsing! This week’s list of can’t miss titles includes: Sunny, the third entry into to critically acclaimed Track series by Jason Reynolds; The Orphan Band of Springdale, a new historical fiction title from Anne Nesbet; Ashley Herring Blake’s contemporary middle grade novel Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World; the acclaimed historical fiction title Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar; Natasha Farrant’s boarding school story The Children of Castle Rock; and Tiffany Park’s mystery-centered debut, Midnight in the Piazza. Let’s take a closer look!

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
Publication: October 1, 2017 by Lee & Low/Tu Books
Book Description:

In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle.

But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”—non-violent resistance—to stand up to the British government. First the family must trade in their fine foreign-made clothes for homespun cotton, so Anjali has to give up her prettiest belongings. Then her mother decides to reach out to the Dalit community, the “untouchables” of society. Anjali is forced to get over her past prejudices as her family becomes increasingly involved in the movement. When Anjali’s mother is jailed, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring that her little part of the independence movement is completed.

 

The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant
Publication: March 1, 2018 by Faber Faber
Book Description:

Like many girls, Alice Mistlethwaite idolises her father, Byron. He is a hero: brave, kind and impossibly funny. It’s just a shame that he’s always in and out of prison… After a particularly naughty outing, Alice’s Aunt Patience decides to take action. Alice is to be sent to St Cuthbert’s School for Winners – where competition runs deep, and being ‘outdoorsy’ is not optional.

Much to her own surprise, Alice fits in far better than she ever has before, swiftly making friends and enjoying running wild in the Scottish countryside. But then Byron disappears – or rather his letters stop – and Alice becomes convinced something has happened to him. Aunt Patience is much less sure (and worse, seems to think he has something to do with a robbery that’s making the news), but Alice is undeterred. Armed with her new friends, and a handy opportunity to escape from school, she sets off on an epic quest to find her father, prove everyone wrong about him – and perhaps discover some home truths about herself and her family along the way.

 

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
Publication: March 6, 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

 

Midnight in the Piazza by Tiffany Parks
Publication: March 6, 2018 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Beatrice Archer may love history, and Rome may be chock-full of it, but that doesn’t mean she wants to move there!Too bad Beatrice’s father got a job as the head of the history department at the American Academy in Rome—now, Beatrice has no choice but to get used to the idea.

When she arrives in Rome she explores her new city as much as she can, but it isn’t until she hears talk of a strange neighborhood legend that Beatrice perks up. A centuries-old unsolved mystery about the beautiful turtle fountain outside her window? Sounds like fun! Before Beatrice has a chance to explore, though, she sees a dark figure emerge from the shadows of the square in the middle of the night—and steal the famous turtle sculptures that give the fountain its name.

When no one believes her story, Beatrice knows that it’s up to her to solve the crime and restore the turtles to their rightful place. With the help of her new friend Marco, she navigates a world of unscrupulous ambassadors, tricky tutors, and international art thieves to unravel one of Roman history’s greatest dramas—before another priceless work of art is stolen.

 

The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet
Publication: April 10, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

With the United States on the verge of World War II, eleven-year-old Gusta is sent from New York City to Maine, where she discovers small-town prejudices — and a huge family secret.

It’s 1941, and tensions are rising in the United States as the Second World War rages in Europe. Eleven-year-old Gusta’s life, like the world around her, is about to change. Her father, a foreign-born labor organizer, has had to flee the country, and Gusta has been sent to live in an orphanage run by her grandmother. Nearsighted, snaggletoothed Gusta arrives in Springdale, Maine, lugging her one precious possession: a beloved old French horn, her sole memento of her father. But in a family that’s long on troubles and short on money, how can a girl hang on to something so valuable and yet so useless when Gusta’s mill-worker uncle needs surgery to fix his mangled hand, with no union to help him pay? Inspired by her mother’s fanciful stories, Gusta secretly hopes to find the coin-like “Wish” that her sea-captain grandfather supposedly left hidden somewhere. Meanwhile, even as Gusta gets to know the rambunctious orphans at the home, she feels like an outsider at her new school — and finds herself facing patriotism turned to prejudice, alien registration drives, and a family secret likely to turn the small town upside down.

