Must Read Monday (74): Children’s Titles from Pam Smy, Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara & Lorena Alvarez

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 feature has been absent for a few weeks as I’ve been working my way through my already lengthy to-read pile and reviews! But it is back this week, with some new and intriguing titles. On the roster this week are three mysterious, wondrous looking and sounding children’s titles: Thornhill by Pam Smy; Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara; and Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez.

 

Thornhill by Pam Smy
Publication: August 29, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as Ella unravels the mystery of the girl next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2016: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

 

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara, illus. Lauren O’Hara
Publication: October 5, 2017 by Puffin
Book Description:

A haunting, original fairy tale from two dazzling debut picture book talents, in the spirit of Neil Gaiman and Carson Ellis.

Hortense is a kind and brave girl, but she is sad–even angry–that her shadow follows her everywhere she goes. She hates her shadow, and thinks her shadow must hate her too. But one cold, dark night, when bandits surprise her in the woods, Hortense discovers that her shadow is the very thing she needs most.

This stunningly illustrated story stirs the soul with its compelling, subtle exploration of self-esteem, self-identity, and finding inner strength.

 

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez
Publication: March 14, 2017 by Nobrow Press
Book Description:

Every night, tiny stars appear out of the darkness in little Sandy’s bedroom. She catches them and creates wonderful creatures to play with until she falls asleep, and in the morning brings them back to life in the whimsical drawings. When a mysterious new girl appears at school, Sandy’s drawings are noticed for the first time…but Morfie’s fascination with Sandy’s talent soon turns into something far more sinister.

Nightlights is a beautiful story about fear, insecurity, and creativity, from the enchanting imagination of Lorena Alvarez.

 

 

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Travels with my family…

Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac

Long-ish time, no post! Mr. Fab and I are currently traveling and visiting family, and thus ability to post and review has been limited! Hope to be back with posts soon. A brief bookish note: if you haven’t yet had a chance to read Jason Reynolds’s middle grade novel Ghost (Track #1)– I cannot recommend this one enough. Had a chance to read this recently during some downtown on holiday and it is superb.

In the meantime, won’t you please enjoy some of the late Richard Thompson’s Cul de Dac?

Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac

Must Read Monday (65): Children’s titles from Lisa Thompson, Rachel Vail, Mike Lawrence & 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: children’s fiction and graphic novels! First up, a unique-sounding middle grade mystery novel called The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. I have been reading very strong reviews for this one and cannot wait to read it. Next up is Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail; another contemporary middle grade title which sounds great- and two reviewer friends have recently rated this title very highly. The next four titles on the docket this week are wonderful looking and sounding graphic novels: Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence; Drew Brockington‘s beyond adorable-looking CatStronauts; a new Pets on the Loose graphic novel by Roller Girl author-illustrator Victoria Jamieson; and last but not least, the incredibly unusual and delightful looking Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten.

 

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Scholastic Press

Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

 

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can’t breathe, can’t walk, can’t anything and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J. It turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie’s beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J. s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She’s had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best. Its all good. Well, almost all. She’s trying.

 

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence
Publication: March 21, 2017 by First Second

Avani is the new kid in town, and she’s not happy about it. Everyone in school thinks she’s weird, especially the girls in her Flower Scouts troop. Is it so weird to think scouting should be about fun and adventure, not about makeovers and boys, boys, boys? But everything changes when Avani is “accidentally” abducted by a spunky alien named Mabel. Mabel is a scout too—a Star Scout. Collecting alien specimens (like Avani) goes with the territory, along with teleportation and jetpack racing. Avani might be weird, but in the Star Scouts she fits right in. If she can just survive Camp Andromeda, and keep her dad from discovering that she’s left planet Earth, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime.

