Review: Small Things by Mel Tregonning

Review: Small Things by Mel Tregonning
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: March 1, 2018 (as per publisher site; first published 2016 by Allen & Unwin)
Book Description:

A stunning graphic picture book about childhood anxiety from an extraordinarily talented illustrator. On the cusp of having everything slip from his grasp, a young boy has to find a way to rebuild his sense of self.

In this short, wordless graphic picture book, a young boy feels alone with his anxiety. He isn’t fitting in well at school. His grades are slipping. He’s even lashing out at those who love him.

Talented Australian artist Mel Tregonning created Small Things in the final year of her life. In her emotionally rich illustrations, the boy’s worries manifest as tiny beings that crowd around him constantly, overwhelming him and even gnawing away at his very self. The striking imagery is all the more powerful when, overcoming his isolation at last, the boy discovers that the tiny demons of worry surround everyone, even those who seem to have it all together.

This short but hard-hitting wordless graphic picture book gets to the heart of childhood anxiety and opens the way for dialogue about acceptance, vulnerability, and the universal experience of worry.

Small Things is one of those tremendous reads that is an experience…the same potent feelings reading and poring over the work of incredible artists/creators like Julie Morstad and Shaun Tan is what I experienced during my reading of Tregonning’s work. Mel Tregonning‘s Small Things, a wordless graphic picture book, is all at once superbly illustrated, unforgettable, extremely emotionally resonant, beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful all at once. Far too often I have had conversations with a parent or caregiver at the library who does not see merit in wordless books; an adult who tries to dissuade their child from reading a wordless picture book as ‘there are no words in it, why would you read it’. I find this crushing and a total disservice to the potent, consequential nature of wordless graphic books like Small Things.

In Small Things, readers follow the story of a young boy who we learn is dealing with snowballing stress and anxiety. He tries to fit in with a group at school that rejects him; he gets chosen last for teams in gym class; and his marks for exams are not at the A level we understand he wants them to be. We see anxiety building in the young boy, illustrated by otherworldly creatures (floating objects in abstract, graphic shapes and patterns) hovering around the young boy, swelling in size and numbers as his anxiety grows. As anxiety bleeds with anger and lashing out at his sister and those that are kind to him at school, cracks appear on the boy’s body…metaphorically and literally, the boy’s body is fracturing and falling apart. Tregonning does, however, allow for flashes of hope and the possibility of healing towards the end of the story as the young boy opens up to his family…the last few panels also offer an auspicious and weighty ending to the story when the boy goes to school the next day and sees that anxiety, stress and isolation is all around him, even with his compassionate friend.

Overall, I highly, highly recommend this title for readers young and old. The initial thoughts I had when I added Small Things to my must-read list (not knowing anything about the creator or her body of work) was how stunning it looked and how much it reminded me of Shaun Tan’s exceptional work. If you are interested in reading further, there is an article in The Guardian that discusses how Shaun Tan actually helped bring Small Things to completion and posthumous publication after the death of Tregonning. An exceptional, stand-out piece that opens the way for discourse on mental health, I hope Small Things is a title that gets shared, talked about and appreciated.

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

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Children’s Non-Fiction: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert & Lauren Castillo

Review: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illus. Lauren Castillo
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 24, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
Book Description:

A lyrical biography of E. B. White, beloved author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, written by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo.

When young Elwyn White lay in bed as a sickly child, a bold house mouse befriended him. When the time came for kindergarten, an anxious Elwyn longed for the farm, where animal friends awaited him at the end of each day. Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal. Writing filled him with joy, and words became his world.

Today, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web are beloved classics of children’s literature, and E. B. White is recognized as one of the finest American writers of all time.

How many of us growing up read and formed an intense, lifelong connection with the work of E.B. White? Whether we’re talking about Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan, or Charlotte’s Web (one of my all-time favourite books), E.B. White is arguably one of the most loved and recognized children’s writers in North America- in addition to having numerous other novels and works to his name. When I heard and read that author Barbara Herkert and Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo were collaborating on a children’s biographical title about E.B. White, I was very excited and curious to see the end result!

The end result is a wonderful, heartfelt pictorial biography that gives younger readers (and frankly, readers of all ages!) an incisive look into the life of E.B. White and into the motivations behind his children’s classics. Readers of all ages will be taken in with Castillo’s glowing, magical, warm and perfect-for-the-story illustrations (her illustrative style is just so fitting here!), and Herkert impressively takes on the daunting task on pairing down White’s storied and celebrated accomplishments into gently poetic, readable text. From White’s childhood- where he met and befriended a bold mouse!- to his college-era adventures in writing, his vivid dreams, to his adult years on his family farm in Maine, readers are offered insight into what personally inspired White’s well-known writings and themes and his most cherished, beloved characters- unforgettable characters like Wilbur, Charlotte, Fern, Stuart Little.  A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White is as appealing as it is informative and one I definitely recommend; be sure to take a read of the Author’s Note in the back as well as the Bibliography if you are so inclined for further reading on White’s life.

