Picture Book Review: This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

Review: This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 4, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Follow the real lives of seven kids from Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia for a single day! In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days—and this one world we all share—unites them. This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences. Inspired by his own travels, Matt Lamothe transports readers across the globe and back with this luminous and thoughtful picture book.

 

An utterly engaging entry into the informational picture books genre, Matt Lamothe’s This Is How We Do It is a wonderful and illuminating look inside the daily routines of seven children (and their respective families) from countries around the world. From Uganda to Italy, Peru to Russia, This Is How We Do It is educational and all-around fascinating. Lamothe leads readers through his illustrative representations of components of daily life such as “This is who I live with” to “This is how I go to school” and “This is how I spell my name” and beyond. For every one of these components (and there are many!), Lamothe draws each of the seven featured children and their respective experiences. How the authors has encapsulated the representation of each child’s experience is quite marvelous. Readers might find themselves in moments of major surprise as they learn about how vast, or, in fact, how minor our different practices and habits actually are!

Picture books speaking to dissimilarities/commonalities of children around the world are not necessarily a new concept but Lamothe’s entry here is one I would absolutely recommend due its reflective, open nature and attention to detail. It is worth noting here as well that Lamothe acknowledges that these seven children cannot of course be “representative of their country or culture” (or of how family structures have changed)- but the author hopes that there can be learning, insight and surprise to be gained from reading his book. I receive increasing numbers of questions on the children’s reference desk on broader subjects such as empathy, compassion, cultural sensitivity and awareness: This Is How We Do It is one terrific, current, and insightful children’s book to have on hand to recommend. A special bonus: readers get to see some pictures of the children and families featured in the book in a ‘Meet the Families’ spread in the back pages of the book.

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

Review: The Dead Inside: A True Story by Cyndy Etler

Review: The Dead Inside: A True Story by Cyndy Etler
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books
Publication: April 4, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Book Description:

For readers of Girl Interrupted and Tweak, Cyndy Etler’s gripping memoir gives readers a glimpse into the harrowing reality of her sixteen months in the notorious tough love program the ACLU called “a concentration camp for throwaway kids.”

I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi’s jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight. From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was… well, it was something else.

All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a “drug rehabilitation” facility that changed her world. To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.”

As I read the harrowing true story of Cyndy Etler‘s time in the Straight Inc. program, I felt as I had when I read Garrard Conley’s brilliant memoir Boy Erased: floored, aghast, enraged. A memoir of Cyndy Etler’s time in the “rehabilitation” centre for “wayward” and “druggy” youths, The Dead Inside is an incredibly detailed, eye-opening, disturbing read that brings to light a very troubling so-called recovery program that existed only decades ago in North America (…and one that perhaps not many know about).

The Dead Inside is an emotional, bleak read- and a very important one at that. Not only is the memoir insightful about one particular kind of ‘treatment’ program that was tested on youth, but it is also read that stirs thoughts regarding opportunity (and limits to) for forgotten or hidden youth; parental abuse; as well the dangers inherent in labeling teens as ‘bad’ kids. Many intense subjects are openly approached in this title: sexual abuse, verbal abuse, psychological and physical trauma for a start. Etler does not broach any subject matter in a benevolent, timid fashion- and The Dead Inside makes all the more impact for it. Etler’s memoir is one read that I feel needs to be experienced for the full impact; I fear that I cannot do justice to aptly describing or condensing the dark and compelling nature of this memoir.

A little side story here before wrapping up my thoughts: while in the middle of this read, I actually stopped to tweet about my reading experience (so many thoughts and emotions were running through my head) and Cyndy Etler herself (unexpectedly and so sweetly!) responded back…which is all kinds of incredible. Any readers who appreciate darker, no holds-barred memoirs, or the writing of authors such as Ellen Hopkins or Patricia McCormick might especially take to this read. Interested readers: take note that a follow-up to The Dead Inside called We Can’t Be Friends, detailing Cyndy’s recovery and life after leaving Straight Inc. is due out in the fall of 2017.

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Books I’ve Read…

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. I have not been doing a great job with keeping up and participating, but I have been inspired this week’s topic: the most unique books we’ve read!

