Picture Book Reviews: A Dog with Nice Ears & The Other Dog

From Lauren Child‘s Charlie and Lola dreaming of and picking out a rather unexpected dog, to Madeleine L’Engle‘s dog Touché telling her story- brought to life by artist Christine Davenier– of having to come to terms with a new, unusual sort of dog, canines are on the roster today!

In Lauren Child’s A Dog with Nice Ears (Featuring Charlie and Lola), the effervescent and irreverent brother and sister duo talk about their plans for getting a pet…more specifically, what kind of perfect dog they would like to get! Now, Charlie and Lola’s parents have told them “Absolutely no dogs!”, but little Lola has a plan. Though their dad has promised to “take Lola to the pet shop one Saturday” so that “she can choose whichever rabbit she wants”, Lola will try and bring a dog home instead. With a promise made to Charlie that she will choose a dog, not a rabbit, Lola and Charlie go back and forth about dog names, what kind of tail they’d like their dog to have, as well as the imperative of their dog having nice ears (for wearing its reading glasses!). Their friend Marv comments that with all their various wants and wishes for a dog, Charlie and Lola are definitely going to have a weird dog. The story leads to an adorable, sweetly funny and perfectly on-brand off-kilter ending when Lola brings home a most peculiar, wiggly-nosed, large-eared, puffy-tailed, hopping sort of dog. I have long loved Lauren Child’s writing and artistry: my first foray into her work was the fabulous Clarice Bean picture books, later the Clarice Bean novels, and I’ve been happily reading Child’s work since! A Dog with Nice Ears is a solidly fun and completely charming addition to the popular Charlie and Lola series.

The Other Dog, written by A Wrinkle in Time Newbery Medal winner Madeleine L’Engle and illustrated by prolific artist Christine Davenier (illustrator of Miss Lina’s Ballerinas, The Very Fairy Princess series), is a story narrated by L’Engle’s poodle Touché. When readers meet the great, refined, proud poodle, Touché L’Engle-Franklin lets us know the she, in fact, wrote this story with the help of an “inferior canine” named Jo. As we delve into the story, we find out that Touché’s mistress disappeared for several days and dared to came back home with another dog named Jo (readers see L’Engle cuddling a little baby!). For Touché, this rates as rather silly: dogs are expensive and surely “one dog is enough for any family”! Touché is talented, has acted on stage, is beautiful, loves sitting on laps, has a tail “like a little chrysanthemum”, and knows to never go to the bathroom inside the house, so “why another dog?”. However, when Jo-dog (as Touché refers to her) starts to grow and explore her world bit by bit, Touché finds that, actually, not all is lost. Yes, Jo-dog requires a lot of looking after, and will never grow a chrysanthemum tail, but Touché enjoys that Jo-dog is a great listener and seems to appreciate her company, so much so that Touché has to admit: “in spite of everything…I am getting very fond of our other dog”. In all, dog lovers of any and all ages might just fall in love with Touché’s terrific story. Touché’s narrative is observant, dry and witty all at once, while Davenier’s signature loose yet refined pencil and watercolour style so wonderfully captures Touché’s learned manner, the story’s overall elegance, and the gently sentimental feel of the story. Be sure to read the lovely forward included in this edition of The Other Dog, written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis, L’Engle’s granddaughter and daughter of Jo (Josephine) of the story. It was very surprising to learn that this children’s title was not accepted for publication until fifty years after L’Engle first wrote it! There is also a fantastically detailed Author’s Note (including sketches!) from Madeleine L’Engle detailing how Touché came into her life, Touché’s life with their family, and how much L’Engle and family clearly loved and cared for their furry friends.

I received a copy of A Dog with Nice Ears courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. I received a copy of The Other Dog courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments regarding the titles are my own. Thank you to the publishers! Both titles have been published and are currently available.


Picture Book Review: Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal

Review: Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, illus. Christopher Silas Neal
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

In this gorgeous companion to the acclaimed Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal bring to life a secret underwater world. In this book, readers will discover the plants and animals that make up the rich, interconnected ecosystem of a mountain pond. Over the pond, the water is a mirror, reflecting the sky. But under the pond is a hidden world of minnows darting, beavers diving, tadpoles growing. These and many other secrets are waiting to be discovered… over and under the pond.