Overall, a beautifully told and beautifully illustrated children’s biographical title. From Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad’s Swan to Renée Watson and Christian Robinson’s Harlem’s Little Blackbird and a parade of others, children’s biographies are an absolute treasure trove. A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider is another excellent children’s non-fiction title that can be added to that list; readers who have enjoyed the titles mentioned above, as well as offerings such as Finding Winnie, Enormous Smallness, or The Iridescence of Birds might especially adore this title.

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

Blog Tour Stop: Flower Moon by Gina Linko

Welcome to one of the blog tour stops for Gina Linko‘s Flower Moon, a children’s novel full of charm and magic!

Review: Flower Moon by Gina Linko
Source: ARC courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son. Thank you!
Publication: January 2, 2018 by Sky Pony Press
Book Description:

Tempest and Tally Jo Trimble are mirror twins—so alike they were almost born the same person—and they’ve been inseparable since birth. But it’s the summer they turn thirteen, and it seems like everyone can tell something is changing between them.

Pa Charlie, whose traveling carnival is the best part of every summer, is watching them closer than ever. Digger, who sneaks poor kids onto the carnival rides for free and smiles faster than anyone, seems to be fixing for a fight. Even Mama is acting different, refusing to travel with the carnival this year even though her own twin, who she hasn’t seen since childhood, will be there.

And Tally and Tempest are the most different of all. There’s a strangeness between them, a thickness to the air, an unseen push and pull, and it’s getting stronger. It starts as a feeling, but soon it’s sputtering and sparking, hurling them backwards, threatening to explode.

When Tally learns that she and Tempest may not be the first twins in their family to be separated by whatever this force is, she realizes she’ll have to find a way to stop it—or she might lose not only her sister, but everyone she loves.

Gina Linko’s Flower Moon is a contemporary children’s fiction title that hums and sings with elements of magic, intense familial bonds and friendship.

In Flower Moon, readers follow the emotive first-person narrative of twelve year old Tally Jo Trimble. The story begins when we’re taken into a classroom where we witness the friction and complicated love between Tally and her twin sister- her mirror, her other half- Tempest. As Tally makes a decision to deflect one of Tempest’s many scientific experiments that may lead students to ridicule Tempest, Tally finds herself at the beginning of a strange cycle of growing distance and strangely potent energy that seems to be physically pulling her apart and keeping her away from Tempest. But why? Why is the world- or magic in the world- trying to keep Tally and Tempest apart?

As Tally and Tempest begin their usual summer journey with their grandpa’s traveling carnival, more and more peculiar events- dangerous, electric moments that physically hurt- spark and flicker between the twins, leading Tally to believe that there really is some bizarre, inexplicable force in the universe growing to keep Tally and Tempest apart. With the help of her wonderful and kind carnival friend Digger, Tally starts investigating her family’s history- specifically into her mother’s unexplained broken relationship with her own twin sister. The closer Tally comes to discovering just how incredibly strong the magic of her twin bond is, the closer Tally and Tempest get to discovering a way that might allow them to stay together. Linko writes an affecting story here; you can feel the intense, inextricable bond and love between Tally and Tempest almost vibrate off the page. The elements of magic (as well as exploration into the earth’s rhythm and moon cycles) that tie the mystery of the twins’ bond is an intriguing one; one that is written well, though I found myself wishing for even more explication into the reveals of ‘why’, as well as the big denouement and resolution.

Give yourself a little bit of time for the tone and pace of the story to settle and allow for the magic and unknown to makes its home; once the essence of story seeps in, you’ll be rather taken in with Tally and Tempest’s story. Overall, Flower Moon is a charming, warm story that will likely appeal to readers who like a little bit (or a lot!) of supernatural elements blended in with contemporary, family-oriented coming-of-age stories.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (77): Children’s Non-Fiction & Biographical Picture Books from Jason Chin, Jeanette Winter & more!

Welcome to the first 2018 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!

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This week: all about non-fiction children’s titles and biographical picture books! Incredible looking and sounding and wonderfully reviewed and buzzed about titles here. While I did make my way through a number of non-fiction/biographical children’s titles, I still feel terribly behind in my reading in those areas. Taking a look through other blogger, librarian and author best of 2017 lists, and looking ahead to early 2018, I can see there is SO MUCH that I need and want catch up on and get to! Let’s get into the titles right away, in publication date order:

 

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
Publication: February 21, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Rivers wind through earth, cutting down and eroding the soil for millions of years, creating a cavity in the ground 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and more than a mile deep known as the Grand Canyon.

