Review: The Ruinous Sweep by Tim Wynne-Jones

Review: The Ruinous Sweep by Tim Wynne-Jones
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Candlewick Press. Thank you!
Publication: June 26, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

On the night Donovan Turner is thrown out of a car on a highway in the middle of nowhere, he can barely remember his own name, let alone the past twenty-four hours. Where is he? Where is his girlfriend, Bee? In an attempt to flag down the next passing car, he startles the driver, causing a fatal accident. With sirens in the distance and the lingering feeling that he’s running from something — or someone — Donovan grabs the dead driver’s briefcase and flees. Meanwhile, Bee is fighting for Dono’s life every bit as much as he is. But when the police show up and hint that he is the prime suspect in a murder, Bee is determined to put together the pieces of what happened and clear his name. With echoes of Dante’s Divine Comedy, this harrowing journey through hell and back is a page-turning tale of guilt, retribution, love, and redemption.

A rainy night. An empty highway. And no memory. From award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones comes a riveting murder mystery that will keep readers enthralled until the last page.

Donovan closed his eyes. He couldn’t take much more of this. He was so tired. Too tired to keep his guard up. Words were seeping from him in a slow drip. What was he doing? How did he get here? He searched the empty highway ahead. He was running from something. That had to be it. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw only darkness out the rear window, and below it the darkness of something under wraps, something still breathing but smelling as if it had stopped. 

Twice the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, critically-acclaimed Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones returns with The Ruinous Sweep, a labyrinthine young adult mystery. A thrilling read, both sinister and heartbreaking, The Ruinous Sweep lightly draws from Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Wynne-Jones’s novel tells the story of seventeen year old Donovan Turner’s harrowing journey through what appears to be an otherworldly plane as his brilliant girlfriend Beatrice seeks to discover the truth behind his accident and the suspicions that Donovan may have committed murder before he was struck by a car and left for dead.

The first section of The Ruinous Sweep, The Space Casket, is told in alternating third-person narratives between main protagonists Donovan (aka Turn and Dono) and Beatrice (aka Bee). In The Space Casket, readers learn that Turn is in critical condition in the hospital, barely alive after being hit by a car. As his girlfriend Bee sits beside him in the hospital bed, despairing, horrified and angry, she decides to jot down every word or noise Turn makes in the hopes that it may help her figure out what happened. When the narrative shifts back to Donovan’s, readers are taken on an arguably hallucinogenic-like odyssey, equal parts terrifying, isolating, and bizarre. Is Donovan dreaming these strange journeys, in which his manipulative, unkind father and past acquaintances appear…in which gruesome scenes and also happier scenes from his childhood emerge? Has Donovan been tasked to fight his way through some kind of hellish limbo in order to get back to Bee and his mom? Readers might understandably get slightly frustrated with Donovan’s nightmare-like journey: Bee’s narrative is the more immediately viable and present (more directly focused on solving the mystery), and Donovan’s narrative is indeed complicated and sometimes puzzling. However- do go along with Donovan’s journey through The Space Casket: not only is it meticulously written, carefully plotted and planned, but also all comes together in part two, The Bowhunter. In part two, the focus shifts to Beatrice- who grows and truly maintains herself as a hero (faults, mistakes, exceptional moments and all). Through chapters in The Bowhunter, readers are along an unstoppable ride- tense and genuinely frightening- as Bee begins a deep dive into Donovan’s uttered words at the hospital. Looking back into Donovan’s childhood and Donovan’s father’s connections, Bee starts shifting puzzle pieces into play, trying to figure out who might have had cause to harm Turn. While the police assigned to Turn’s case are mostly reticent and on Bee to stay out of their investigation, Bee carries on, leading to an incredibly charged end, both satisfying and bittersweet- one that ties all of novel’s loose strings together.

Overall, a thoroughly compelling, intricately woven, strongly written young adult novel- deeply unusual and unsettling from beginning to end …(I can see The Ruinous Sweep in contention for Canadian lit awards come the season).  Be sure to give yourself the patience and space to let yourself sink first into Donovan’s story and then into Beatrice’s captivating turn. Readers who are fans of authors such as A.S. King, Laurie Halse Anderson, Courtney Summers or Brenna Yovanoff might especially find themselves thoroughly entrenched in the macabre of The Ruinous Sweep.

