Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling

Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling, with illus. by Melissa Castrillon
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2017 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

Mary Anning, considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovered her first big find at the age of twelve. This novel is an imaginative re-creation of her childhood in early nineteenth-century Lyme Regis.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, England, to a poor family. She and her older brother were the only two of ten children to survive. Her father, a carpenter and part-time fossil hunter, taught his children to look for fossils. When her father injured himself and was unable to work, Mary quit school and took up fossil hunting full-time to help support her family, a task that became even more important when her father died, leaving the Annings in debt.At the age of twelve, Mary, with her older brother Joe, found what they believed to be the skeleton of a gigantic crocodile, the Great Croc of the legends. Between dodging her rival fossil hunter, the Curiman, and the sheer work of carefully digging out the fossil, Mary took almost a year to excavate what would later be termed the Ichthyosaurus.

Mary Anning may have been uneducated, poor and a woman, but her life’s work of fossil hunting led her to make many discoveries that influenced our understanding of prehistoric creatures and the age of the Earth. In 2010, Mary was named among the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Charles Darwin even cited Mary’s fossilized creatures as evidence in his book On the Origin of Species.

In this triumphant novel about scientific discovery, Monica Kulling brings Mary Anning and her world to life for young readers.

 

To think, a mere lass, with little schooling, did what those great scientists do all the time- and all of them big men, mind. It boggles my mind, it does. I can’t help but wonder what else you are destined to do.

An out of the ordinary, gorgeous treasure of a book, Mary Anning’s Curiosity is one of the few books I’ve read so far this year in one sitting. Written by Canadian author Monica Kulling, with marvelous illustrations by Melissa Castrillon, Mary Anning’s Curiosity gives readers a look into the earlier life of groundbreaking, celebrated fossilist Mary Anning and her earlier fossil discoveries in and around her place of birth of Lyme Regis, England.

Mary Anning’s Curiosity mostly focuses upon Mary and the year in which she, and her brother Joe, discover, dig and excavate an incredible fossil that was later named the Ichthyosaurus. Before we dive into that time, though, readers are taken into a bit of introduction to Mary and the Anning household. Kulling concisely and candidly describes the serious hardships faced by Mary’s Ma and Pa and their constant struggle with making enough to survive. We learn that Mary’s Ma wants more for her daughter than this life- the life of following in her father’s footsteps as an eccentric fossil hunter, forever in danger by the cliffs. And while Mary does indeed like school and learning “new words, fancy words”- the things that make her Ma happy- her life is the shoreline, the cliffs and beaches, carefully digging for curiosities- just like her Pa and brother. When Mary and Joe’s dad becomes incapacitated after a fall, though, Mary’s drive to hunt fossils, to make money and help her family, completely becomes her life from the age of eleven. In 1811, Mary and Joe’s dig that would lead to the finding of the Ichthyosaurus, begins. Kulling fascinatingly describes Mary’s intensity, focus, fervor and patience in her excavation; her tremendous and natural skills as a fossil hunter; as well as her and Joe’s attempts to thwart the attention of a seemingly greedy, fossil-hungry Captain.

Overall, an excellent, unusual read, providing readers of all ages tremendous insight into the life of an incredible woman of science and discovery. The growing number of books in children’s fiction and non-fiction titles that are delving into the lives of lesser-known trailblazers, staggering minds and discoveries is a joy to see and experience. With Mary Anning’s Curiosity, Monica Kulling has provided a stellar entry into children’s literature: one that not only excels as a fascinating shorter novel on its own accord, but also one that stands as a successful and awe-inspiring fictionalized biography. I do hope readers both young and old get a chance to pick this gem up!

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 Review: Shark Lady by Jess Keating & Marta Álvarez Miguéns

Review: Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illus. Marta Álvarez Miguéns
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: June 6, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Book Description:

This is the story of a woman who dared to dive, defy, discover, and inspire. This is the story of Shark Lady.

Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary-and they didn’t think women should be scientists.

Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname Shark Lady.” Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to.