Home to an astonishing variety of plants and animals that have lived and evolved within its walls for millennia, the Grand Canyon is much more than just a hole in the ground. Follow a father and daughter as they make their way through the cavernous wonder, discovering life both present and past.

Weave in and out of time as perfectly placed die cuts show you that a fossil today was a creature much long ago, perhaps in a completely different environment. Complete with a spectacular double gatefold, an intricate map and extensive back matter.

 

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illus. Nancy Carpenter
Publication: April 4, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

This rollicking and fascinating picture book biography chronicles the life of the first pioneer of children’s books—John Newbery himself. While most children’s books in the 18th century contained lessons and rules, John Newbery imagined them overflowing with entertaining stories, science, and games. He believed that every book should be made for the reader’s enjoyment. Newbery—for whom the prestigious Newbery Medal is named—became a celebrated author and publisher, changing the world of children’s books forever. This book about his life and legacy is as full of energy and delight as any young reader could wish.

 

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illus. Dow Phumiruk
Publication: May 2, 2017 by Christy Ottaviano Books
Book Description:

As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 

What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures (The World of Weird Animals) by Jess Keating, illus. David DeGrand
Publication: August 8, 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Some people think monsters are the stuff of nightmares–the stuff of scary movies and Halloween. But monsters can also be found right in your backyard. Animals like aye-ayes, goblin sharks and vampire bats may look scary, but they pose no threat to humans. Others, such as the prairie dog, seem innocent–cute, even–yet their behavior could give you goose bumps.

What makes a monster? Read this book to find out, if you dare. . . .Jess Keating and David DeGrand, the author illustrator team behind Pink Is for Blobfish will have readers shrieking with laughter at this latest installment to the World of Weird Animals series.

 

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter
Publication: August 22, 2017 by Beach Lane Books
Book Description:

Get to know Zaha Hadid in this nonfiction picture book about the famed architect’s life and her triumph over adversity from celebrated author-illustrator Jeanette Winter.

Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, and dreamed of designing her own cities. After studying architecture in London, she opened her own studio and started designing buildings. But as a Muslim woman, Hadid faced many obstacles. Determined to succeed, she worked hard for many years, and achieved her goals—and now you can see the buildings Hadid has designed all over the world.

 

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. Eric Velásquez
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked. Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro-Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world.

 

How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy
Publication: September 19, 2017 by David Macaulay Studio
Book Description:

The savanna is not an easy place to live, even for African elephants, the largest land animals on earth. If it’s a challenge for these 7,000-pound giants, what’s it like for their newborn babies?

An infant elephant has precious little time to learn the incredible array of skills that are necessary to keep up, from projecting her voice across a 10-octave range to using the 100,000 muscles in her trunk to stay hydrated. But this giant-to-be has the perfect classroom–a family herd made up of her mother, sisters, cousins, and aunts. With their help and protection, she’ll learn how to survive, how to thrive, and how to be an elephant.

Award-winning author-illustrator Katherine Roy’s How to Be an Elephant delves into the intricate family dynamics at play in a typical African herd. Drawing upon the latest scientific research and Roy’s own expedition to Kenya, and brimming with lush watercolor illustrations and detailed diagrams, this book vividly portrays the life and development of an elephant from an uncertain newborn into a majestic adult. As informative as it is beautiful, Roy’s unique portrait of an elephant’s life will captivate young explorers and animal lovers alike.

 

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illus. Gordon C. James
Publication: October 10, 2017 by Agate Bolden
Book Description:

The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

This rhythmic, read-aloud title is an unbridled celebration of the self-esteem, confidence, and swagger boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair–a tradition that places on their heads a figurative crown, beaming with jewels, that confirms their brilliance and worth and helps them not only love and accept themselves but also take a giant step toward caring how they present themselves to the world. The fresh cuts. That’s where it all begins.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is a high-spirited, engaging salute to the beautiful, raw, assured humanity of black boys and how they see themselves when they approve of their reflections in the mirror.

 

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, illus. Bryan Collier
Publication: November 14, 2017 by Little, Brown
Book Description:

Six-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and four-time Caldecott Honor recipient Bryan Collier brings this classic, inspirational poem to life, written by poet Useni Eugene Perkins.

Hey black child,
Do you know who you are?
Who really are?
Do you know you can be
What you want to be
If you try to be
What you can be?

This lyrical, empowering poem celebrates black children and seeks to inspire all young people to dream big and achieve their goals.

 

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. Qin Leng
Expected publication: January 23, 2018 by Balzer + Bray
Book Description:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of our greatest writers. But before that, she was just an ordinary girl.In fact, young Jane was a bit quiet and shy; if you had met her back then, you might not have noticed her at all. But she would have noticed you. Jane watched and listened to all the things people around her did and said and locked those observations away for safekeeping.

