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.

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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 Reviews: A Dog with Nice Ears & The Other Dog

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

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

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

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

Picture Book Review: Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate & Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Review: Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate & Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 3, 2018 by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

From Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Katherine Applegate, a sweet book of encouragement, filled with humor and insight into the effort behind any meaningful accomplishment in life. A perfect gift for baby shower, birthday, or graduation.

This gorgeous gift book, equally perfect for preschool graduations or college commencements, baby showers or birthdays, is an inspirational tribute to the universal struggles and achievements of childhood. Beginning with a first birthday, the scenes travel through childhood triumphs and milestones, coming full circle to graduation. A magical blend of succinct text and beautiful watercolors renders each moment with tenderness and humor and encourages readers to “remember then, with every try, sometimes you fail . . . sometimes you fly.”

Before the cake…
before the peas…
before the laugh…
before the seas…

So begins the heartfelt, sweet and wonderfully illustrated picture book Sometimes You Fly by Newbery Medal winner Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Blue Ethel).

A starred review from Booklist (a snippet of which is also quoted on the book jacket) notes Sometimes You Fly as a ‘natural successor’ to the perennial graduation gift Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. And yes, absolutely: given the hopeful, commemorative and forward-looking nature, Sometimes You Fly is a super new choice or alternative pick to the usual! With Katherine Applegate’s rhyming and rhythmic text reading as so genuine and natural, and Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s memorable artwork- which I fell in love with in Blue EthelSometimes You Fly truly stand-outs and sings as an all-ages kind of celebratory read.

Image from Sometimes You Fly via Mr. Schu Reads blog post

With each short line of text of ‘before’, full page illustrations (front and back) illustrate or highlight the before and after of a momentous occasion. For example, with ‘before the team…’ readers see a girl try multiple swings at bat, while the back side shows the young girl jumping up in excitement at having made a softball team. After numerous and varied ‘before’s’, the book gently shifts to take readers through some of the highs and lows of attempting new things, of making mistakes, of saying goodbyes, and softly stresses the importance of what we take and learn from our experiences. Applegate’s writing here, as in her children’s novels, is composed and reassuring, this lovely mix of gravitas mixed with lightness. Reinhardt’s illustrations are such a brilliant complement to Applegate’s text: the illustrations show such detail, such expressiveness and nuanced emotions, from moments of joy to catastrophe to everything in between.

Overall, Sometimes You Fly is a kindhearted, hopeful read with marvelous illustrations that will indeed make it an appealing (and rightfully so!) gift to celebrate graduations and other such occasions, but it’s also a lovely read in its own right that can be enjoyed quietly or aloud at anytime by any reader looking for a little assurance or hope.

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

 

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.

Picture Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: April 11, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

 

Image from Alma and How She Got Her Name via Juana Martinez-Neal’s site

Juana Martinez-Neal makes her debut as both author and illustrator with the critically-lauded Alma and How She Got Her Name. Gorgeously illustrated, poignant, and starring an endearing protagonist, Martinez-Neal’s notable picture book is not to be missed.

When readers meet Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, she is writing her name and requires two pieces of paper- taped together- to get her full name down! We learn that she considers her name to be “too long, if you asked her”. She approaches her dad and reiterates her stance that her name is just too long and that “it never fits”. Her dad responds by taking a photo album off of a shelf: “…Let me tell you the story of your name. Then you decide if it fits”. Beginning with the name Sofia, and ending with the name Alma, Alma and her dad take a look at a photograph of each namesake and speak in a brief and thoughtful fashion about each respective relative- whether personal notes about their interests, their beliefs, their crafts, etc. At each name, Alma thinks about how remarkable it is that some parts of her relatives’ personalities and passions are somehow reflected in her or even an intrinsic part of her own person! As one can imagine, the more Alma hears from her father about her family’s history, the more her consideration and awe about her namesakes blossoms, as does her own sense of self and the uniqueness of her story.

Image from Alma and How She Got Her Name via Candlewick Press

A picture book that packs meaning, nostalgia, and general loveliness within its pages, Juana Martinez-Neal’s Alma and How She Got Her Name is an all-around wonderful read- beautifully told, beautifully illustrated (I am just in love with the art)- that also offers inspiration for readers. I have been reading this book with my three year old and she not only enjoys hearing about Alma’s name, but also hearing the stories behind her own full name which has quite a bit of family history nestled within it! Due to its more concise text length, I could see Alma and How She Got Her Name being used with a smaller Kindergarten and up group (or really, with any group of children perhaps working on family trees, or studying their own family!). Be sure to read “A Note from Juana” at the end of the book; Martinez-Neal talks about her own name’s history, as well as offering some related prompts for writing or discussion!