Canadian author and zoologist Jess Keating and artist Marta Álvarez Miguéns join forces to present the incredible story of fearless, trailblazing scientist, teacher, and marine conservationist Eugenie Clark. Known popularly around the world as Shark Lady– due to her incredible depth of face-to-face research with sharks!- Eugenie Clark’s life and work is fantastically, bouyantly, and respectfully brought to a younger generation of readers with the informational/non-fiction picture book Shark Lady.

Shark Lady begins with an introduction to a young Eugenie Clark visiting the aquarium, imagining what it might be like to swim with sharks and breath underwater with gills. From there, we see Clark’s booming interest in sea life; particularly with sharks who Clark believes to be beautiful- not ugly and scary as many think them to be. Keating and Miguéns take readers through turning moments in Clark’s education (and perseverance as a female in a male-dominated field), and to some of Clark’s staggering discoveries and research on sharks and sea life. The tremendous significance of Clark’s work in marine life and sharks might arguably be difficult to convey in a more restricted page count, however, Keating and Miguéns do a formidable job in introducing and emphasizing Clark’s remarkable life and work. Miguéns’s beautiful, vibrant, eye-catching illustrations work perfectly with Keating’s conversational, straightforward and informative storytelling: never overshadowing or taking over from the story but perfectly highlighting and drawing attention to key moments in Eugenie’s life and research. Reading Shark Lady, one major factor struck me and that is how particularly heartening and hopeful it is to see continued movement in publishing pictorial biographies of a much broader, richer, more inclusive scope of innovators, pioneers and leaders in various fields. Furthermore, I find it can sometimes be tricky to refer to a children’s book as inspirational or strictly educational- sometimes those words equate with tedious for kids- but Shark Lady and numerous other fantastic, well-thought out educational picture books as of late are truly awe-inspiring and educative in the most positive sense.

Overall, Shark Lady is an excellent read that attests to the importance of the informational picture book and of bringing biographies of significant- but perhaps not previously as focused upon- trailblazers to younger readers. Not only a terrific read to suggest to any shark or marine life enthusiastic (and there are a lot of those readers!), Shark Lady would also make for a great read aloud for any sea-life themed storytime; in all, a must-add to any non-fiction collection. A bonus: Shark Lady also includes ‘Shark Bites’ facts about sharks; an easy-to-follow Eugenie Clark timeline; as well as an Author’s Note and bibliography of further sources.

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

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.

Must Read Monday (53): Children’s lit and picture books!

somewriterIt’s been a number of weeks since the last one…so welcome back 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 weeks features a number of titles recently added to my must-read: everything from children’s non-fiction, picture books to middle grade lit!

 

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Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
Publication: October 18, 2016 by HarperCollins

Like Magic by Elaine Vickers, illus. Sara Not
Publication: October 18, 2016 by HarperCollins

The Road to Ever After by Moira Young
Publication: October 25, 2016 by Doubleday Canada

Nothing But Trouble Jacqueline Davies
Publication: November 1, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books

Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh! by Sean Taylor, illus. Kate Hindley
Publication: February 1, 2016 by Walker Books

Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World by Colleen A.F. Venable, illus. Ruth Chan
Publication: September 13, 2016 by Greenwillow

This is My Book by Mark Pett
Publication: September 6, 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, illus. Chris Appelhans
Expected publication: January 3, 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

XO, OX: A Love Story by Adam Rex, illus. Scott Campbell
Expected publication: January 3, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press

You Don’t Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman, illus. Liz Climo
Expected publication: February 14, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

 

From Cover to Covet (1): Shadow, The Dark, The Insomniacs, Josephine & Ten Birds Meet a Monster

New feature time! I will be trying out a new series called ‘From Cover to Covet’, featuring…covers! There are so many gloriously designed, stunning, moving, unique, eye-catching covers I see in my library work and in my personal reading, and I want to give them (and their creators!) a little bookish love here.

These posts will show a mixture of newer and older titles, titles I’ve read, titles I haven’t, and everything from picture books to young adult lit, adult fiction to comics.