Jane also loved to read. She devoured everything in her father’s massive library, and before long she began creating her own stories. In her time, the most popular books were grand adventures and romances, but Jane wanted to go her own way . . . and went on to invent an entirely new kind of novel.

Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng have collaborated on a gorgeous tribute to an independent thinker who turned ordinary life into extraordinary stories and created a body of work that has delighted and inspired readers for generations.

 

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear, illus. Julie Morstad
Expected publication: February 6, 2018 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

By the 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli had captivated the fashion world in Paris, but before that, she was a little girl in Rome who didn’t feel pretty at all. Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is the enchanting story for young readers of how a young girl used her imagination and emerged from plain to extraordinary.

As a young girl in Rome, Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) felt “brutta” (ugly) and searched all around her for beauty. Seeing the colors of Rome’s flower market one day, young Elsa tried to plant seeds in her ears and nose, hoping to blossom like a flower. All she got was sick, but from that moment, she discovered her own wild imagination.

In the 1920 and ’30s, influenced by her friends in the surrealist art movement, Schiaparelli created a vast collection of unique fashion designs—hats shaped like shoes, a dress adorned with lobsters, gloves with fingernails, a dress with drawers and so many more. She mixed her own bold colors and invented her own signature shades, including shocking pink.

 

Best of 2017, Part 2: Picture Books & more!

Welcome to Part 2 of my Best of 2017 posts, which is all about picture books (including early fiction, readers and non-fiction picture books)! This reading year was picture book intensive– as you can tell from the sheer volume of awesome titles! There are so many incredible, unique, innovative and beautiful titles I had the absolute pleasure of reading and discovering this year. I have divided the list into three parts: the VIPs (i.e. titles of exceptional merit, in my opinion), other standout/best titles, and then non-fiction. If you’re interested in checking out more of my best of picks, you can take a look here at Part 1 of my Best of 2017 picks– including everything from Children’s lit, YA to Humour!

 

Picture Book & Board Book VIPs:
Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illus. Sydney Smith
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli illus. by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell
A Day with Yayeh by Nicola I. Campbell, illus. Julie Flett
When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson, illus. Julie Flett
King of the Sky by Nicola Davies, illus. Laura Carlin
After the Fall by Dan Santat
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
You Don’t Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman, illus. Liz Climo
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear, illus. Esme Shapiro
Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead
Tony by Ed Galing, illus. Erin E. Stead
When the Moon Comes by Paul Harbridge, illus. Matt James
A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, illus. Chris Appelhans
Look, Look Again by Agnese Baruzzi (board book)

 

Rest of the Best Picture Books, Board Books & Readers:
The Fog by Kyo Maclear, illus. Kenard Pak
Counting with Tiny Cat by Viviane Schwarz
Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer, illus. Richard Jones
La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo, illus. Jaime Kin
Lines by Suzy Lee
Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illus. Charles Santoso
Bob, Not Bob!: *to be read as though you have the worst cold ever by Liz Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick, illus. Matthew Cordell
The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illus. Ana Aranda
Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
Wild One by Jane Whittingham, illus. Noel Tauzon
His Royal Highness, King Baby: A Terrible True Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illus. David Roberts
This House, Once by Deborah Freedman
Boat of Dreams by Rogério Coelho
The Road Home by Katie Cotton, illus. Sarah Jacoby
Nothing Rhymes With Orange by Adam Rex
Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup
That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares
South by Daniel Duncan
My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel
Marigold Bakes a Cake by Mike Malbrough
Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List by Kate Klise, illus. M. Sarah Klise
The Gold Leaf by Kirsten Hall, illus. Matthew Forsythe
Treat by Mary Sullivan
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, illus. Zachariah OHora
Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant, illus. K.G. Campbell
Love Is by Diane Adams, illus. Claire Keane
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen
The Lines on Nana’s Face by Simona Ciraolo
Gary by Leila Rudge
Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin
Plankton is Pushy by Jonathan Fenske
Lily Wool by Paula Vásquez
123 Dream by Kim Krans
Charlotte the Scientist Is Squished by Camille Andros, illus. Brianne Farley
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illus. G. Brian Karas
Shapes, Reshape!: A Minibombo Book by Silvia Borando
1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book by Juana Medina
Hotel Bruce (Bruce #2) by Ryan T. Higgins
A Perfect Day by Lane Smith
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy, illus. Eugene Yelchin
Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas, illus. Sydney Smith
Over and Under the Pond (Over and Under) by Kate Messner, illus. Christopher Silas Neal
We Are Growing! (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! #2) by Laurie Keller, Mo Willems (Reader)
Before & After by Jean Jullien (board book)
Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book by Molly Idle (board book)
Arctic Animals by Tad Carpenter (board book)

 

Non-Fiction:
I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Upsby Chris Harris, illus. Lane Smith
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk by Jan Thornhill
Whose Poop Is That? by Darrin P. Lunde illus. Kelsey Oseid
This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renée Watson, illus. Christian Robinson
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illus. Marta Álvarez Miguéns

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2017. Some titles appearing on this list may also have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this has no bearing on making this list. These are my personal selections.