The water’s a mirror, reflecting the sky.
Sunshine and clouds- then a shadow below.
“What’s down there?” I ask.
“Under the pond?” Mom says.

Award-winning author Kate Messner has a number of writing credits to her name, including the Marty McGuire series and the highly-praised middle grade novel The Seventh Wish. Christopher Silas Neal is an award-winning artist, who has multiple- gorgeous- picture books to his illustrative credit, including Lifetime and two other picture books with Kate Messner. Over and Under the Pond is the third collaboration by Messner and Neal in a series of brilliant information-filled picture books: Over and Under the Snow (a personal favourite) and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

As a big fan of the first two picture books in this sequence, I was delighted to get a chance to pore over (and I mean: pore over!) this latest entry. Over and Under the Pond is, as its companions, a wonderful experience in visuals and text. Poetic, lyrical and educational all at once, the splendid mix of Messner’s words and Neal’s full page colour illustrations- which are outstanding- take informational picture books to a place of excellence. In Over and Under the Pond, our guides for exploration are a young boy and his mother: paddling, lifting and dipping, and drifting in their canoe, mother and son survey the wide breadth of life found above the water of a pond and under the water of a pond. From cattails to tadpoles, herons to minnows and moose, Messner and Neal highlight the incredible scope of animal and plant life that can be found in a particular ecosystem. ‘An Author’s Note‘ provides even more information on a pond’s ecosystem,  and the inspiration behind this story; there is also a beautiful and convenient ‘About the Animals’ section matching animal image to descriptions; as well as a ‘Further Reading‘ recommendations list of print and online resources.

Overall, Over and Under the Pond is superb; another must-read collaboration from the author and illustrator. This title (as well as the others in the series), is a terrific picture book to use for a more specific environmental-themed storytime, or for any readers looking for a lovely, lyrical and educational picture book.

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

Board Book Look: Flora and the Chicks & Little Oink

Review: Flora and the Chicks: A Counting Book by Molly Idle
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Inspired by the main character of the Caldecott Honor book Flora and the Flamingo, this new series of board books is perfect for the very youngest Flora fans. When a nest of eggs begins to hatch, how will Flora ever keep up with so many chicks? Featuring fold-out pages and Molly Idle’s graceful artwork, this adorable counting book will delight young children as they master new words and concepts.

If you are on the lookout for an adorable board book and/or an adorable counting board book, then may I please present to you the absolutely gorgeous and sparkling Flora and the Chicks? I have talked a few times about my love of Molly Idle’s illustrations– as well as my love for the character of young dancer Flora- and it is so wonderful to see her artwork (and the character of Flora!) newly introduced in board book form.

From one to a big finish of ten, the balletic and delightful Flora takes us on a counting adventure with some of the most adorable (and madcap) hatching chicks. Idle’s previous Flora books were quite exceptional and unique in how lift the flaps were deployed in picture books; this board book also uses flaps to great effect. Flora and the Chicks makes use of left-side opening as well as right-side opening sturdy flaps on every other page: not only to emphasize Flora’s flowing and changing balletic positions and movements as she tends to the hatching chicks, but also to highlight the gentle shenanigans that the baby chicks get up to after hatching.

Overall, a delicious board book that I, quite simply, love to bits. A wonderful addition to the roster of early learning counting board books, and a special treat for readers who have enjoyed reading Flora’s many adventures and were hoping for more! Much of the joy in Flora and the Chicks is in Idle’s radiant, fluid and funny artwork. The author-illustrator manages that perfect line between art and humour, making her work something that really can be (and is!) appreciated by readers of all ages.


Review: Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. Jen Corace
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Chronicle Books (originally published in 2009)
Book Description:

Little Oink is a neat little fellow. Clean, clean, clean, that’s all he wants to do. But Mama and Papa won’t have it! They say in order to be a proper pig he has to learn to make a proper mess. What’s a little pig to do? Now available as a board book, Little Oink shows Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace applying their traditionally wry humor to the issue of cleaning up, in a laugh-out-loud romp that is sure to make readers giggle with recognition.