Here we go…
 


 

 

Picture Book Review: Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

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Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: July 21 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Verdict: Excellent
Book Description:

Antonio Willie Giroux lived in a hotel his mother ran on the edge of a lake. He loved to explore the woods and look for animals, but they always remained hidden away. One hot, dry summer, when Antonio was almost five, disaster struck: a fire rushed through the forest. Everyone ran to the lake-the only safe place in town-and stood knee-deep in water as they watched the fire. Then, slowly, animals emerged from their forest home and joined the people in the water…

Out of the Woods, a gorgeously written and illustrated picture book from Rebecca Bond, tells readers the true life story of Antonio Willie Giroux, and the events of one incredible, magical and harrowing summer in Ontario, 1914.  Author and illustrator Bond, the granddaughter of Giroux, has brought to life a wondrous and evocative story that can be treasured by readers young and old.

Restrained and refined in both text and colour palette, Giroux’s boyhood spent on Gowanda Lake reads as nostalgic yet matter-of-fact; the events that transpired during the infamous fire read as taut yet almost otherworldly. Something as consuming and potentially catastrophic as a forest fire is undoubtedly frightening, but Bond’s telling of her grandfather’s summer revolves around an incredible act of animals and people respecting each other in tragedy. Bond’s illustrations- especially those full spreads of the lake and surrounds during the fire, dripping in rich, burnt colours- are something to behold. A testament to just how important the oral tradition is, of passing down stories from generation to generation, Antonio Willie Giroux’s captivating story is one that I am very happy to now know.

Overall, I highly recommend Out of the Woods. This well-reviewed picture book is yet another fabulous addition into the growing genre of biographical/non-fiction picture books- a genre which I am becoming increasingly fond of. Rich with wonder and beauty as well as insight into a slice of Canadian history- of another time, of another place- there really is something for readers of all ages to be amazed by.

I received a copy of this book from Raincoast in exchange for an honest review.

Picture Book Review: Swan by Laurel Snyder & Julie Morstad

SWAN9781452118901_350Review: Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illus. Julie Morstad
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: August 18, 2015 by Chronicle Books
Verdict: Excellent

Book Description:

The world is big.
Anna is small.
The snow is
everywhere
and all around.
But one night . . .

One night, her mother takes her to the ballet, and everything is changed. Anna finds a beauty inside herself that she cannot contain.

So begins the journey of a girl who will one day grow up to be the most famous prima ballerina of all time, inspiring legions of dancers after her: the brave, the generous, the transcendentally gifted Anna Pavlova.

There are times when you read a book and, upon finishing, you hold the book close to try and hold that feeling. You want to capture the words from the pages in a jar, like fireflies, and you want the world to be decorated with the illustrations you have just seen. Upon finishing Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad’s glorious picture book Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, I held the book close and experienced that exact run of sentiments.

Canadian illustrator/animator/designer Morstad, as ever, continues to amaze with her illustrations. Morstad’s work never reads as trying to impress or astonish with profusions of colour or scale and noise, but her drawings always light up and arrest the eye and heart. Snyder’s text here is just about flawless in its poetry and movement: in tandem with the rippling illustrations, Snyder’s words seem to float and dance across, around, and up and down the pages. This is the first of Laurel Snyder’s work that I have read, and having been so moved by her writing here, I am making it a plan to read her other children’s work.

Overall, I highly, highly recommend Swan. I cannot express enough just how beautiful, moving and full of life the words and drawings in this biographical picture book are. Readers who enjoy non-fiction or biographical picture books such as Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings or The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse might especially love this title. Moreover, readers (both young and old!) who adore the ballet, ballerinas, or have interest in Anna Pavlova’s incredible life and famous performances will undoubtedly be taken in with this stunning and quiet homage. We are now more than halfway through the year, and I think I can safely say that Swan will hold a place on my best of 2015 book lists.

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Image from Swan via Chronicle Books

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

Must Read Monday (11): Swan, Leo & More Crayons!