Best of 2017, Part 1: Children’s Lit, Young Adult, Adult Fiction & more!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful, safe and lovely holiday season, whatever your celebrations may be!

I am rather late in posting this, but I wanted to get in my 2017 reading highlights before the end of the year. In no particular order, here are my book selections for part one, hope you enjoy!

 

Children’s Fiction/Middle Grade:
The Goat by Anne Fleming
Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. Lambert
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1) by Kate Milford
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall
Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I #2) by Casey Lyall
Ghost (Track #1) by Jason Reynolds
The Cat Stole My Pants (Timmy Failure #6) by Stephan Pastis
Royal Crush (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess #3) by Meg Cabot
Roll by Darcy Miller
The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
Jolly Foul Play (Murder Most Unladylike #4) by Robin Stevens
Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling
The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter
Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere (Olga #1) by Elise Gravel
Catstronauts series by Drew Brockington (graphic novel)
Wallace the Brave by Will Henry (graphic novel)
Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten (graphic novel)
Bird and Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illus. LeUyen Pham, color by Jane Poole (graphic novel)
Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm (Heavenly Nostrils, #6) by Dana Simpson (graphic novel)
Grandfather and the Moon by Stéphanie Lapointe, illus. Rogé, translated by Shelley Tanaka

 

Young Adult:
The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith
The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan
Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail (YA/MG crossover)
The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler (YA non-fiction)

 

Adult Fiction & Mysteries:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Nine Lessons (Josephine Tey Mystery #9) by Nicola Upson
Hunting Hour (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima
Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
On Turpentine Lane by Eleanor Lipman
Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith
The Boy is Back (Boy #4) by Meg Cabot

 

Adult Non-Fiction, Humour and Other:

Big Mushy Happy Lump (Sarah’s Scribbles #2) by Sarah Anderson
It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot
I Hate Everyone Except You by Clinton Kelly
Texts From Dog II: The Dog Delusion by October Jones
Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting by Brian Gordon
Onward and Downward: The Twenty-Second Sherman’s Lagoon Collection by Jim Toomey

 

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2017. 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.

A Winter Holiday Picture Book Giveaway!

Something lovely for the winter and holiday season: a chance to win one of four beautiful perfect-for-winter and holiday books! Courtesy of the lovely folks at Raincoast Books, I have four seasonal reads to share with you, and one lucky Canadian reader will have the chance to win their top picture book or board book pick. The details for the Winter Holiday Picture Book Giveaway are at the bottom of the post, so please read on!

Let’s take a closer look at the books:

S is for Santa: A Christmas Alphabet (board book) by Greg Paprocki
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Gibbs Smith
From the creators of BabyLit, a Christmas board book for infants and toddlers, to evoke the wonder of Christmas. A collection of twenty-six illustrations featuring colorful Christmas-themed concepts sure to evoke a sense of wonderment for toddlers and nostalgia for parents, including Christmas carolers, kids playing in the snow, toys piled high under the tree, sparkling decorations and lights, flying reindeer, the gift of giving, more toys, and of course jolly ol’ St. Nick and his elves.

S is for Santa: A Christmas Alphabet is a bright and cheerful alphabet board book just right for the Christmas season. Illustrated by Greg Paprocki, the board book features vibrant full colour vintage-like Christmas-themed illustrations- a different scene for every letter of the alphabet. From A is for angel and B is for baking, to Y is for yummy and Z is for Zephyr, this stylish board book is perfect for those with infants and/or toddlers due to the short text. There is something so warm, happy and nostalgic about S is for Santa– it even took me back to my childhood when I would pore over my (now quite old!) Christmas-themed Little Golden Books. I have had a chance to read this one over multiple times (and a few times with my three year old who is obsessed with anything Christmas-related!) and there is something to appreciate and enjoy in every reading of it.

 

Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer, illus. Richard Jones
Publication: October 24, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Snow is coming, and it’s time to get ready! The squirrel gathers nuts, the geese soar south, and the snowshoe hare puts on its new white coat. But what should the fox do? Each animal advises the fox that its own plan is best, but the fox thinks otherwise-yet it’s not until he meets a golden-eyed friend that he finds the perfect way to celebrate the snowfall. Stunning illustrations by the new talent Richard Jones are the perfect complement to the Newbery Honor winner Marion Dane Bauer’s lyrical and playful homage to the natural world.