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

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Picture Book Review: Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel & Suzanne Del Rizzo

Review: Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. Suzanne Del Rizzo
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: May 25, 2018 (in Canada) by Pajama Press
Book Description:

From Suzanne Del Rizzo, award-winning illustrator of My Beautiful Birds, and author Deborah Kerbel comes a unique story about a brave sled dog puppy’s adventures under the Arctic Circle’s midnight sun

Juno and her boy live in a red house at the top of the world. One day Juno will be big and strong enough to help pull a sled across the tundra, but for now she is just a small puppy with a big-dog heart. Small puppies have to go to bed when their boys do, but Juno can’t sleep with the midnight sun shining out across the town. She slips outside to play. Returning to see a hungry polar bear sniffing around the open door, Juno has no time to be afraid. It’s time to find her voice, summon the big dog inside her, and save her beloved boy.

With Deborah Kerbel’s warm, expressive text, Sun Dog is a love letter to life in the Arctic Circle from the perspective of a sled dog pup. Suzanne Del Rizzo’s dimensional art in polymer clay and acrylic wash offers both an intimate romp with a young puppy and a sweeping celebration of the vast and beautiful tundra.

Juno might be little, but there’s a big dog inside of her. She know it because it comes out every evening after dinner.

Canadian author Deborah Kerbel and Canadian artist Suzanne Del Rizzo have teamed up for the recently released picture book Sun Dog. A story told from the perspective of a young puppy named Juno who lives with her much loved boy at “at the very top of the world” in the tundra, Sun Dog is at once a tale of love, adventure and bravery.

Image from Sun Dog via Pajama Press site

When we meet puppy Juno and her boy, we learn a few things about the playful, happy pup: she loves her boy, she loves to play, and she wants to become a sled dog one day. As the summer months set in, “for days, weeks, months, the sun never sets”, and Juno does not want to go to bed. While her boy tries to get Juno to settle and get some good sleep, we see Juno playing with a striped sock on her boy’s bed, “puppy legs…itching to play”. So Juno decides to sneak out of their red house and go on an adventure of her own. At the beginning of her adventure, Juno sees rabbits, seals and even narwhals tucked in their various beds, but then her escapade takes a turn. After a close call with a (rather fearsome!) snowy owl, Juno runs home only to see a prowling polar bear right by their house. While frightened, Juno thinks of her boy who might be in danger and summons all of her courage to stand up and protect her beloved boy. Kerbel’s writing is so fluid and measured; while so much activity happens over the course of the picture book, Kerbel’s writing is focused, utterly inviting, and perfectly action-packed (yet not frightening for younger readers) when the climactic action occurs. Del Rizzo’s clay and acrylic art is so meticulously detailed and dynamic (from larger scenery to the smallest particulars)- I am in awe. There is one spread in particular in Sun Dog featuring the story’s polar bear that is incredible- quite a work of art. (Side note: If you haven’t yet had a chance to read Del Rizzo’s award-winning My Beautiful Birds, I highly recommend). The combination of Kerbel’s storytelling and Del Rizzo’s art make for terrific reading, and I hope we get to see further collaborations from the duo.

 

Image from Sun Dog via Pajama Press site

Overall, what a gorgeous picture book! With a terrific combination of warmth, playfulness and love, and moments of excitement and danger that lead to a sunny ending, Sun Dog is sure to please readers and/or an audience of young and old.  With such appealing and vibrant art, and a beautifully written, well-paced story, Sun Dog would make for great read aloud material (for preschool ages and up), as well as for quiet reading and sharing. Dog lovers might especially adore this story of Juno and her boy, and the overarching devotion and protective bond that the two share with one another.

Bonus: Don’t miss the notes on the endpapers about a different kind of sun dog, and the midnight sun! 

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

A Closer Look: Covers by Jon Klassen

Canadian writer, illustrator, and animator Jon Klassen was very recently (just a few days ago!) appointed to the Order of Canada! Known and beloved for I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, multiple collaborations with Mac Barnett (Square, Extra Yarn), in addition to numerous other acclaimed works and memorable illustrative contributions, Klassen has also been the recipient of the Caldecott Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal. As a gentle tie-in to this Canada Day weekend and celebrating a Canadian artist, I wanted to present a collage of Klassen‘s fabulous works here (including all collaborations and titles Klassen provided cover art for). I am truly such an avid admirer of his work- writing and art- and my three year old is already quite in love with his work as well. Enjoy this feast for the eyes!

 

 

 

 

Picture Book Picks: Not Just for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day!