The recent death of acclaimed and beloved author and filmmaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal was felt deeply in the children’s literature community and far beyond. I have to say that when I opened up my mail to discover the board book of Little Oink, I felt it in my heart. For years now, I have been a fan of the author’s work, always looking forward to reading and discovering what Krouse Rosenthal would next publish. I remember reading Little Pea, adoring it, then reading my way through Spoon, Chopsticks, Plant a Kiss, Exclamation Mark, and more, as they were published. Little Oink is one of the titles in Little Books series, illustrated by Jen Corace, and is an example of the truly lovely and lively voice rooted in all of Krouse Rosenthal’s books.

As we meet Little Oink, we get to learn a number of things about him, but perhaps the most important thing we learn is that Little Oink loves things to be neat. And because Little Oink likes neatness and tidying, he does not like the fact that he, because he is a pig, has to be messy! Little Oink is expected to ‘make a mess, mess, MESS’, but would much rather clean his room and wear freshly washed and spotless clothing. Little Oink’s parents, as we find out, do their best to encourage Little Oink to make MESS- even making sure that Little Oink messes up his room and puts on dirty clothes before going out to play. While most piggies and other animals might jump at the chance to freely make messes, Little Oink is less than thrilled. But, being a good little piggy, he messes up enough to please his parents and then goes off, happily, to play his favourite (tidy) game: house! Sure to engage readers with its ‘role reversal’ of a little pig who loves to be as neat as a pin, Little Oink is at once a tranquil, comfortable kind of read with just-right moments of visual levity and humour.

Little Oink is a sweet, quietly funny, and all-around engaging read. Jen Corace’s illustrations are so charming; clean, precise lines, bright colours, and beautifully imagined, personable pigs are perfect here for Krouse Rosenthal’s text. Any readers who are fans of the work of Peter H. Reynolds, Patrick McDonnell, Karma Wilson or Kevin Henkes, those who have previously enjoyed Little Pea, Little Hoot, or who have loved any of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s incredible roster of picture books might especially want to meet Little Oink.

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

Picture Book Review: The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam & Natalie Nelson

9781554988518_hr_1024x1024Review: The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam, illus. Natalie Nelson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press. Thank you!
Publication: September 2016 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

In this picture book, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer. Includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor.

A picture book inspired by the life of celebrated author Flannery O’Connor? If you think the idea might sound…perhaps too grand or ambitious for a picture book, then please let me assure you that the team of author Acree Graham Macam and illustrator Natalie Nelson have done it! The duo has crafted something fascinating, funny and altogether idiosyncratic with their picture book The King of the Birds.

The story begins with a chicken who can ‘walk backwards and forwards’. A young girl named Flannery and her chicken become famous after being seen by a newspaperman…but after the excitement and fame dies down, Flannery decides she needs more birds. After buying every kind of bird imaginable, Flannery decides she needs even more. The ‘more’ ends of being a spectacularly proud, reticent peacock who refuses to show his tail, who grows increasingly lonely and squawks and screeches loudly (oh so loudly) into the night. As Flannery comes up with a royal solution to the King’s loneliness and lack of tail display, she ends up with even slightly more than she bargained for, making for a very funny (and wordless) ending. Nelson’s illustrations here are vibrant, eye-catching and stylishly atypical, while Macam’s writing of the story is a perfect blend of offbeat and wry yet totally accessible for a picture book audience.

Overall, The King of the Birds is a unique and wonderful picture book. Unusual and visually splendid, with an interesting story to boot, Macam and Nelson have designed and presented something special for their debut here. While a story inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, younger children will likely enjoy the story as a great and funny story about a young girl named Flannery and her surprising assortment of fowl. Older kids (and adults!) unfamiliar or less than familiar with O’Connor‘s life will likely find much of the story- and the author’s note- fascinating (and perhaps even an inspiration to read more about O’Connor’s life!). I have been loving the burst of non-fiction, and biographical picture books in children’s lit, and The King of the Birds is another fantastic title to add to the growing list. Any readers who have enjoyed titles such as The Iridescence of Birds, Swan, Henri’s Scissors, Radiant Child, or Viva Frida, might especially appreciate the singular beauty and quirkiness of The King of the Birds.