With the caveat that I have probably/most likely missed a number of unique titles here, I’ve picked ten titles- mostly all children’s titles- that, to me, stand out. Are unusual. Out of the ordinary. Seriously unexpected and seriously unforgettable. Perhaps even peculiar. In no particular order, here are my picks:

 

 

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
A picture book written all in imagined bug language (yes, indeed!), with gorgeous artwork…

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, illus. Júlia Sardà
Kyo Maclear is up there as one of my favourite wordsmiths/storytellers. The Liszts is a newer title: a story about a list-making family that is beyond one’s expectations and imaginings. Sardà’s illustrations are…extraordinary…

Lost & Found by Shaun Tan
I am rather obsessed with Tan’s work. This was one of my first introductions to his work, and I haven’t stopped reading and poring over his incredible work since…

Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
The combination of Orchard’s unusual and beautiful style of artwork with the darker fairy-tale feel- a stand-out graphic novel…

The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz
Ah, The Sleepwalkers! I read this graphic novel after falling in love with Schwarz’s picture books. A genuinely unusual, offbeat but lovely and hypnotic story about a team of heroes who rescue children from nightmares…

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston
A feat in storytelling, visuals and typography, this picture books is also a love letter to the power of books and words…

Press Here by Hervé Tullet
One of the first interactive perfect-for-storytime picture books I remember reading and arguably still one of the best…I would argue this was a game-changer and paved the way for more delightful interactive picture books to follow…I can’t imagine storytime with interactive books…

Art & Max by David Wiesner
David Wiesner, as with many authors and artists on this list, is a favourite. While most anything and everything by Wiesner is breathtaking and innovative, I must confess to a particular soft spot for Art & Max: a picture book about art, art styles, and two friends who test and bend art between the pages of this book that cemented Wiesner’s place on my roster of favourites.

Shadow by Suzy Lee
One of the first wordless picture books where I had a serious ‘aha’ moment about the beauty and signficance of the genre…Also: why isn’t everyone just as bananas about her work as I am?!?

Milk Teeth by Julie Morstad
This is a small book/collection of Morstad’s artwork. Surreal, dreamy, so strange and so beautiful…As with Shaun Tan’s work, I could forever be breathing in Morstad’s exquisite work…

Bonus mentions:

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, illus. Isabelle Arsenault

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

What titles are on your top ten this week?

Top Ten Tuesday: Recently Added to My To-Be-Read Shelf

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. I have not been doing a great job (at all!) keeping up and participating, but I have been inspired this week! Now, this week is actually a freebie week, so I thought I’d focus on titles recently added to my to-be-read shelf!

A blend of picture books, mystery and fiction…In no particular order, here they are:

1. Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin– a wordless picture book that I have been reading wonderful reviews about. Graegin’s illustrative work is lovely!

2. The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken– described as Zoom meets Beautiful Oops!, I’m looking forward to seeing this gorgeous-looking picture book in person.

3. I Don’t Draw, I Color! by Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. Felicita Sala– regular readers of my picture book posts might know I just adore Lehrhaupt’s work! As soon as I saw this latest one come up on Goodreads, it went right to my must-read.

4. I Hate Everyone, Except You by Clinton Kelly. Any other folks here who watched TLC’s What Not to Wear? I’ve read and really enjoyed Kelly’s previously published fashion/entertainment books (love his humour and snark). I Hate Everyone, Except You is a little bit different- this one is actually a memoir- a collection of personal essays- and it sounds fantastic.

5. Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide, with illustrations by Sergio Ruzzier– a new edition of Parry Heide’s classic. I feel as though I have read this, many years ago, but I just cannot recall! In any event, I’m looking forward to rediscovering (or discovering!) this book, and can’t wait to see Ruzzier’s illustrations!

The next four are titles I added to my TBR immediately after reading terrific reviews for in Publisher’s Weekly:

6. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot– a fascinatingly described non-fiction title

7. Find Me by J.S. Monroe– a right-up-my-alley kind of thriller…

8. The Girl from Rawblood by Catriona Ward– a gothic horror/mystery!

9. Say Nothing by Brad Parks– another taut thriller that sounds just like something I’d be interested in!

10. Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett– an unmissable cover, intriguing description and narrator? Yes, please!

What’s on your Top Ten Tuesday this week?

Blog Tour Stop: The Playbook by Kwame Alexander!