In the last few months, we’ve had celebrations for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. While I do love reading themed/holiday picture books on and for specific dates, I must say I do enjoy reading picture books on all subjects throughout the year…(even more so now that I have a three year old who loves to have Halloween-themed books read aloud all the time!). Picture books that celebrate parents, grandparents, family members and families in general, are always welcome, I think. Here, I’m sharing some of my picks (picture books and board books) that can be appreciated any time of the year:

 
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
Made for Me by Zack Bush, illus. by Gregorio De Lauretis*
Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad by Liz Climo
Wish by Matthew Cordell
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato
Little Cub by Olivier Dunrea
My New Mom and Me by Renata Galindo
Baby Penguins Love Their Mama! by Melissa Guion
Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton
Mother Bruce (Bruce #1) by Ryan T. Higgins
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee, illus. Eliza Wheeler
My Dad Used to Be So Cool by Keith Negley
A Family Is a Family Is a Family by Sara O’Leary, illus. Qin Leng
Where You Came From by Sara O’Leary, illus. Julie Morstad
The Mommy Book by Todd Parr
Harris Finds His Feet by Catherine Rayner
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illus. Henry Cole
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam Schiffer, illus. Holly Clifton-Brown
Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illus. Sydney Smith
David Gets In Trouble by David Shannon
One Family by George Shannon, illus. Blanca Gomez
Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein
Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein
You and Me, Me and You by Miguel Tanco*
Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins
Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston, illus. Misa Saburi
A Bedtime Yarn by Nicola Winstanley, illus. by Olivia Chin Mueller**

Board Books:
Edgar Gets Ready for Bed by Jennifer Adams, illus. Ron Stucki
My Mommy (Peppa Pig) by Neville Astley
Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins
My Dad is Amazing! by Sabrina Moyle, illus. Eunice Moyle
My Mom is Magical! by Sabrina Moyle, illus. Eunice Moyle
Little You by Richard Van Camp, illus. Julie Flett
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, illus. Julie Flett
We Belong Together by Joyce Wan

*Titles were sent in for review consideration courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you! Inclusion on this list, opinions and comments are my own.
**Title was sent in for review consideration courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you! Inclusion on this list, opinions and comments are my own.

Review: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe

Review: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 8, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

All it takes is one: one coral gamete to start a colony, one person to make a difference, one idea to change the world. The ongoing efforts to save and rebuild the world’s coral reefs-with hammer and glue, and grafts of newly grown coral-are the living legacy of Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation. Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe tell the true story of the coral restoration pioneer in this brilliant tribute to the wonders of nature and the power of human hope.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

Award-winning children’s author Kate Messner (The Seventh Wish) and acclaimed Canadian artist Matthew Forsythe (The Gold Leaf) have teamed up for the children’s non-fiction title, The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation. A pictorial biography as well an introductory examination into conservation efforts of coral reefs, The Brilliant Deep is a fascinating true story brought to life by beautiful artwork.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

The Brilliant Deep begins in the water, with one coral illuminated and the words “It begins with one”. Messner takes readers on a brief look at the spawning of corals: how “corals begin to spawn- releasing first one, then millions of tiny lives”, and that if one “is lucky” and not eaten or washed away, it “lands in a place where it can grow…[beginning] a coral reef”. Messner then switches to a summarized look at Coral Restoration Foundation founder Ken Nedimyer’s childhood, and how his love of swimming and exploring the Florida Keys reefs spurned what would become his lifelong captivation and passion for protecting and restoring reefs. Messner balances some tricky work here: as the story turns to follow Nedimyer as an adult, there is a significant amount of terminology and (necessary) explication of Nedimyer’s experiments of growing and planting coral colonies. However, Messner makes it work smoothly, particularly with the repeated emphasis on how it takes just “one”, and the neatly woven narrative circle that the entire story makes from coral back to coral. It would be absolutely remiss not to mention how stunning Forsythe’s artwork is here, as his golden and blue/green-toned artwork masterfully captures Messner’s narrative and allows the reader to actually ‘witness’ steps involved in coral restoration. You can get a sense just from the selected images above and below how rich and ambient Forsythe’s illustrations are, whether invoking Nedimyer’s childhood seeing Jacques Cousteau on the television, with his array of aquariums or (not pictured) seeing hands gently apply glue on coral. The last few pages of The Brilliant Deep include links to organizations, books, and articles that readers can further explore; a succinct note about coral reef decline and protection; how to help/get involved; as well as a select set of vocabulary definitions.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

Overall, a timely, mesmerizing and truly interesting non-fiction children’s title that has multiple ways of being enjoyed (and used!). Thinking of books like Hello Hello or Bloom, one can see that children’s titles (whether categorized as picture books or more strictly non-fiction) are exploring and offering up tremendous scope of topics for children (and adults). Children’s book efforts on conservation are blossoming and the possibilities for education and literacy (in schools, in libraries, at home, etc.) is exciting. Messner and Forsythe have, with The Brilliant Deep, added a very strong (and beautiful!) title to the booming roster of children’s biographical and science books- a title that might spark readers to learn even more about the Coral Restoration Foundation and Ken Nedimyer’s legacy of conservation.