 

Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds
Publication: April 10th 2018 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Book Description:

Sunny is just that—sunny. Always ready with a goofy smile and something nice to say, Sunny is the chillest dude on the Defenders team. But Sunny’s life hasn’t always been sun beamy-bright. You see, Sunny is a murderer. Or at least he thinks of himself that way. His mother died giving birth to him, and based on how Sunny’s dad treats him—ignoring him, making Sunny call him Darryl, never “Dad”—it’s no wonder Sunny thinks he’s to blame. It seems the only thing Sunny can do right in his dad’s eyes is win first place ribbons running the mile, just like his mom did. But Sunny doesn’t like running, never has. So he stops. Right in the middle of a race.

With his relationship with his dad now worse than ever, the last thing Sunny wants to do is leave the other newbies—his only friends—behind. But you can’t be on a track team and not run. So Coach asks Sunny what he wants to do. Sunny’s answer? Dance. Yes, dance. But you also can’t be on a track team and dance. Then, in a stroke of genius only Jason Reynolds can conceive, Sunny discovers a track event that encompasses the hard hits of hip-hop, the precision of ballet, and the showmanship of dance as a whole: the discus throw. As Sunny practices the discus, learning when to let go at just the right time, he’ll let go of everything that’s been eating him up inside, perhaps just in time.

 

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Recently Read: Great Picture Books (14)!

A look at some wonderful picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading lately! All are titles I have read and would recommend (and I have noticed that three titles appeared on a recent Must Read Monday!!):

 
 

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara
The illustrations in this one are truly splendid; Hortense and the Shadow really should be pored over in person, the illustrations are that beautiful and intricate! A fairy tale of a story, with a long ago feel, about a young girl who, after ridding herself of her shadow, finds that her shadow’s constant companionship might not actually be such a bad thing.

 
Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake
This one had me cackling, folks! So simple, so perfectly executed and so perfectly illustrated…This is a story about a child who gets utterly stuck in their shirt and wonders (and worries) about what’s going to happen if they stay forever stuck in said shirt. This a gem with a solid (and also very funny) curve at the end!

 
Buster and the Baby by Amy Hester, illus. Polly Dunbar
‘He waits. And watches. And waits some more. THUMP, goes his heart. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP! Then…CHAAA!’
I do enjoy a picture with good repetition and solid read aloud potential, and Buster and the Baby fits the bill on both those points. An absolutely adorably illustrated tale about a playful doggy and an excited baby that play a bustling game of chase until nighttime comes. A sweet turn comes at the end, bringing everything nicely together.

 
The Forever Garden by Laurel Snyder, illus. Samantha Cotterill
Laurel Snyder (Penny Dreadful, Swan) teams up with artist Samantha Cotterill (Charlotte and the Rock) for a heartfelt and genuine story about the breadth of knowledge a woman named Honey passes along to her keen young neighbor. As the young girl, Laurel, copes with the sudden news of Honey’s moving, we see the beautiful effects of their relationship live out in various ways. An Author’s Note from Snyder indicates that The Forever Garden is loosely based on a Talmudic story of passing “from generation to generation”, of planting multiple kinds of seeds.

 
Florette by Anna Walker
Author and illustrator of the beautiful and clever picture book Peggy, Walker returns with another lovely story, so lush and richly illustrated. Perhaps a storyline done before, but worth it for Walker’s take and presentation: Florette is the tale of a young girl named Mae who moves with her family to a grey city and goes on a quest to find some flora to brighten her surroundings.