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

Recently Read: Kate Messner’s Breakout & Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise

Review posts featuring a children’s lit title and young adult lit title don’t often (if ever!) appear on this site. However, after reading Kate Messner’s Breakout (the children’s title) and Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise (the young adult title) in succession, I thought it might be interesting to pair them together in a review. Both titles deal with the criminal justice system (incarceration, punishment, and the complicated responsibility of prison wardens) albeit in different capacities, degrees and vantage points. While weighty and controversial issues surrounding the justice system and prison system are never off the grid, I feel as though these reads- and the subjects they proffer for sincere examination- might be considered even more timely and significant. (Just a warning, there are some plot spoilers ahead in the reviews!).

In Kate Messner‘s latest middle grade novel Breakout– already receiving a number of positive critical reviews- multiple middle school characters tell the complicated story of what happened over the course of a summer in which two prison inmates escaped a high-security prison located in the heart of their small town of Wolf Creek. Best friends Nora and Lizzie, along with new classmate Elidee, through journal entries, recorded conversations, text messages, posters, new clippings, and recorded morning announcements (and the addition of Nora’s younger brother’s comics), track the events, aftereffects, and transformations of their community after the breakout of two maximum security prisoners. Breakout tackles and confronts a number of heavy-hitting issues, including privilege, spreading of misinformation, prejudice and racism (in and out of the prison), and what foolishness and fear can breed- or inflame. Elidee’s narrative is a standout here: her being a newcomer to town, her being a racial minority in Wolf Creek, and the the fact that her brother is serving time in Wolf Creek’s prison works to highlight the biases of even the most well-minded and well-meaning children and adults. Moreover, through Elidee’s narrative, Messner rather wonderfully ties in the brilliant and influential voices of Jacqueline Woodson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nikki Grimes (among others): as Elidee finds Wolf Creek and its residents increasingly stifling, explicitly and appallingly racist at times, her study of lyricists and poets inspires her to write and try to make her own breakout from Wolf Creek. Breakout is definitely a read to get dialogue and self-reflection going; I can see elementary classes getting their teeth into this layered read. Well-written, absorbing and truly substantial in terms of content and subject matter, Breakout is a read that offers much for serious consideration.

Sarah Crossan‘s newest young adult novel Moonrise is a read that moved me to tears, and like Breakout, one that I keep thinking back on. Crossan, author of the acclaimed novels One, Apple and Rain, and Ireland’s new Children’s Literature Laureate, has written a novel in verse about a seventeen year old whose older brother receives the date of his execution while on death row in Texas. There is, as one might expect, a tremendous amount of sadness and brutality in this novel, as well as the pervasive atmosphere of desperation and tension that threatens to overflow at every turn. When readers meet Joe, we learn that he hasn’t seen his older brother Ed in ten years- since Joe was seven years old. While Joe and his older sister Angela have never forgotten about Ed and his incarceration, the prospect of his being put to death- even while serving time on death row in Wakefield, Texas- seemed unreal. But when Ed receives his date of execution, and chances for appeal are almost out, Joe makes the difficult trip to Wakefield. The reason for Ed’s incarceration is a slow reveal: the exploration into his making a false admission of guilt and claim of innocence becomes almost secondary to Joe and Ed’s reunion; their remembrances of a childhood fraught with a terrible parent; Joe’s memories of some moments of true happiness with Ed; and how Joe, Angela and Ed come to fathom the looming possibility of saying a final goodbye. Crossan’s writing is deceptively smooth and effortless- so much profundity is imbued in Joe’s often stark narrative. As with Kate Messner’s Breakout, Moonrise offers so much for contemplation here regarding fallacies and serious fractures within the justice and prison systems (and regarding those who work on the inside). Moonrise is a potentread, where the knowledge of unalterable, irrevocable character decisions and repercussions make for a haunting, unsettling read. Readers who have previously read and appreciated Crossan’s affecting work, readers of novels-in-verse, and those searching for contemporary, weightier YA, might especially be interested in seeking Moonrise out.

I received copies of Breakout and Moonrise courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. Thank you! Both titles have been published and are currently available. All opinions and comments are my own.

Recently Read: Great Picture Books (16)!