Image courtesy of House of Anansi website

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Picture Book Reviews: Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead & Tony by Ed Galing and Erin E. Stead

samson27414441Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 13, 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

One sunny day Samson, a large and friendly woolly mammoth, encounters a little red bird who is looking for yellow flowers for her mouse friend (whose favorite color is yellow). As she flies off with the flowers, Samson wonders what it must be like to have a friend. He wonders this for so long, in fact, that he falls asleep and wakes up to a world covered in snow. In the midst of a blizzard, Samson finds and shelters the little red bird and flower-loving mouse in a tender tale of kindness and unexpected friendship.

Philip C. Stead does picture books about friendship and kindness so well. From the award-winning and beloved A Sick Day for Amos McGee (illustrated by Erin. E. Stead) to A Home for Bird, Stead’s approach to the writing and illustrating of friendship is nothing short of splendid; always reading as unfeigned and sincere. Stead’s Samson in the Snow is another winning picture book: a quietly gorgeous and heart-warming story of one mammoth’s considered acts of compassion and kindness.

Looking after his dandelion patch on a sunny day, Samson is surprised by a tiny red bird. Searching for some yellow flowers to cheer up her friend, Samson helps the little bird select the most beautiful dandelions and off she flies to visit her friend. When sudden and angry snowfall blanket the ground and sky, Samson sets off, concerned about the little red bird. On his way through the deep and dangerous cold and snow, Samson helps and befriends a mouse who is also looking for someone. A miraculous discovery, aided by spotting some bright dandelions in the snow, leads to beautiful and moving reunion- and the start of new friendship. Stead’s work, as ever, is elegant and stirring, all the while tranquil- the kind of quietly powerful and moving picture book that I love deeply.

Any readers who have previously adored Philip C. Stead’s work- either as author or solo work as author/illustrator- will undoubtedly find much to appreciate and love here. The story holds much to explore, read and share in a quiet study or one-on-one read aloud, or for a shared read aloud with an older group. Readers who enjoy the work of authors and illustrators such as Pamela Zagarenski, Marla Frazee, Lane Smith, or David Ezra Stein might especially adore the restrained beauty of Samson in the Snow.

tony29102892Tony by Ed Galing, illus. Erin. E. Stead
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 7, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Tony was all white,
large, sturdy,
with wide gentle eyes
and a ton of love . . .

Follow this touching tale of a boy and his friendship with a horse, by the late poet Ed Galing and illustrated with remarkable tenderness by Caldecott-winning artist Erin Stead.

While Erin E. Stead’s award-winning work as illustrator is much-known to me- and much adored-, (the late) Ed Galing‘s work and poetry is something completely new. Their collaborative work in Tony, a picture book centred around a gorgeous white horse, is surprising, beautiful, and unique.

Reading through Tony, poring over Galing’s words and Erin E. Stead’s incredible drawings, I was faintly and happily reminded of the work of poet Robbie Burns…and of William Carlos Williams…the honest and arguably bare, uncluttered style of writing. Galing’s poetry here in Tony is just that: unfettered and uncomplicated. A relatively simple tale of a narrator’s love and admiration for a glorious, gentle white horse that pulls a dairy cart for a young driver named Tom, Tony is one picture book that could be missed at first glance. But do not miss this one for there is much to love and exclaim over! In particular, the remarkable illustrative work of Stead here. Stead’s work is breathtaking, giving texture, aura, and atmosphere to Galing’s words and, in fact, to Tony the horse. The careful colour palette is mostly lighter green/teals with some washes of yellow; the early morning setting of the story leads to the overall hushed and hazy feel of the story. The relatively simple nature of the poem’s focus, along with details of setting, suggest a story set in a bygone era…

Overall, what a surprise! If you’ve seen and experienced Erin E. Stead’s illustrative work before, then you already know you are in for a treat. Stead’s artwork combined with Galing’s poetry makes for a special and unexpectedly rich picture book. While on the face a simple story about a ‘large, sturdy’ horse, Tony is story that may beg for a read or two or more to sift and settle: an unadorned, wonderful, wholly felt tale that strums the senses. If my words here and enthusiasm haven’t compelled you yet, you can also read this radiant starred review of Tony here from Kirkus Reviews! You can check out the book’s page over on Macmillan to see a few pages of the picture book- well worth a look!