Oh readers, this is a lovely, lovely picture book! With utterly gorgeous and mesmerizing illustrations by Richard Jones and lyrical text from Marion Dane Bauer, Winter Dance is a quiet gem of a picture book. With a glorious red fox as our guide, readers are taken on a journey to find out about what various animals do when the snow comes. Fox learns all about what bats and bears, and multiple other animals do- and all the various animals think the fox should follow their respective plans, but fox is not convinced! It is not until fox meets another similar red-furred friend that plans for the coming snow are decided. A beautiful read- in text and illustration- from start to finish.

 

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter written and illus. Kenard Pak
Publication: September 5, 2017 by Henry Holt & Co.
As leaves fall from their trees, animals huddle against the cold, and frost creeps across windows, everyone knows—winter is on its way! Join a brother and sister as they explore nature and take a stroll through their twinkling town, greeting all the signs of the coming season. In a series of conversations with everything from the setting sun to curious deer, they say goodbye to autumn and welcome the glorious first snow of winter.

Readers who have previously enjoyed Kenard Pak’s Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn will undoubtedly love to read and see what the talented author-illustrator brings with Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter. With numerous well-received and starred reviews to his name, Pak’s illustrative style has become more well-known and unmistakable as his own. Like Winter Dance above, Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter uses a quieter, more hushed kind of narrative that is just as evocative and bittersweet as something roaring for attention. The story follows an older sister and her younger brother as they say ‘Hello’ to animals and objects of the natural world and listen to the various replies. Pak’s illustrations are, as ever, just wonderful- dynamic yet restrained- and the story as a whole is perfect for readers on the lookout for a lulling, soft story.

 

Santa’s Magic Key by Eric James, illus. Simon Mendez
Publication: October 3, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Unlock the magic with this book and special keepsake key to start a new family tradition.

It’s an age-old question. How does Santa get into every house around the world… no matter what doors, locks, chimneys, or windows exist? Find the answer to this question in Santa’s Magic Key! In this unforgettable holiday story, a boy realizes on Christmas Eve that his new house does not have a chimney, and with the post office closed and Santa coming bythe end of the night, he has no way of telling Santa. But when the boy finds a mysterious key, he’ll soon discover just how this key will solve his problem. Add a new classic to your holiday collection with this magical tale that reveals how Santa can always spread gifts and joy on Christmas Eve by using his magical key. This beautiful book comes with Santa’s special key just for you to hang on your Christmas tree as an ornament or outside your door!

Santa’s Magic Key written by Eric James and illustrated by Simon Mendez is a seasonal parcel that contains a picture book as well as a keepsake item. In this case, the keepsake item is a special key for Santa that corresponds with the story of a young boy who discovers more magic of the season through a chance meeting with Santa and the giving of a golden key. The hope or idea of Santa’s Magic Key is to start a tradition of hanging the special keepsake key on your own tree or outside your door, as a way to welcome Santa into your home- no matter if you don’t have a chimney! For any families who have enjoyed Elf on the Shelf– and are perhaps looking for something lower maintenance or simpler- or families just looking for a kindhearted, sentimental Christmas read with a suggestion of new tradition, then Santa’s Magic Key might be one to try out!

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Giveaway Info:

The Winter Holiday Picture Book Giveaway is open to Canadian residents, ages 18 and up. The giveaway will run from December 12, 2017 to December 20, 2017. One winner will be randomly selected at the end of giveaway via Rafflecopter. The winner will have 48 hours to respond via Twitter or by emailing me at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com, confirming their name, their mailing address, and their one picture book prize pick. If the first drawn winner does not contact me within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen.

Click here to enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter!

Update: December 23rd, 2017:

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED! Thank you so much to everyone who participated.

The winner is MARIE S.! Congratulations! Please email within the next 48 hours with your prize pick and Canadian mailing address.

 

I received copies of the four titles from Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and comments regarding the titles are my own. Prizes provided courtesy of Raincoast Books.

Picture Book Review: The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Review: The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illus. Jon Klassen
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada and Candlewick Press. Thank you!
Publication: October 10, 2017 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

Early one morning a mouse met a wolf and was quickly gobbled up.

When a woeful mouse is swallowed by a wolf, he quickly learns he is not alone: a duck has already set up digs, and, boy, has that duck got it figured out! Turns out it’s pretty nice in there, with delicious food and elegant table settings, courtesy of the wolf’s unchecked gluttony. And there’s something even better: no more fear of being eaten by a wolf! In fact, life is pretty good, until a hunter shows up. . . . With a nod to traditional fables and a wink to the reader, the award-winning Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen offer a tale of cooperation and creative cuisine that is sure to go down easy.

“I may have been swallowed,” says the duck, “but I have no intention of being eaten.”