A look at some wonderful picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading lately! All are titles I have read and enjoyed and would recommend. Let’s start off with two funny books featuring bears: first up is Don’t Feed the Bear by Kathleen Doherty, illustrated by Chip Wass, a riotous story about an escalating battle of wit and words between a determined-to-get-food bear and an equally stubborn ranger (a bit of a loving nod to Yogi Bear and Disney’s Humphrey the Bear!); second up is Bear and Chicken by Jannie Ho, an adorably illustrated title that gently builds up tension between an anxious chicken and the hungry bear who rescues her from the cold (…this book would pair nicely with That Is Not A Good Idea! or The Doghouse!). Next is Red Sky at Night, from paper artist Elly MacKay, which looks at various weather sayings (e.g.red sky in the morning, sailors take warning) with beautiful, dreamlike accompanying pictorial representations. If you’d like to take a wonderfully sweet trip across Canada, may I recommend Linda Bailey and Kass Reich‘s terrifically told and illustrated Carson Crosses Canada, about a sparkling, funny dog and his equally sparkling and awesomely adventurous owner. Readers who love stories about invention and treehouses, be sure to check out Carter Higgins and Emily Hughes‘s glorious Everything You Need for a Treehouse, a book to inspire and to be pored over and read again and again. If you’re looking for a cat-centred jewel of a picture book with minimal text, try Isabelle Simler‘s marvelously illustrated Plume. Sophie Blackall’s latest title is Hello Lighthouse, a fascinating- and gloriously illustrated- detailed look inside a lighthouse and the life of its current keeper. Last but definitely not least we have I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët, a remarkable, necessary wordless picture book.

Picture Book Review: Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston & Misa Saburi

Review: Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston, illus. Misa Saburi
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 20, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

When Sakura’s father gets a new job, she and her parents leave their home in Japan. In America, Sakura misses the blossoming cherry tree where she and her grandmother would play and picnic. How will she feel at home in this new and unfamiliar place? What if she forgets the beloved grandmother she left behind? Making friends with her neighbour helps Sakura feel more settled and when springtime finally arrives, a gorgeous and fateful surprise awaits her.

Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms captures the beauty of the healing power of friendship through Weston’s Japanese poetry-inspired text and Saburi’s breathtaking illustrations.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

“I’ve watched this tree grow
all my life,” said Obaachan.
This is how I learned

seeing these blossoms in bloom
is always finest with friends.”

Author Robert Paul Weston (Blues for Zoey) turns to picture books with Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms, illustrated by Misa Saburi (Monster Trucks, with Joy Keller). Written in a series of tanka poems, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms tells the story of a young girl named Sakura- whose name means cherry blossoms- as she and her parents leave Japan and her beloved Obaachan for America.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

When Sakura arrives at their new home, she is understandably sad and lonely, missing her grandmother, their picnics, as well as the “soft and sweet scent” of cherry blossoms. A thoughtful young boy from next door named Luke tries to lift her spirits by offering to look at the night sky together through his telescope. After night adventures of contemplating the world above them- and its fleeting nature- Sakura soon finds that with a friend by her side, her new home and new school does not feel quite so daunting or cold. Sakura’s story, however, takes a sad turn with news about her Obaachan. Sakura and her family make a trip back to Japan to spend time with her now-ailing Obaachan. Quiet notes about love, grief and remembrance lace through the final spreads of the picture book, with the incredible reveal of cherry blossoms and a tender nod to Obachaan’s thoughts about enjoying “blossoms in bloom…with friends”.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

Overall, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms is lovely- quietly and poetically- told, with illustrations to match the changing tones throughout the story. While it is indeed a story that touches upon a few more serious, pensive topics, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms is still a hopeful read that emphasizes the reach of love, kindness and friendship. Weston’s approach to telling Sakura’s story in tanka form is unusual but great, and works very well in allowing the more momentous topics to be broached without overwhelming readers. Regarding the artwork, I particularly appreciate Saburi’s idiosyncratic illustrative style and how it works so well with Weston’s poetic writing: characters (and often objects) are well-defined and outlined in dark colours, while some inanimate objects and scenery (like the cherry blossoms) are softly drawn; a broad colour palette is used as well, lively and rich colours to denote happier scenes, while darker, muted shades are used to denote contemplative and sad scenes. Sakura’s Cherry Blossom is a picture book that could be used as a gentler fiction read on loss and mourning, about moving and making a new home, or even about making new friends; used in a classroom or home, this story could also even be used to inspire students to explore and attempt tanka poetry. Be sure to check out the final page: there is notation from the author regarding tanka poetry- an introduction to the style, its structure, as well a brief historical note.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All 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.