 
Sleep Tight, Charlie by Michaël Escoffier, illus. Kris Di Giacomo
The duo behind the very funny Brief Thief and Me First! is back with a tale of going to sleep gone awry. Charlie is a very tired rabbit who just wants a good sleep; unfortunately, noisy and annoying interruptions keep happening! There is great wordplay in this one, so lest you think the repetitions of Charlie’s bedtime rituals are unnecessary- they are definitely not! Readers who enjoyed Greg Pizzoli’s Good Night Owl might especially like this one.

 
Rot, the Cutest in the World! by Ben Clanton
I think we might need more picture books about potatoes, right?! Rot, our spudly protagonist, loves contests, so he enters the “Cutest Contest in the World” to the befuddlement of some rather snooty (and more traditionally “cute”) contestants. Poor Rot starts to feel more than a little down as he sees his “cute” competition but do not fear! The entire story is a treat, as is how the contest and results unfold.
 

Review: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Review: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 6, 3018 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister, Cilla, away to stay with a distant great-aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. Forbidden from speaking to Cilla, Evie secretly sends her letters.

Evie writes about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend.

Evie could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn’t writing back, and it’s time for Evie to take matters into her own hands.

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy is a heartfelt middle grade novel dealing with faith, identity, and finding your way in difficult times.

Jen Petro-Roy‘s middle grade title P.S. I Miss You is a stunner of a debut. It is a read that immediately takes you in to the world of an unforgettable, uniquely voiced young narrator and beautifully- achingly- proceeds to put you through a storm of emotions.

P.S. I Miss You is narrated by twelve-year old Evie and told entirely through letters that Evie is writing to her older sister Cilla. Evie begins writing letters shortly after her sixteen-year old pregnant sister leaves the family to stay out the rest of her pregnancy with an isolated great-aunt. Readers soon learn more from Evie about her life and upbringing, which seems to have been most influenced by her parents’ substantial involvement in their Catholic church and in their mostly Catholic community. Readers also learn that Evie’s parents’ reactions to their eldest daughter’s unplanned pregnancy not only culminated in Cilla’s decision to leave home, but also altered plans for what would happen to the baby, and what Cilla’s plans would be after giving birth.

While this mountainous emotional turmoil is happening, Evie- who is increasingly frustrated with her closed-off, unyielding parents and not hearing from Cilla- begins a new school year. Evie gets to know June, a girl new to their town and to her grade seven class, and is soon exposed to some entirely surprising (at least for their community) ways of thinking about and approaching religion. Evie continues to dig and scrutinize her religion, her parents’ own hypocrisies, prejudices, perceptions about guilt, sin, and heteronormative biases when things come to a head. As Evie continues to write to Cilla, pleading for some guidance about her identity and growing, intense feelings for June, Evie decides that she can’t bear it anymore- she needs to see her older sister. For fear of spoiling too much, I won’t say more- just know that Petro-Roy navigates searing turns, sorrow and grief, and the resulting aftermath in the most skillful and beautiful of fashions.

Overall, an excellently written, emotional and riveting middle grade title and one I highly recommend. Children’s author Erin Dionne, in a blurb for P.S. I Miss You , writes that Petro-Roy “has created a character [in Evie] with the potential to be as iconic as Judy Blume’s Margaret” [from Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret], and what an apt sentiment. Evie is that standout, lionhearted kind of protagonist, whose heartfelt story and deeply personal narration will stay with you for a long time after finishing the novel. Readers who enjoy epistolary novels, or the work of authors such as Susin Nielsen, Kat Yeh, Firoozeh Dumas, Lisa Graff, Barbara Dee or Rebecca Stead, might especially appreciate P.S. I Miss You.

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

Picture Book Reviews: Forever or a Day & The Boy and the Blue Moon

Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 27, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

What does time mean to you? Sometimes it feels like it could last Forever or a Day .

The seconds that count in catching the bus;
The idyllic hours that slip by so quickly during a perfect day on the lake;
The summer days that disappear into blissful happiness . . .