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen have, together and separately, published some of my favourite picture books…From their joint work in Extra Yarn to Sam and Dave Dig a Hole; from Barnett’s Leo: A Ghost Story (illustrated by Christian Robinson), to Klassen’s The Dark (written by Lemony Snicket), Barnett and Klassen are a decorated and first-rate duo. Joining their roster of works is their latest effort, The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse, a darkly funny, peculiar fable that takes on some familiar fairy tale tropes and twists them in successful (and surprising) ways.

We have likely read a fairy or folk tale in which a villainous animal gobbles up a meeker or smaller animal of sorts. But what happens when two bedfellows meet in the belly of the beast? In The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse, readers meet a wolf who happens upon little mouse in the woods and greedily eats him up. As mouse ponders his existence in the caverns of Wolf’s spacious insides, he discovers he is not alone in there…for a duck has made rather comfortable quarters for himself inside of Wolf. As the duck and mouse forge their new, unexpected- and safe, protected– life together in wolf’s insides, they find that the outside world still poses a threat to their existence. As wolf finds himself in throws of a terrible bellyache (as mouse and duck party on rather lavishly), a hunter sees the chance for himself to take down the wolf. But alas, what the hunter has not prepared for- and how could he, really?- is the measures that duck and mouse will now take to defend their new home.

Wonderfully disquieting, macabre and funny- think a multiplication of I Want My Hat Back– but told in the style of a unusual folk tale, The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse is another terrific read from Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. The New York Times Book Review noted, in their review of this title, that ‘no one does perturbed animals better’ than Klassen, and I wholeheartedly agree. I would also add that Klassen’s expertise of shifty-eyed animals in tandem with Barnett’s ability for ingenious, crafty, malleable storytelling style make for a sublime experience here in The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse.

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

Picture Book Review: Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas & Sydney Smith

Review: Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas, illus. Sydney Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Tundra Books, imprint of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Tundra Books.
Book Description:

Smoot the shadow has been living a yawn-filled life for years. His boy never laughs and never leaps, so Smoot never does either . . . until the day he pops free, and decides to hit the road in search of the life he dreams about. And as he enjoys his first colorful day–singing, dancing and playing–other shadows watch him, and they become brave too. The frog’s shadow takes the shape of a prince, the dragonfly’s shadow that of a dragon. Even the rock’s shadow gets in on the excitement. But what will become of the timid beings their shadows have left behind? Will they finally be inspired to find their own daring?

Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow comes from the writing talent of Beyond the Laughing Sky author Michelle Cuevas, and award-winning Sidewalk Flowers illustrator Sydney Smith. A wondrous and fable-like tale of a shadow wanting to live a bright, dancing, laughter-filled life beyond his shy, timid boy, Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow is a fantastic read.

When readers meet Smoot, we see that the shadow is aching to break out from his boy’s quiet, quiet life. Smoot longs so much to laugh, dance, take risks, and do something beyond the still life of his young boy. So when Smoot manages to break free from his boy- with a surprising ‘pop!’- Smoot thinks ‘This is my chance!’. So Smoot packs a few things including ‘some shade, some moonlight, a change of underpants’ and goes forth. Through full-page, glorious, detailed and loose ink and watercolour illustrations, we see Smoot experience exciting, vibrant activities: climbing trees, jumping rope, going on a merry-go round, and more. Then, something seemingly small but significant happens: a dandelion’s shadow- so inspired from watching Smoot- flies away from its flower, followed by the shadows of a grasshopper, cricket and frog. As Smoot watches more and more- and larger, intimidating shadows break free- he wonders how out of hand or dangerous uncontrolled shadows might make things for living beings… so Smoot very cleverly puts together a plan that leads the shadows to contentedly return to their old lives. Without spoiling the lovely culmination, I will say that even Smoot and his boy find a way to make wishes old and new meet in an exciting middle.

Overall, Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow is a beautiful and unexpected story that shines due to Cuevas’ penchant for fantastical storytelling and Smith’s stunning art. The combination here of Cuevas’ magical, unusual, Norton Juster-like writing with that of Smith’s incredible, unique style and use of vivid colour and contrast makes for something noteworthy here. The essence of the story- that of dreaming of a life beyond the quiet shadows- may be something we have read before, but Cuevas and Smith truly create something marvelous and out of the ordinary here with their combined exceptional writing and illustrative efforts.

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

Must Read Monday (75): Children’s Graphic Novels from Fanny Britt & Isabelle Arsenault, Dana Simpson, Benjamin Renner & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week’s focus is all on children’s graphic novels! A few on this list are continuations of favourite series, including: the latest entry in the wonderful Heavenly Nostrils series by Dana Simpson (already read but had to include it here!); the third title in the terrifically fun CatStronauts by Drew Brockington; and the fifth graphic novel adaption of The Baby-Sitter’s Club by Gale Galligan and Braden Lamb. There is also the very-well reviewed The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner, which looks delightful; the Anne of Green Gables graphic novel adaption which looks gorgeous and I am extremely curious about; and last but not least, Louis Undercover, the latest from the award-winning, critically acclaimed Canadian author and illustrator team of Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault.