News note: Here is a link to a May 16, 2018 news article about Ken Nedimyer stepping down from a leadership position with the Coral Restoration Foundation.

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

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: May 11, 2018 by Pajama Press (in Canada)
Book Description:

He’s a rescue, a mutt. Maybe there’s a little golden retriever in him, although he’s not exactly pretty. He’s had a run-in with coyotes and he’s missing an eye. But Mike is eleven-year-old Cara Donovan’s dog, and they love each other absolutely. Usually her pet follows Cara everywhere, but on the day the family first smells smoke in the air, Mike becomes anxious. Pine Grove is in the path of a wildfire, and the family is ordered to evacuate. In the ensuing chaos, Mike runs off. And then the unthinkable happens; there is no time to search for Mike. They are forced to leave him behind.

Shocked and devastated, Cara watches helplessly as the family drives through a nightmare, with burning debris falling from the sky and wild animals fleeing for their lives. Once in the city far from the burn zone, the Donovans are housed with a volunteer host family. Jewel, the hosts’ daughter, is nice, but Cara can only think about what she may have lost. What will happen if nothing is left? But as she reflects on what “home” means to her, Cara knows only one thing. She is not going to lose Mike. She will do what it takes to find him, even if it means going back to Pine Grove on her own.

The wildfires are bad this year
new ones popping up every day

It’s hard to tell how far away the smoke is
but the tightness in my gut
says it’s not far enough.

Canadian author Shari Green, author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel-in-verse Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, returns with Missing Mike, a middle grade novel (also in free verse) about a young girl’s unbreakable bond with her rescue dog Mike and what happens to Mike, her family, and their community when a devastating, seemingly unstoppable wildfire hits their town.

That’s when I saw Mike.
He wasn’t a puppy
and he wasn’t cute
but I was pretty sure
he needed somebody to love him.

We meet Cara Donovan and her dog, Mike (full name Mike Wazowski, after the famous monster), shortly before she and her family have to evacuate their home of Pine Grove (hours north from Vancouver) due to rapidly-spreading wildfires. In first-person narrative, Cara takes readers through the terror she, her older sister Sloane, and their mom and dad feel as they are faced with ten minutes to vacate their house. In the immediate sharpness and disorientation of the moment, Cara and her family quickly pack, taking their pre-prepared ‘just in case’ bags with whatever they think their must-have items could be. Cara, in the middle of brushing her beloved one-eyed rescue mutt, leaves Mike in their backyard, with the plan to take him to the car promptly after packing. The only thing is, when Cara goes back to their fenced-in backyard, Mike is gone: “Mike’s not in the yard / probably jumped clear over the lousy fence / searching for a cool spot / a not-so-smoky spot / a safe spot”. Cara pleads with her family to let her search for her best friend, but the utter urgency of their evacuation orders overrides everything. Even looking for a much-loved family member. We follow Cara and her family as they are taken in by a well-meaning, hospitable couple and their child Jewel, who becomes a friend and ally when Cara attempts, multiple times, to locate her dog. Woven in Missing Mike is Cara’s exercise- stemming from her love of crossword puzzles- in figuring out different words for home…and what ‘home’ really means in the midst of tragedy and displacement, while feeling and receiving kindness and warmth from strangers brought together in crisis. The main thread in Missing Mike, though, is that of Cara’s unyielding quest to, beyond all hope, find her much loved dog. Never resting, Cara is proactive in her multiple searches, helped by Jewel and even her strangely distant sister, providing readers with just enough small rays of hope to believe that her resilient dog Mike might just be out there, facing down coyotes and fires, waiting for his best friend to come back.

Overall, Missing Mike is a touching, lyrical story with the beautiful, boundless relationship of Cara and Mike as its core and anchor. Shari Green’s writing style is effortless and candid, a perfect match for Cara’s natural and appropriately trusting, childlike narrative. Readers who love stories about human-animal bonds, children’s novels told in free verse, or middle grade titles that explore family dynamics and strength in facing adversity might find much to love about Missing Mike. Those who enjoy the writing of authors such as K.A. Holt, Katherine Applegate, Barbara O’Connor, Beth Vrabel or Alison Hughes might also want to check this moving middle grade novel out.