Welcome to one of the stops on the Raincoast Books blog tour for Kwame Alexander‘s latest, The Playbook!

Read on for my thoughts on the book as well as a special excerpt from the book!

the-playbook-coverThe Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander, photos by Thai Neave
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 14, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life . Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?

Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

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Author, poet, and educator Kwame Alexander is a Newbery Medal winning recipient- for The Crossover– and highly regarded author with such titles as the stellar Booked and picture book Surf’s Up to his name. With The Playbook, Alexander approaches the non-fiction children’s/teen genre with his genuinely inspiring and impassioned voice.

Starting with a section called ‘Warm up’, and moving on through four quarters and into ‘Overtime’, The Playbook is divided up into manageable chapters with accompanying and relevant rules, quotes (from accomplished professionals in and out of sports) and personal stories, poems and/or notes from Alexander himself. I think it can be tricky navigating and creating a non-fiction title for children and teens that aims for inspiring; the audience/readers are a tough and discerning crowd who can easily suss out insincerity or try-hard. In Alexander’s hands though, The Playbook only ever reads as genuine: from an author who himself comes from an authentic place of meaning what he says, who has lived through what they are talking about and sharing, and who practices what they advocate.

I personally found The Playbook to be candid and encouraging as well as grounded; a book of terrific application for a huge children’s and teen audience. The use of quotations from highly respected athletes as well as leaders (in literature and beyond) are wonderfully effective and meaningful here; readers who might not be into sports and worried about connecting with ‘sports’ content need not worry as everything in The Playbook is all analogous to life. One component of The Playbook I especially adore (as I am a huge fan of Alexander’s work) is the sections which include Alexander’s personal stories- talking about his own struggles in sports, trying to measure up to his incredibly athletic and celebrated father, and how he made it through wins and losses and major struggles.

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Overall, The Playbook is a great non-fiction title that makes for a wonderful addition to any children’s/teen collection. An uplifting read with spirit and heart, The Playbook is an inspiring read that sings with authenticity through Alexander’s electrifying and effortless way with words. Readers who appreciate and enjoy reading non-fiction, or reading more true-to-life stories, or personal stories from authors might especially want to check out The Playbook. Those who have already read and loved Kwame Alexander’s previous work might also be interested in checking this one out as well!

Interested in reading more reviews and excerpts from this awesome book? You can check out the other great blogs participating in the tour:

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

Best of 2016: Picture Books (Part 2) & the Best of the Rest

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of…picture books!?!

Yes, picture books! This genre has been SO strong this year- whether the form of debuts, or published works from established authors and illustrators, I have been continuously surprised and delighted by my reading in this epic field. The titles on this list are ones that have either excelled as read alouds for my storytimes, ones that I have personally adored, or ones that I have feel have contributed something superb to the genre. Or perhaps all of the three factors combined!

You can check out Part 1 of my picks here.

In no particular order, here are my picks for Part 2:

 

You Belong Here by M.H. Clark, illus. Isabelle Arsenault
Everyone Is Yawning by Anita Bijsterbosch
This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter
I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
My Dad Used to Be So Cool by Keith Negley

 

Penguin Problems by Jory John, illus. Lane Smith
Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion, illus. Joyce Wan
I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. Scott Magoon
There’s A Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
Cat Knit by Jacob Grant

 

The Moon Inside by Sandra V. Feder, illus. Aimée Sicuro
First Snow by Bomi Park
Who What Where? by Oliver Tallec
Bunny Slopes by Claudia Rueda
If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle, illus. Cale Atkinson

 

This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne
Wild by Emily Hughes
Dylan the Villain by K.G. Campbell
Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
One Day, the End.: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illus. Fred Koehler

 

Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold, illus. Matthew Cordell
Quackers by Liz Wong
Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley
Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead
Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow

 

And last, but definitely not least, the best of the rest. This includes board books, children’s non-fiction and others:

 

We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, illus. Julie Flett
Hamsters on the Go by Kass Reich
This Is Not a Book by Jean Jullien
We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers by Julie Flett

 

Gryphons Aren’t So Great by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost & Andrew Arnold
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A BabyLit Fairies Primer by Jennifer Adams, illus. Alison Oliver
Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill
Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

 

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel
Sing a Season Song by Jane Yolen, illus. Lisel Jane Ashlock
Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles by Philippe Cousteau, Deborah Hopkinson, illus. Meilo So
The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien

 

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2016. Some titles appearing on this list may also have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this has no bearing on making this list. These are my personal selections.