Welcome to the eleventh edition of Must Read Monday! On Mondays I will spotlight current and/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!

SWAN18317569Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illus. Julie Morstad
Expected publication: August 18, 2015 by Chronicle Books
As soon as I read, see or hear about anything coming out from artist/illustrator Julie Morstad, it goes on my immediate must-buy list. Her work is just that incredible. In Swan, Morstad has teamed up with popular children’s author Laurel Snyder (Bigger than a Bread Box, Penny Dreadful) for what is sure to be a spectacular biographical picture book on the life of prima ballerina and choreographer Anna Pavlova. I cannot wait to read this one!

The world is big.
Anna is small.
The snow is
everywhere
and all around.
But one night . . .One night, her mother takes her to the ballet, and everything is changed. Anna finds a beauty inside herself that she cannot contain. So begins the journey of a girl who will one day grow up to be the most famous prima ballerina of all time, inspiring legions of dancers after her: the brave, the generous, the transcendentally gifted Anna Pavlova.

 

LEO24905361Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illus. Christian Robinson
Expected publication: August 25, 2015 by Chronicle Books
Oh boy, this looks like a terrific one! We have: Mac Barnett, who authored Extra Yarn and Sam & Dave Dig a Hole; and Christian Robinson, who illustrated the critically acclaimed Last Stop on Market Street and Josephine. 

You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.

 

thedaytheCRAYONScamehome23310161The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illus. Oliver Jeffers
Expected publication: August 18, 2015 by Philomel Books
If you adore the work of Oliver Jeffers and witty, laugh-out-loud funny picture books and haven’t yet read The Day the Crayons Quitwell, what are you waiting for?! The Day the Crayons Came Home is the long-anticipated companion to the best-selling Crayons debut.

…Having soothed the hurt feelings of one group who threatened to quit, Duncan now faces a whole new group of crayons asking to be rescued. From Maroon Crayon, who was lost beneath the sofa cushions and then broken in two after Dad sat on him; to poor Turquoise, whose head is now stuck to one of Duncan’s stinky socks after they both ended up in the dryer together; to Pea Green, who knows darn well that no kid likes peas and who ran away—each and every crayon has a woeful tale to tell and a plea to be brought home to the crayon box.

If you’d like to join Must Read Monday, please do! Link up or leave a comment about what you’re looking forward to reading- I love to hear what other readers have on their radar!

Recently Read: Great Picture Books

I must sound like a broken record when I do these picture book posts and say- each time- how amazing the quality of children’s lit is! From picture book biographies of the incredible E.E. Cummings and Henri Matisse, to Kate Beaton’s picture book debut, there is no end to the wonder and richness in children’s lit.

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Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess, illus. Kris Di Giacomo . As I noted on Goodreads, I found this picture book moving and stunning. Burgess and Di Giacomo have shared Cummings’s life with us readers, showcased his profound way with words and made it all sing in one incredible picture book.
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton. Beaton, the writer/artist behind the hugely popular Hark! A Vagrant, does not disappoint with this immensely entertaining, clever picture book about a strong Princess and her roly poly tooting pony. Any mention of farting usually sets off a young storytime audience, but Beaton’s bold, bouyant illustrations and comic text are the winners here.
The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup. A lovely and moving picture book about the death of a beloved fox and how fond memories keep him alive in the hearts of his friends. Beautifully and softly told, with gorgeous illustrations.
Float by Daniel Miyares. Miyares’s wordless picture book is one that tells a beautiful, moving and evocative story all through expressive and dynamic illustrations. Just gorgeous. Fans of Suzy Lee, Molly Idle, Marla Frazee or David Wiesner should definitely check this one out!
The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, illus. Hadley Hooper. As with Enormous Smallness, The Iridescence of Birds is a biographical picture book. MacLachlan and Hooper have brought the upbringing, inspirations and work of Matisse to life in this wonderful picture book. The artwork here, by Hooper, is amazing and pulls the slightly indefinite narrative together.

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