I received a copy courtesy of Pajama Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Bloom by Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstad

Review: Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstad
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada & Tundra Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Here is the life of iconic fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who as a little girl in Rome, was told by her own mamma that she was brutta. Ugly. So she decided to seek out beauty around her, and found it everywhere. What is beauty? Elsa wondered. She looked everywhere for beauty until something inside of Elsa blossomed, and she became an artist with an incredible imagination. Defining beauty on her own creative terms, Schiaparelli worked hard to develop her designs, and eventually bloomed into an extraordinary talent who dreamed up the most wonderful dresses, hats, shoes and jewelry. Why not a shoe for a hat? Why not a dress with drawers? And she invented a color: shocking pink! Her adventurous mind was the key to her happiness and success–and is still seen today in her legacy of wild imagination. Daring and different, Elsa Schiaparelli used art to make fashion, and it was quite marvelous.

Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad, the dynamic duo who created the critically acclaimed Julia, Child, team up again to bring to life the childhood memories and the inspiring milestones of the legendary Elsa Schiaparelli. With its warm, lyrical text and enchanting illustrations, Bloom shows readers how ingenuity, vision and self doubt all made Schiaparelli truly beautiful. A gift for her older fans and younger audiences who have yet to discover her genius, Bloom is sure to be an enthralling classic.

Bold beauty. Quiet beauty. Hidden beauty.
By the age of seven, I wonder: What makes something beautiful?

Canadian author and artist duo Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad have worked together previously- on the delightful and beautiful picture book Julia, Child– and return here in glorious , vibrant and poetic fashion with Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli. A biographical picture book about the life of the illustrious, rule-breaking and rule-bending designer Elsa Schiaparelli, Bloom takes readers through major moments, breakthroughs, and legacies in the designer’s life.

Bloom is told in the first-person narrative of Elsa, and opens to a scene in which a newborn Elsa looks up to frowning parents who, we are informed, had been hoping to have a boy. As we soon learn, Elsa’s older sister Beatrice- apparently favoured by their mother- is recognized as the bella in the family, while Elsa is called brutta- ugly.  This harsh judgment of ugliness by her own immediate family seems to remain a relatively constant cloud in much of Elsa’s early (and perhaps later) life. It is through a failed experiment involving flower seeds, as well as the encouragement from an innovative and kind uncle, that ‘a seed of wild imagination’ and artistry is planted in Elsa- something that moves her and propels her life and life’s work to be ‘daring, different, and whole…[to] plant a new seed of beauty’. With Maclear’s beautifully melodic, empathetic storytelling style leading the way, Morstad’s incredible, meaningful illustrations follow to highlight just some of Elsa’s significant moments: her stirring time with artists such as Picasso and Dahli; her Trompe l’oeil design breakthrough; the mixing and making of her signature shocking pink; and ‘why not’ approach to making fashion for women extravagant, unusual, bold, colourful, talked-about- and unforgettable.

Overall, Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is a gorgeous work that balances biography, lyricism, and art in picture book format. For readers who adore biographical picture books, or simply love Kyo Maclear’s and Julie Morstad’s respective (or joint!) work, Bloom is a sensorial feast whether read quietly or shared aloud. Those both familiar and unfamiliar with Schiaparelli’s life and continuing influence in fashion will likely find something- or many things!- to appreciate and savour about Bloom. At the back pages, A Note from the Author and the Illustrator mentions that ‘it is difficult to express everything [Schiaparelli] was and did in such a short book’; Maclear and Morstad have added a concise yet rich catalog of the designer’s contributions, as well as a list of Sources and Further Reading for those interested.

 

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I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer

Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Bryony Gray is becoming famous as a painter in London art circles. But life isn’t so grand. Her uncle keeps her locked in the attic, forcing her to paint for his rich clients . . . and now her paintings are taking on a life of their own, and customers are going missing under mysterious circumstances.

When her newest painting escapes the canvas and rampages through the streets of London, Bryony digs into her family history, discovering some rather scandalous secrets her uncle has been keeping, including a deadly curse she’s inherited from her missing father. Bryony has accidentally unleashed the Gray family curse, and it’s spreading fast.

With a little help from the strange-but-beautiful girl next door and her paranoid brother, Bryony sets out to break the curse, dodging bloodthirsty paintings, angry mobs and her wicked uncle along the way.