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

Picture Book Fun with Pigloo and Peppa Pig!

From Olivia to Miss Piggy, Wilbur to Piglet and beyond, I have long adored and had a soft spot for literature or entertainment starring or featuring piggies. (Our elderly guinea pig is even named Wilbur!). This post spotlights two fun picture books that star adorable piggies: Pigloo and Peppa Pig and the Little Train!



piglooPigloo by Anne Marie Pace, illus. Lorna Hussey
Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 18, 2016 by Henry Holt and Co.
Book Description:

Pigloo is an explorer. His destination? The North Pole. Big sister Paisley has doubts about Pigloo’s plan, but Pigloo knows that explorers have to be patient as well as brave. When Pigloo takes his sled to the top of a hill, he sets off on his expedition – with a little unexpected help.

This sweet, expressively illustrated story shows that sometimes the greatest adventures are the ones that happen in your own backyard.

Pigloo is a perfect-for-the-wintertime picture book featuring a darling young pig. Little Pigloo wants nothing more than to be a great explorer and bravely trek through the cold and snow to get to the North Pole. While his mom, dad, and especially his big sister all have their qualms, concerns and notes about his plans, Pigloo tries to remain hopeful about it all.  One thing Pigloo has carefully considered and prepared are his special explorer snacks- his ‘stores’ as we learn; but the one thing he has not considered is just how much patience it requires to be an explorer- especially when one is waiting for a big snowfall!

The adorable Pigloo!

When it finally snows enough, Pigloo makes it outside and ‘considers the best way to get to the North Pole and back before lunch’.  In a lovely story curve, readers get to see Pigloo’s big adventure come to happy fruition as he is- unbeknownst to him- carefully helped by his big sister, Paisley. While Paisley had initially been a little downcast on Pigloo’s big plans, it turns out that she comes through with a little magic to make Pigloo’s dreams of exploration come true. What starts out as a seemingly straightforward story about a little pig’s wintertime adventure ends up being an altogether very sweet story about kindness between siblings, and about just how much fun a grand imagination and believing in the impossible can be.

Anne Marie Pace, author of the Vamperina Ballerina books, and Lorna Hussey, illustrator of Not This Bear, have created a gentle and amiable story here that will likely go over well with kids during the winter season. Pigloo is an adorably illustrated pig with a big heart; kids and adult alike might appreciate his imagination and open, trusting nature. Readers who enjoy stories on the genial side- topped with a little lesson- think along the lines of Karma Wilson’s Bear series, Greg E. Foley’s Don’t Worry Bear, the Chester Raccoon series, or the Llama Llama books– might particularly enjoy this sweet story.



Peppa Pig and the Little Train based on the TV series created by Neville Astley and Mark Baker
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Candlewick Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 2, 2016 by Candlewick Entertainment
Book Description

All aboard! Peppa Pig and her brother, George, are ready to chug, chug, chug all through the town on Grandpa Pig’s little train.

Peppa Pig and George are visiting Granny and Grandpa Pig, and Grandpa Pig has a surprise for them. Toot, toot! Chug, chug! Grandpa drives a little train out of the garage, and Peppa and George hop on board. Who will they meet as they ride the train all around town? And when Miss Rabbit’s bus gets stuck in the mud, who might help them save the day?

Before having a child, I had really only heard of Peppa Pig and her brother George in passing at the library. Mostly it was when getting questions such as: why don’t you have more Peppa Pig books? Or: where are all of your Peppa Pig books? I was always curious about this pig- one with an English accent no less!- and have now, thanks to having a toddler, become well-versed in the delightful and funny world of the charismatic Peppa Pig. For those unfamiliar with Peppa, this book and its world might seem a little nonsensical or peculiar- but for those more aware of it (…or those who have fans in their household), this might be a real treat.

Cover removes and becomes a colouring poster!