Sarah Jacoby’s debut picture book as an author and illustrator is as elegant as a poem and as perfectly paced as a mystery. This beautiful picture books follows an unassuming narrator through a meditation on time through the course of a single day. Inviting comparisons to Virginia Lee Burton and Margaret Wise Brown, this book’s musings on time are at once simple, peaceful, and profound-the work of a truly genius picture book maker.

“The more you try to hold it…the better it hides.”

This is an enchanting picture book, readers! The debut picture book from award-winning artist Sarah Jacoby, Forever or a Day is a wonderfully illustrated and told story about meditations and thoughts about time. A big subject to be sure, but Jacoby writes- much like Sara O’Leary, see below- in a lyrical, hushed sort of fashion that creates this simultaneously poetic and lucid air for the reader/audience. Jacoby takes us through various contemplations about time- how we might perceive it, absorb it, experience it, appreciate it and more. The text is refined, sophisticated and ultimately perfect for a read aloud for a great span of ages (think preschool, kindergarten and elementary grades). Moreover, Jacoby’s artwork is gorgeous and varied. Varied in the sense that for every musing about time the narrator goes through over the course of their day, there is an illustration to reflect it. For example, with the thought ‘Some people pay a lot of attention to it’, we’re taken into a terminal where we see people dressed in charcoal, muted shades standing in lines, watching the information display, or racing around. For the thought ‘It is a drumbeat, ba dum, ba dum, ba dum.’, we’re taken inside a train compartment with the narrator, watching multiple occupants all doing different things as the scenery tick ticks by. Forever or a Day offers much to imagine and think about, and ends rather fittingly with a warmhearted, genuine sentiment. Overall, a terrifically written debut with standout illustrations. A slight side note here- if you have a chance, do take a look through Jacoby’s amazing, out-of-the-ordinary art! I hope we get to read and see much more from this artist in future projects.

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The Boy and the Blue Moon by Sara O’Leary, illus. Ashley Crowley
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Henry Holt and Co.
Book Description:

On the night of a blue moon, a boy and his cat set out for a walk and find themselves on a magical adventure. Together they travel through fields of flowers, forests of towering trees, and lakes of deep dark blue. Flying through starry blue skies, they reach the blue moon. But the blue planet, Earth, calls the explorers home. Safely back in bed, the boy wonders-was it only a dream?

“The cat and his boy walked through the bluebells toward the forest. A hundred thousand tiny bells were ringing out a song that no one had ever heard before.”

Picture book enthusiasts might recognize Sara O’Leary‘s name immediately- she is the Canadian author behind the brilliant children’s titles This Is Sadie, When I Was Small (illustrated by Julie Morstad), and A Family Is a Family Is a Family (illustrated by Qin Leng). O’Leary has teamed up with English artist Ashley Crowley for a lovely, lulling story about a young boy’s (and his cat’s!) nighttime adventures during a rare blue moon. As ever, O’Leary’s writing is so beautiful: softly, gorgeously poetic and something to be savoured by both children and adults. Readers who have dreamed or wondered about the moon might enjoy following along the journey the boy and his cat take as they somehow find themselves on an incredible yet desolate new place far, far away from the coziness of home. O’Leary has often teamed up with artist (and fellow Canadian) Julie Morstad for her picture books, so having another illustrator collaborate with O’Leary is interesting to experience. Crowley’s illustrations match the tone and subject matter of the story well- the cat, boy and earth-set scenes are so saturated and rich- though I do wonder if an audience might find the colour palette itself a tad unvarying or the space-set scenes towards the end lacking some kind of necessary warmth to fully gel with O’Leary’s writing. Overall, I do recommend taking a read of this title; it is indeed a beautiful story, and one likely to be much appreciated at bedtime!

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I received copies of Forever or a Day and The Boy and the Blue Moon courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

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 the book is 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.

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.