Best of 2016: YA, Adult Fiction & Non-Fiction

Now it’s time for part two of my ‘Best of 2016’ reads: this post’s focus is all about young adult and adult fiction. I feel that, while my reading year was overwhelmingly picture books and middle grade lit, there was so much depth and matter in the contained selection of YA and adult fiction I had the chance to read. You’ll notice a number of Canadian titles on here as well!

In no particular order, I present my picks for best of YA, adult fiction, and non-fiction of 2016:

Young adult:

Flannery by Lisa Moore
Dan Vs. Nature by Don Calame
Watching Traffic by Jane Ozkowski
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly

Boys Don’t Knit series by Tom Easton
Julia, Vanishes (Witch’s Child #1) by Catherine Egan
The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace #1) by Erin Bow
Into the Dim (Into the Dim #1) by Janet B. Taylor

 

Adult fiction:

The Break by Katherena Vermette
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
We’re All in This Together by Amy Jones

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
The Widow by Fiona Barton
Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

 

Non-fiction (including memoir, comics, humour):

Boy, Erased by Garrard Conley
Sex Object by Jessica Valenti (audiobook)
The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz
I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short (audiobook)
Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah’s Scribbles Collection by Sarah Anderson

Molly and the Bear Collection by Bob Scott
Your Grandma Rocks, Mine Rolls: A Grand Avenue Collection by Steve Breen
Happy as a Clam: A Sherman’s Lagoon Collection by Jim Toomey
I’m Only in This for Me A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan Pastis
Gross!: A Baby Blues Collection by Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott

 

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2016. Some titles appearing on this list may also have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this has no bearing on making this list. These are my personal selections.

Spotlight: Interview with Illustrator and Cartoonist Eric Orchard!

eric-orchard-1Welcome to a very special spotlight post! I am absolutely delighted and honoured to have Canadian cartoonist and illustrator Eric Orchard here for an interview, organized by the lovely folks at Raincoast Books.

Eric is an award-winning cartoonist and illustrator who has published such works as the graphic novel Maddy Kettle: The Adventures of the Thimblewitch. Most recently, he published the unforgettable, unique and incredibly illustrated graphic novel Bera the One-Headed Troll. Read on for my interview with Eric where we talk in much more detail about Bera, fairytales, favourite artists and future work…

 

Did you always plan to write a graphic novel based upon your mother’s mental illness and raising children on her own, or did the idea of Bera the One-Headed Troll morph into a story about your mother?
I definitely noticed as the story unfolded that Bera was a lot like my mother. I never intended to her to be like my mother but it just happened that way. I started to see similarities in how Bera confronted her fear and feelings of inadequacy and how she kept going and tried to make the best decisions. I had drawn Bera years ago, a long time before I made the comic and I didn’t even notice she looks like my mother until I started drawing it. 



From your initial idea and conception of Bera the One-Headed Troll, how much changed? Were there any major or surprising characters or plot points there in the beginning that changed or were dropped?
 

Well, there was always an owl involved! There are three versions of Bera I went through. Initially Bera was much darker. I think my work has just lightened in recent years and that’s reflected in the book. In the early version there were lots of ghosts and an even creepier mood. Later I wrote Bera more like a simple fairy tale. This version was lighter than the final version. And the baby was stolen by a dragon. It was in the second version I decided Bera has three basic trials to overcome. And finally I wrote the final version which more or less combines elements from the first two versions. 



Readers’ perceptions of Bera the One-Headed Troll, or their overall experience with Bera, may change upon reading your background and history with mental illness. Is this something that ever gave you cause for concern- I.e. that readers might be missing a key component to Bera’s story?


Not really. I really want the book to be able to stand on [its] own. I want people to be able to take what they want from Bera. I wanted to talk about mental illness because I wanted to do my part to destigmatize it but not as a frame work to understand the story. 
 
Bera is, arguably, a darker tale- in both colour palette and of course in subject matter.