Peppa Pig and the Little Train is a picture book based upon the television series and episodes. In this particular adaption, the story revolves around Peppa Pig’s grandfather building a very special little train (named Gertrude): a train that Grandpa Pig can proudly conduct, with room for Peppa, her brother George, and other friends to ride in. While in the train, singing a little song about her grandpa’s little train going ‘chug chug chug’, Peppa and company meet folks who keep asking about Grandpa’s toy train. Each time, they must explain that Gertrude is actually NOT a toy but a real, working, sturdy ‘miniature locomotive’. A problem arises when Miss Rabbit’s bus gets stuck in mud; despite some doubts about the little train’s abilities, Grandpa Pig’s miniature locomotive comes to the rescue!

A happy, fun, and irreverent story- as is the wont of Peppa Pig’s stories and television episodes- Peppa Pig and the Little Train is sure to delight new or avid fans of the popular series. Readers who have enjoyed series such as Olivia by Ian Falconer, Charlie & Lola by Lauren Child, or Pete the Cat by James Dean might especially adore muddy-puddle-jumping Peppa and her imminently likable and funny world.

I received a copy of Pigloo courtesy of Raincoast Books and Peppa Pig and the Little Train courtesy of Random House of Canada in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

Recently Read: Middle Grade Titles from Kate DiCamillo, Elise Broach, Kate Beasley & more!

Let’s take a look at some middle grade titles I have recently read and would recommend!

raymienightingale25937866Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Candlewick Press. Thank you!
Publication: April 12, 2016 by Candlewick Press
Kate DiCamillo is an all-time favourite author of mine- I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating that The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is one of the greatest reads!- so anything new from the award-winning author will be a must-read. As ever, DiCamillo’s writing is gorgeous, insightful and wonderful; where time, place and characters are slightly illusory and unlike anything and anyone you’ve ever come across before in children’s literature. Raymie Nightingale is filled with strong characters, a heartfelt story, surprising notes and reveals, and covers, as with DiCamillo’s previous middle grade reads, some hard-hitting family truths.


amonstercalls28588061A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, story conception by Siobhan Dowd
Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Candlewick Press. Thank you!
Publication: August 2, 2016 by Candlewick Press; first published in 2011
Ah, this popular novel has been around for a few years now, and has received some terrific acclaim (and is going to be hitting the big screens in early 2017!). For those readers who haven’t yet read this title, I won’t get into spoilers here, but I have to say this is definitely a read that hits (hard) at the heart and the gut. I was, during my reading of the novel, tremendously moved and full of anxiety; Ness definitely knows how to hook and pull the reader in. One review I read a while back (I cannot recall which one, my apologies) noted that while A Monster Calls is all at once expected (there is ample foreshadowing) and carefully engineers/manipulates the readers’ emotions, that does not take away from the fact that is still indeed a strongly written, deeply affecting and meaningful read. Again, no spoilers, but have some tissues ready.


thewolfkeepers27414417The Wolf Keepers by Elise Broach, illus. Alice Ratterree
ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 11, 2016 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Elise Broach, author of children’s titles such as Masterpiece and Shakespeare’s Secret, has written a thoughtful and intriguing story here revolving around a young girl, a wildlife park, mysteriously ill wolves and a runaway boy. With its strong young female protagonist and a core of the story involving wild animals, The Wolf Keepers would have been the kind of read I would’ve clamored for growing up! At once a tale about careful-to-grow friendship between protagonist Lizzie and a young boy named Tyler, The Wolf Keepers is also a well-paced and plotted adventure/mystery story- one that contains some fascinating history and information about Yosemite National Park and naturalist John Muir. Perfect for readers who have enjoyed animal-centered titles such as Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart.


gertiesleap23208632Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley, illus. Jillian Tamaki
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 4, 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

How many of us recall (and possibly still fervently adore) characters such as Ramona Quimby or Harriet the Spy? Well, if you do (and I do!), then you might absolutely cherish the titular character in Kate Beasley’s robust debut. Young Gertie Reece Foy is, similarly to the characters aforementioned, full of spark, vigor, and (sometimes misplaced) confidence and bluster. The kind of character you might instantly adore, root for and love, and thus feel it very keenly in your heart when things fall apart. As with Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, there is a crucial element of parental absence and hurt; Beasley similarly approaches the subject with sensitivity and doesn’t shy away from truly difficult moments…but also proffers hope. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness is a heartfelt, funny, and aching read, full of wonderful moments, vivid characters, and clear insight.