 

CatStronauts: Mission Moon (CatStronauts #1) by Drew Brockington
Publication: April 18, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

When the world is thrust into darkness due to a global energy shortage, the Worlds Best Scientist comes up with a bold plan to set up a solar power plant on the moon. But someone has to go up there to set it up, and that adventure falls to the CatStronauts, the best space cats on the planet! Meet the fearless commander Major Meowser, brave-but-hungry pilot Waffles, genius technician and inventor Blanket, and quick thinking science officer Pom Pom on their most important mission yet! In this graphic novel, debut author and illustrator Drew Brockington breathes life into a world populated entirely by cats, brimming with jokes, charm, science, and enough big boxes and tuna sandwiches for everyone!

 

The Great Art Caper (Pets on the Loose #2) by Victoria Jamieson
Expected publication: June 13, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Things at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School have been quiet―too quiet. Cuddly yet calculating class hamster GW spends his days in second grade and his nights poetry slamming and jigsaw puzzling with his friends, Sunflower and Barry. GW has even started warming up to the second-grade students. Could he be making human friends? When the school art show is announced, GW learns of a dastardly plot―Harriet and her many minions are planning to ruin it! Once again, it’s up to GW, Sunflower, and Barry to stop to Harriet’s mousey madness.

 

Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten
Expected publication: June 27, 2017 by Clarion Books

Lint Boy and Lint Bear live in their cozy dryer home, carefree and happy—until the day Lint Bear is snatched away by a cruel woman with a vendetta against dolls! Can Lint Boy unite a group of lost dolls to vanquish the villain and save his brother?This magical story is showcased in the stunning full-color art of this young graphic novel. A gently gothic, age-appropriate blend of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, Lint Boy is a compelling tale of good vs. evil that will leave readers spellbound.

 

Recently Read: Great Children’s Titles from Elise Gravel, Dana Simpson, Ben Hatke & more!

Admittedly, there are indeed a number of book genres that I love- but children’s graphic novels hold a special spot in my reader’s and librarian’s heart. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve had a caregiver or self-described reluctant reader come ask me for reader’s advisory help and graphic novels (or comics) have been a huge (HUGE) ray of hope for both kid and adult. It breaks my heart if I hear an adult- or heaven forbid, a teacher- say they don’t ‘count’ graphic novels as reading. NOOOOO!!! I want to scream. In a roundabout way, I guess what I’m trying to say is: graphic novels for children (and all-ages) rock and definitely count as reading. These are ones I’ve recently read, enjoyed tremendously and would recommend:

 

Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere by Elise Gravel
Publication: March 14, 2017 by HarperCollins

I have spoken/written about my love of Elise Gravel‘s work a few times before. The Montreal-based author/illustrator is the force behind the wonderful non-fiction Disgusting Creatures series, as well as the terrifically fun picture books I Want a Monster! and The Cranky Ballerina. Gravel’s foray into longer format graphic novels starts off wonderfully with Olga and the Smelly Thing for Nowhere. Bringing together her signature style of bold, bright illustrations and kooky characters and a love of science/creatures, this graphic novel tells the story of what happens when aspiring zoologist Olga finds a supremely cute and stinky creature (possibly from another planet?) she names Meh. Funny and a little subversive, with the promise of MORE Olga and Meh to come in future entries! Animal enthusiasts, or fans of Ashley Spires’ Binky series or Fluffy Strikes Back, or Victoria Jamieson’s Pets on the Loose might especially LOVE this graphic novel.

 

Unicorn Crossing (Heavenly Nostrils #5) by Dana Simpson
Publication: March 28, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

I have also written about my love of the Heavenly Nostrils series from Dana Simpson before! This series is a go-to suggestion I give to kids (or parents searching on behalf of their children) looking for a funny graphic novel series that won’t intimidate but rather inspire major fun and enjoyment with their reading. Already five (!) books into this great series, Simpson continues to mix her magic blend of humour, heart, and unicorn sparkle. I have previously mentioned that when I first picked up Heavenly Nostrils, I could see a definite kinship to Calvin & Hobbes. The more I read of Simpson’s series the more it wonderfully seems to grow Marigold and Phoebe’s bond (yes, akin to Calvin & Hobbes) in addition to cultivating its own, distinctively beautiful and funny world of magical realism. A must-read for graphic novel and comic strip enthusiasts who enjoy the work of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Frank Cammuso, Ben Katke, Andy Runton, Sara Varon, James Burks and other similar authors.