When I saw the great cover and read the blurb for E. Latimer‘s The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray I thought it sounded terrifically spooky and added it to my reading list. A gothic historically-set middle grade novel, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray? Count me in! More sinister and more fantastical than I imagined, Latimer’s novel is a surprising treat.

The novel opens with a prologue that takes us into the extravagant, lush and self-indulgent life of Lady Dashworth, who is eagerly awaiting the delivery of a portrait of herself done by a supposedly odd but extremely talented thirteen year old girl. Upon opening, Lady Dashworth finds the portrait stunning…remarkable…so remarkable in fact, that the portrait seems too life-like. It is then that Latimer takes the already eerie opening and takes the story to its darker core: the portraits being done by that thirteen year old artist- Bryony Gray- are coming to life, ripping from their canvases and causing deadly mayhem in London. As readers meet Bryony and the terrible aunt and uncle who keep her prisoner in their attic, the story takes one fascinating turn after another.

Having planned an escape from her attic confines for some time, Bryony finds herself freed quite suddenly by accident when a portrait she purposely painted to look monstrous tears itself to life off the canvas. It is then, as Bryony escapes into the city slowly being tyrannized by her art, that she meets siblings Mira and Thompson- the next-door neighbors she had only dreamed to meet one day. Latimer weaves multiple elements as the story continues to unfold: Bryony experiencing London, her surroundings, and children her own age for almost the first time in her life; the trio of children having to escape for their lives time after time while attempting to help Bryony stop the madness; and perhaps the biggest thing of all, Bryony finally learning truths about her long-absent father who presumably cursed the Gray family. It is a lot to pack into a tale, but Latimer does a solid job of maintaining all of the elements, adding some bombshell reveals, and threading in some very interesting ties to an imagined incident that lead to The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Overall, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray is wonderfully unusual and atmospheric, with terrifying and surprising moments. It is written with such precise, intriguing detail that I vividly pictured the story from beginning to end, and even thought to myself how incredible it would be to see this story brought to life on-screen! Readers who enjoy gothic, scary stories or the work of authors such as Claire Legrand, Charis Cotter, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl or Laura Amy Schlitz might especially enjoy this dark tale.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Picture Book Review: What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston & Tim Mack

What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston, illus. Tim Mack
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Inhabit Media. Thank you!
Publication: August 4, 2017 by Inhabit Media
Book Description:

Nalvana feels like all of her friends have some type of superpower. She has friends with super speed (who always beat her in races), friends with super strength (who can dangle from the monkey bars for hours), and friends who are better than her at a million other things. Nalvana thinks she must be the only kid in town without a superpower. But then her mom shows Nalvana that she is unique and special—and that her superpower was right in front of her all along.

“Nalvana always thought about what it would be like to have superpowers…”

What’s My Superpower?, written by author Aviaq Johnston (Those Who Run in the Sky) and illustrated by Tim Mack, is an utterly charming, wonderfully optimistic story about one young girl’s search for her superpower and what happens along her journey.

The picture book centers around Nalvana who wears “a yellow cape made from a blanket and a pair of snowmobiling goggles resting on her head” everywhere she goes. A seemingly adventurous, buoyant person, Nalvana wonders about the possible answer to a rather big question: what is her superpower? As Nalvana goes about trying to discover her superpower, however, she begins to recognize some of her classmates’ impressive superpowers! For example, one day at the playground, Nalvana sees her friend Maata swinging high on the swing set and suddenly fly to her landing! Maata can fly! On another day, Nalvana sees her cousin Joanasie building an inuksuk at the the top of a hill. While talking to Joanasie about all the things he can make, she tells him that his superpower must be being able to build “whatever he can think of”! Joanasie can build anything in the world! But…what about Nalvana herself? What if she is the only one left without a superpower? As Nalvana recounts Maata’s, Joanasie’s and other encounters and happy discoveries of friends’ superpowers with her mom, a happy realization is made about what Nalvana’s pretty incredible superpower might just be.

Overall, what a lovely, heart-warming picture book! Nalvana’s story is one of sharing kindness, holding onto one’s own kernels of hopefulness and determination, and the excitement in finding your own happy and cool discovery along the way. Mack’s illustrations are strong and vibrant with their unique yellow and green-focused palette; it is interesting, graphic novel-like artwork that works so well to compliment and enhance Johnston’s winsome, wholly approachable storytelling style. What’s My Superpower? also contains an Inuktitut Glossary at the back, so readers and audiences will be engaging and learning even further as they go!

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