I received copies of the titles mentioned above from Candlewick Press and Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

Picture Book Spotlight: Toby by Hazel Mitchell

toby0763680931Toby written and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Publication: September 13, 2016 by Candlewick Press
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of the author and Candlewick Press. Thank you!

About the Book:
When a young boy and his father move from one house to another, they decide to adopt a dog from the local rescue shelter. But their chosen dog, Toby, is having a tough time adjusting to his new life outside the shelter—howling all night, hiding fearfully from his new humans, forgetting where to go to the bathroom, and chasing a ball through the flower bed. The boy has promised to train his new companion, and he’s trying his best, but Dad is starting to get exasperated. Will Toby ever feel comfortable with his new family and settle into his forever home, or will Dad decide he’s not the right dog for them after all? A heartwarming story about the growing bond between a child and a new pet—inspired by the author’s experience with a rescue dog of the same name.


15541-hmitchell-bst-med-1About the Author:
Hazel Mitchell has illustrated numerous books for children. Toby is her author-illustrator debut. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Maine with her husband and a brave rescue poodle named Toby, whose eight-day disappearance drew national attention when the story was shared across social media.


Readers, meet Toby! Hazel Mitchell’s picture book debut as author and illustrator, Toby is a compassionate and sweet story about a rescue dog, his new owners, and their process of becoming a family.

At the onset of the story, we meet a young boy and his father who have recently moved into a new place. Soon after spotting a neighbor walk their dog and seeing a poster for an animal rescue, the young boy asks his dad if they can get a dog. Following a promise to be responsible for a new pet, son and dad soon visit the animal shelter. The young boy immediately connects with a white dog named Toby and happily brings him home. Alas, things do not go as smoothly as he had hoped. Toby hides, is nervous and shy, and howls away through the night. The boy wonders why Toby- now with all the love and treats and food he could want- is not happy. After a reminder from his dad to be patient, it looks as though things are finally looking up! Toby learns commands, plays and has fun…but the fun turns into a little too much fun that ends in one big mess, one frustrated dad, and one very worried young boy. Will Toby be able to stay?

A quiet story that gets its strength from Mitchell’s demonstrative (yet muted) illustrations, Toby is a poignant and hopeful story of a rescue dog. The illustrations of the young boy, his dad and Toby are really lovely- you can see just about every flicker of emotion running through the characters’ faces. As with the illustrations, the text in the story- a mixture of the boy’s first person narration, and dialogue- is also restrained and calm, even at the most heightened and climactic moments of the story. Mitchell herself has rescued dogs (including the real-life inspiration for Toby!) and the feel of care, carefulness and understanding shines through in this story. It is a true-to-life story well-placed in the pages of a picture book: one filled with love, kindness and hope for a young audience but one that doesn’t shy away from showing mistakes and the importance of hard work and patience.

Overall, Toby is a sweet and touching story to add to the oeuvre of beautiful picture books about dogs and their families. Readers who loves a heartwarming animal story- from animal lovers to dog enthusiasts to rescuers of shelter dogs and beyond; or readers and fans of titles such as Scrawny Cat, The Stray Dog, or Widget, might especially love the thoughtfulness in Toby. Full of Hazel Mitchell’s gently expressive illustrations and serene narration, this title is sure to find its loving and appreciative audience with both children and adults.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Hazel Mitchell and Candlewick Press for the purposes of this post and in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Spotlight & Giveaway for A.N. Kang’s Papillon: The Very Fluffy Kitty!

Untitled-1Welcome to a special post featuring A.N. Kang’s picture book debut Papillon: The Very Fluffy Kitty and a fabulous giveaway, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion! Read on to find out more about the series and how you can enter to win a prize pack featuring Papillon!