 

Mighty Jack (Volume 1) by Ben Hatke*
Publication: September 6, 2016 by First Second

Well, this post is clearly leaning towards authors and series I adore and have mentioned before! Third on the list here we have Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack, the first volume in the Mighty Jack series. Hatke, author-illustrator of the awesome Zita the Spacegirl series, Nobody Likes a Goblin and Little Robot, returns with another fantastical and magical series. A retelling (and wholly unique) take on the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk, Hatke- fascinatingly and thoughtfully- incorporates a modern setting, a neuroatypical co-heroine, and mythical elements into his version. I have been sitting on this review for a little while now- why, I am not entirely sure, but thoughts about Mighty Jack have been marinating for a bit. As always, Hatke knocks it out of the park with his gorgeous artwork, female lead characters, and his approach to animating inanimate objects. My initial reaction upon finishing was that I would have liked a bit more text/back story to Jack, Molly and family (the story is so good and I was clamoring for more!), and a few ends were left a bit looser than I would have liked (even with the knowledge that this was just book one!)…and while some points stand upon reread, I enjoyed it more upon reread and consider Mighty Jack to be a highly recommended read- another great addition to Hatke’s roster. The promise of Mighty Jack and the Goblin King has me excited to read even more about Jack, Molly, and Lilly!

 

Bird & Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Publication: January 31, 2017 by GRAPHIX

Tom and Jerry. Garfield and Odie. Gerald and Piggie. Pinky and the Brain. Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. A lot of characters in shows and books that we tend to love and think of fondly are in pairs. In the children’s graphic novel genre, there is an entry in the prestige pairs group with James Burks’ Bird & Squirrel. Now four books into this funny and adventure-filled series, Bird is, as ever, our stalwart optimist and cheerleader; Squirrel, while having his courage mightily tested a few times over, remains trepidatious and safety-focuses. In this latest entry, Bird and Squirrel come up against a dyspeptic, slightly bonkers giant beaver who wants to keep ALL the water in the forest for himself- all the while planning a party (Bird’s idea), investigating animal disappearances, and Squirrel meeting a new character named Red (who could be the love of his life). As with his previous work in Gabby & Gator (which I love!) and the other Bird & Squirrel titles, Burks combines goofy, wacky characters with hair-raising moments and/or scary creatures- but all toward good endings. I adore Burks’ style of artwork and the storytelling in Bird & Squirrel; I hope we get at least a handful more adventures about this duo!

 

Big Nate: What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends? (Big Nate) by Lincoln Peirce
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

There is a lot of love in the bookish world of the Big Nate series of books by Lincoln Peirce. It is one of those series of books that, like anything Garfield or Raina Telgemeier, is barely in the library before WHOOSH back out it goes! I do not remember reading the Big Nate series when it first came out, but have, over the last number of years, become a big reader (and suggester!) of the books. Nate is one of those middle school protagonists that we love to root for- he’s imperfect, gets into trouble, gets in fights with his friends, has unrequited crushes, has a core of two best friends who tease him and call him out when he’s being ridiculous– I could go on. There is something totally appealing (dare I say, comforting?) about this series and Nate’s world. While I have definitely preferred certain graphic novel entries more than others in the Big Nate series, What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends? has a good share of the silly (more Spitsy and baseball craziness) and somewhat serious (with Nate having to say goodbye to a classmate who is moving).

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

Must Read Monday (63): Children’s Lit from Linda Williams Jackson, Caela Carter & 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: children’s fiction! I am featuring a slew of wonderful sounding (and looking!) titles; genres from historical fiction to realistic fiction and humour from first-time novelists and seasoned authors including: Linda Williams Jackson, Caela Carter, Steve Moore, Stephan Pastis, and Darcy Miller.

 

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Publication: January 3, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

 

Forever, or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter
Publication: March 7, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

An achingly beautiful story in the vein of Rebecca Stead and R. J. Palacio about two foster children who want desperately to believe that they’ve found their forever home.