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Did you always plan for the story to be written and published (and marketed) for a younger/youth audience?
I did yes. I hope anyone can enjoy my books but I think of myself as working very much in the tradition of books for young readers. To me it’s the most exciting audience and the most exciting aspect of publishing. My favourite children’s book artists are Arthur Rackham and Maurice Sendak both of whom happily acknowledge both the joy and darkness of childhood. I like to think Bera is emotionally honest in that regard. It’s silly and strange and dark and joyful, all things that are an integral part of childhood. 



To what extent has your work, and Bera in particular, been impacted, if at all, by your own experience reading fairy tales?
I’m always really pleased when people mention this because this is really at the heart of the book. I very much wanted to honour the wonderful, strange world of fairy tales. I can’t imagine I’ll ever grow tired of fairy tales. I still read them every day. And I find they are both a wonderful escape and an amazing way in to the world. I read fairytales from every corner of the world and am constantly bowled over by the sense of wonder they give me. 

 

 

Which artists, illustrators and/or writers have been some of your biggest influences or inspirations in your approach to artwork and narrative? 
This is such a hard question! It’s a massive list and I’m always forgetting some of the most important names.  Maurice Sendak and Arthur Rackham for sure. I have a real love for fairytale artists. Lizbeth Zwerger is a big influence as is Tony Diterlizzi and Brian Froud. And there are so many cartoonists too. George Herriman, Walt Kelly, Jeff Smith and Charles Vess are big influences. I’m sure I’m leaving out a bunch of very important names!

What kinds of books or genres were you most interested in while you were growing up? Did you always have a big interest in graphic novels or comics?
I’ve always loved comics and have collected them as long as I can remember. I’ve always read a lot of genre fiction, fantasy and science fiction. The sci fi fantasy section in bookstores was always a favourite. The first story I remember writing myself was a ghost story.

Do you think you might ever branch to a different genre- e.g. move into picture books or mixed-media children’s novels?
I’m pretty happy doing comic books but they are an incredible amount of work. I keep thinking I should do an illustrated novel but I’ve been doing comic books so long I always go to them first as a way to tell stories. Illustration [is] something I love very much and would love to do more of. The problem is that comics take up all my time.

What have been some of the highlights of your 2016 reading year?
Another tough one! I read a lot and it’s hard to narrow it down to a few books.  I really loved Oyster War by Ben Towle, and anything Raina [Telgemeier] does. Astronaut Academy by Dave Roman, Battling Boy by Paul Pope, Margo Maloo by Drew Weing, anything by Ben Hatke, Korgi book 4 by Christian Slade, Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, anything by Emily Carroll, Eth’s Skin by Sfé, The Dreamwalkers by Viviane Schwarz.

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If you are able to, I would love to hear about any upcoming projects you are working on! And do you ever think we might have a revisit with Bera and baby?
I’m always thinking ahead! There are three books I’m currently working on. The first is the second Maddy Kettle book, a sequel to Maddy Kettle and the Adventure of the Thimblewitch. I’m well into working on that book.  And I’ve been working on a fairytale comic about a fire breathing duck who comes home to the farm he grew up on.  And finally a story using the folklore and history of my home province Nova Scotia. A little place jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean just brimming with strange tales.  I would love to do another Bera book! I’m just waiting for the perfect story to come along.

Thank you so much for your time! 
Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure.

 

Comic Strip Review: Molly and the Bear by Bob Scott

mollyandthebear27040044Review: Molly and the Bear by Bob Scott
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of the author and publisher. Thank you!
Publication: March 8, 2016 by Cameron + Company
Book Description:

It can be tough on a family when someone new has moved in, especially if it’s a 900-pound scaredy-bear so terrified of wilderness life that he’s fled to the burbs. Fortunately Bear was found by Molly, a fearlessly optimistic 11-year-old can-doer who has taken him firmly in hand, devoted to seeing her hirsute BFF cope with modern life. Molly’s Mom is happy with the new sibling — Bear’s an excellent conversationalist and loves her homemade cookies. But Dad is having a harder time, his role as center of the universe now shared with an ursine behemoth who, unfortunately, adores him.

One thought that kept running through my mind as I read Bob Scott’s Molly and the Bear was, I wish I had known about this comic strip earlier. Having grown up reading (and re-reading) Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, FoxTrot, Herman, Hagar the Horrible (and many more favourites!), comic strips have been a major part of my life since I was a kid. Molly and the Bear would have easily slotted into that mix back then- as it also fits into my reading today. Artist, animator, illustrator Bob Scott, who has worked on projects including Pixar’s The Incredibles, brings a wonderful level of madcap charm and endearing nostalgia with his web comic Molly and the Bear.