I have read a fair number of picture books about cats and kittens in my time so far as a children’s librarian and reviewer. One might think that I’ve experienced it all- I have already seen everything in picture books that could be done around and about kitties, right?! But no! Because, thanks to the ridiculously adorable work of A.N. Kang, I have recently met a fluffy, floating kitten named Papillon and he has entered the echelon of one of the most adorably written and illustrated kittens I have seen in picture books.

Papillon, as we learn right away, is a very big kitty who happens to be able to float as he is ‘lighter than air’. He has a very loving owner, Miss Tilly, who cannot help but worry for Papillon: what if one day he floats away and gets lost? So, in trying to keep Papillon safe and close to the ground, Miss Tilly tries different ways of weighing down Papillon. After feeding Papillon heaps and heaps of delicious food don’t do enough to weigh him down, Miss Tilly tries to costume him in various outfits. Papillon does want any of that and refuses to wear even an eyepatch. Alas, one day Miss Tilly’s biggest worry comes to fruition when Papillon spots an adorable little friend (a tiny red bird) and follows him out the window and far, far, away from home. Kang does a wonderful job showing Papillon’s adventures and contrasting- through colour and tone- the safe world that Papillon is used to with that of the scarier, bigger, uncertain world. With just a little dose of worry, Kang brings the story back to a hopeful end as tiny bird and Papillon work together to try and make it back home. To the happy relief of likely all readers, a good and lovely ending indeed meets Papillon, Miss Tilly, as well as his little bird friend!

For any readers who love a gently funny and cuter than cute , feel-good story (either for a read aloud or quiet read), I would definitely recommend Papillon: The Very Fluffy Kitty. A.N. Kang’s work is impressive and smart for a debut: using one remarkably likable and captivating character with a little twist, this story is simple, charming and will likely delight readers of all ages. And, of course, Kang’s illustrations are a little slice of darling- so beautiful and pleasing! Readers who have enjoyed picture books such as Fran Vischer’s Fuddles, Linda Newbery’s Posy, Sam Lloyd’s Mr. Pusskins titles or similarly sweet animal or cat titles, might especially love meeting and reading about Papillon.









Read on for more about Papillon and how to enter the giveaway!

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Picture Book Review: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

THEYALLSAWACAT28101612Review: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 30, 2016 by Chronicle Books
Verdict: Excellent
Book Description:

The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .

In this glorious celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination, Brendan Wenzel shows us the many lives of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see. When you see a cat, what do you see?


“The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws…” and so begins the incredible experience of Brendan Wenzel’s debut (as author and illustrator) of the picture book, They All Saw a Cat. They All Saw a Cat is one of those titles I not only cannot wait share with readers but also read aloud at storytime(s). Impressive in how it turns a substantial subject like perspective into something so wonderfully accessible (and unforgettable) for a younger audience, They All Saw a Cat makes for terrific reading for a variety of ages. There is just so much in this picture book that speaks to imagination, interpretation and the pure joy of appreciating artwork!

From the child’s view of the fluffy, big-eyed kitty, to a mouse’s terrifying Munch-like monster view of the cat, to a bee’s pointillism-like view of the cat, readers see and begin to appreciate the multitudes of perspectives and points of view that exist in the world.  Wenzel makes terrific use of repetition in text here with: “the cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws” and “Yes, they all saw the cat”, wonderfully reiterating those basic descriptions which we, the reader, understand to be common about the cat and that we are all, in fact, seeing the same cat! But then with each introduction of new ‘character’/viewpoint (e.g. from a snake to a worm) the reader is in for a wonderful visual treat of how differently another being views the same object.

Overall, Brendan Wenzel’s picture book debut is stunning- I can’t sing the praises of this stand-out read enough. Great for a quiet read or a more contemplative observation of art styles; for a discussion about visual diversity in animals; or for sharing aloud at storytime, this is another wonderful example in picture books of when visual feast meets tailor-made text to make for an excellent and inventive experience. If you are not familiar with Wenzel’s previous work, I would definitely recommend taking at look at his works as illustrator in collaborative picture book projects such as Some Bugs and Beastly Babies (among others). You won’t soon forget his radiant, vivacious illustrative style!


Skunk sees the cat…image via Brendan Wenzel’s site


Snake sees the cat…image via Brendan Wenzel’s site

















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