 

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
Publication: June 20, 2017 by First Second (first published 2015)
Book Description:

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Fox? No one, it seems.

The fox dreams of being the terror of the barnyard. But no one is intimidated by him, least of all the hens. When he picks a fight with one, he always ends up on the losing end. Even the wolf, the most fearsome beast of the forest, can’t teach him how to be a proper predator. It looks like the fox will have to spend the rest of his life eating turnips.

But then the wolf comes up with the perfect scheme. If the fox steals some eggs, he could hatch the chicks himself and raise them to be a plump, juicy chicken dinner. Unfortunately, this plan falls apart when three adorable chicks hatch and call the fox Mommy.

 

Dawn and the Impossible Three (Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novels #5) by Gale Galligan, colors by Braden Lamb, original story by Ann M. Martin
Publication:September 26th 2017 by Graphix
Book Description:

Dawn Schafer is the newest member of The Baby-sitters Club. While she’s still adjusting to life in Stoneybrook after moving from sunny California, she’s eager to accept her first big job. But taking care of the three Barrett kids would be too much for any baby-sitter. The house is always a mess, the kids are out of control, and Mrs. Barrett never does any of the things she promises. On top of all that, Dawn wants to fit in with the other members of the BSC, but she can’t figure out how to get along with Kristy. Was joining The Baby-sitters Club a mistake?

 

Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt, illus. Isabelle Arsenault
Publication: October 1st 2017 by Groundwood Books (first published 2016)
Book Description:

Louis’s dad cries — Louis knows this because he spies on him. His dad misses the happy times when their family was together, just as Louis does. But as it is, he and his little brother, Truffle, have to travel back and forth between their dad’s country house and their mom’s city apartment, where she tries to hide her own tears. Thankfully, Louis has Truffle for company. Truffle loves James Brown lyrics, and when he isn’t singing, he’s asking endless questions. Louis also has his friend Boris, with whom he spots ghost cop cars and spies on the “silent queen,” the love of his life, Billie.

When Louis and Truffle go to their dad’s for two weeks during the summer, their father seems to have stopped drinking. And when Truffle has a close call from a bee sting, their mother turns up and the reunited foursome spend several wonderful days in New York — until they reach the end of the road, again.

 

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in The Magic Storm (Heavenly Nostrils #6) by Dana Simpson
Publication: October 17, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Book Description:

The first Phoebe and Her Unicorn graphic novel!

Phoebe and Marigold decide to investigate a powerful storm that is wreaking havoc with the electricity in their town. The adults think it’s just winter weather, but Phoebe and Marigold soon discover that all is not what it seems to be, and that the storm may have a magical cause. To solve the case, they team up with Max, who is desperate for the electricity to return so he can play video games, and frenemy Dakota, who is aided by her goblin minions. Together, they must get to the bottom of the mystery and save the town from the magic storm.

 

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel adapted by Mariah Marsden from L.M. Montgomery’s original story, illus. Brenna Thummler
Publication: October 24, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

Book Description:

Schoolyard rivalries. Baking disasters. Puffed sleeves. Explore the violet vales and glorious green of Avonlea in this spirited adaptation.

The magic of L.M. Montgomery’s treasured classic is reimagined in a whimsically-illustrated graphic novel adaptation perfect for newcomers and kindred spirits alike. When Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert decide to adopt an orphan who can help manage their family farm, they have no idea what delightful trouble awaits them. With flame-red hair and an unstoppable imagination, 11-year-old Anne Shirley takes Green Gables by storm. Anne’s misadventures bring a little romance to the lives of everyone she meets: her bosom friend, Diana Barry; the town gossip, Mrs. Lynde; and that infuriating tease, Gilbert Blythe. From triumphs and thrills to the depths of despair, Anne turns each everyday moment into something extraordinary.

 

CatStronauts: Space Station Situation (CatStronauts #3) by Drew Brockington
Publication: October 31, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

When chief science officer Pom Pom rejoins the CatStronauts on the International Space Station, she has to get to work right away–the Hubba Bubba Telescope isn’t working, and CATSUP is losing funding by the day!

But as the CatStronauts and Mission Control race to find answers, the unthinkable happens and pilot Waffles is forced to orbit the Earth in nothing but his space suit. Even though he’s no scaredy cat, Waffles has a hard time staying out in space. When disaster on a global scale rears its head, will a fractured CatStronauts team be enough to save the day?