Fleeing from the fearsome dangers of the wilderness, Bear- similarly to Goldilocks- sneaks into a house. There he finds a best friend in Molly, an eleven-year-old girl who is thoughtful and brave, and most of all, loves him through and through. The contrast between Bear, a high-strung nine-hundred pound creature, with that of a petite, enthusiastic young girl is ripe for comedy from the get-go, but Scott makes it even richer and sweeter (and funnier) as he draws out and grows their genuine friendship and affection for each other. Bear, though arguably happier in civilization than the wild, comes up against constant obstacles in his new residence. Namely, an obstacle known as Molly’s father. Reminding me a little of a Hanna-Barbera character in nature and appearance, Molly’s father is a bit of a curmudgeon- an ornery and proud man of the house (…like Fred Flinstone…) who is often at odds with Molly and his wife about the fact that he would much prefer Bear to go back to the wilderness. Bear and Dad’s relationship is one feature of the strip that makes for great comedy: while Molly’s dad typically blows a gasket at Bear’s minor accidents and major mistakes, it is a lot of fun to see their ups and downs and how Dad’s fondness of Bear grows begrudgingly.

I find Molly and the Bear to be at its funniest, most surprising and most genuine when it does not insert more contemporary pop culture and/or modern references the mix. To be fair, this doesn’t occur too often- but as an example, there are moments in the strip when characters send text messages, or when Slash from Guns ‘N Roses and Angelina Jolie are mentioned. For various reasons, Molly and the Bear has the fantastically evocative and joyful feel of a more classic, if not retro comic strip that doesn’t need to focus on trend, which is why some of the more current references feel slightly discordant. I feel that Scott’s writing and thus the gags work at their strongest and sharpest when the focus is on the main characters and their interplay rather than when its trying to place itself in contemporary time.

In all, I had a whale of a time reading through the collection of Molly and the Bear strips. While easily found online as a web comic, I would like to note that the hardcover edition is quite beautiful: the larger page layouts are conducive to easy reading, and it includes an introduction, a welcome to the main characters- in full colour-, as well as a special ‘Behind the Ink’ section. Comic strip book aficionados might particularly appreciate those features! Any readers who have read and/or enjoy comic strips such as Mother Goose & Grimm, Dennis the Menace, Red and Rover, or any of the comics mentioned above, might especially take to the classic comedy and heart in Molly and the Bear.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Bob Scott and Cameron + Company in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (47): Looking at Fall 2016 Releases (Part 2)

Continuing on with a Must Read Monday feature on Fall 2016 releases!…

This week’s Must Read Monday is a little bit different. I’ve been looking through various sources (review journals, publisher’s sites, Goodreads, blogs, etc.) as is my norm, but my to-be read pile has grown tremendously in a short span! This is due, in part, to all of the incredible books that are slated for Fall 2016 release! Some favourite authors and/or illustrators are releasing new titles or sequels, and there are new-to-me and/or debut authors with terrific sounding and terrifically reviewed titles.

You can take a look at my picks for Part 1 here!

Here, in no particular order, are my picks for Part 2:

 

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
Expected publication: September 27, 2016 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel
Expected publication: September 20, 2016 by HarperCollins Canada

Foxheart by Claire Legrand, illus. Jaime Zollars
Expected publication: October 4, 2016 by Greenwillow Books

Today by Julie Morstad
Expected publication: September 2, 2016 by Simply Read Books

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems
Expected publication: October 25, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke
Expected publication: September 6, 2016 by First Second

Mooncop by Tom Gauld
Expected publication: September 20, 2016 by Drawn and Quarterly

Razzle Dazzle Unicorn: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson
Expected publication: September 20, 2016 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

Happy as a Clam: The Twenty-First Sherman’s Lagoon Collection by Jim Toomey
Expected publication: September 20, 2016 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

Stephan’s Web: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan Pastis
Expected publication: November 22, 2016 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

*For the purposes of these posts, ‘Fall’ will include some August, September and October, possibly some November 2016 releases