Flora and her brother, Julian, don’t believe they were born. They’ve lived in so many foster homes, they can’t remember where they came from. And even now that they’ve been adopted, Flora still struggles to believe in forever. So along with their new mother, Flora and Julian begin a journey to go back and discover their past—for only then can they really begin to build their future.

 

No Fear! (King of the Bench #1) by Steve Moore
Expected publication: March 28, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

From the nationally syndicated cartoonist of “In the Bleachers” comes a new, highly illustrated middle grade series about Steve, who plays the same position in every sport: bench-warmer. Perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure, King of the Bench is an ode to teammates, underdogs, and bench-warmers everywhere.

Steve is King of the Bench. No brag. It’s just a fact. But this year, Steve and his friends are excited to try out for the Spiro T. Agnew Middle School baseball team. The only problem is, after watching another player get beaned by a fastball, Steve has developed a serious case of bean-o-phobia—the fear of getting hit by a pitch. If Steve ever wants to get off the bench and get in the game, he’s going to have to muster up some courage, and fast.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why Steve would write a book and tell total strangers all about the humiliating phobia that almost ruined his first year on the baseball team? Duh. It’s pretty much a rule that you spill your guts when you write a book about yourself.

 

The Cat Stole My Pants (Timmy Failure #6) by Stephan Pastis
Expected publication: April 25, 2017 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

In the sixth book in Stephan Pastis’s hilarious series, Timmy is being threatened and must rely on his new partner to solve the mystery and possibly save his life!

Timmy is in Key West, Florida, ostensibly for the honeymoon of his mother and Doorman Dave if they even got married, which Timmy doubts. Unfortunately for Timmy, crime doesn’t take a vacation. And because Total has fled to Cuba seeking political asylum, Timmy must rely on a new partner for help: Doorman Dave’s nephew Emilio. Meanwhile, a surprise newcomer shows up in Timmy’s life and, as if things couldn’t get more hectic, Timmy’s pants have been stolen by a six-toed cat.

 

Roll by Darcy Miller
Expected publication: May 23, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

A hilariously funny and poignant debut novel, perfect for fans of Jerry Spinelli, Kat Yeh, Gary Schmidt, and Rebecca Stead.

When Lauren (but call him “Ren,” pretty please) Hall sees birds falling from the sky, he knows something is wrong. But just as he’s starting to worry, he realizes that the birds are plummeting toward the ground on purpose. Turns out they’re Birmingham Roller Pigeons, and his new neighbor Sutton is training them for a competition. Sure, it’s strange, but Ren’s best and only friend Aiden has picked this summer to start hanging with the popular kids. So Ren starts training pigeons with Sutton—what’s the worst that could happen? A bird falls on his head? You’ll have to read Roll to find out.

Best of 2016: YA, Adult Fiction & Non-Fiction

Now it’s time for part two of my ‘Best of 2016’ reads: this post’s focus is all about young adult and adult fiction. I feel that, while my reading year was overwhelmingly picture books and middle grade lit, there was so much depth and matter in the contained selection of YA and adult fiction I had the chance to read. You’ll notice a number of Canadian titles on here as well!

In no particular order, I present my picks for best of YA, adult fiction, and non-fiction of 2016:

Young adult:

Flannery by Lisa Moore
Dan Vs. Nature by Don Calame
Watching Traffic by Jane Ozkowski
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly

Boys Don’t Knit series by Tom Easton
Julia, Vanishes (Witch’s Child #1) by Catherine Egan
The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace #1) by Erin Bow
Into the Dim (Into the Dim #1) by Janet B. Taylor

 

Adult fiction:

The Break by Katherena Vermette
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
We’re All in This Together by Amy Jones

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
The Widow by Fiona Barton
Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

 

Non-fiction (including memoir, comics, humour):

Boy, Erased by Garrard Conley
Sex Object by Jessica Valenti (audiobook)
The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz
I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short (audiobook)
Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah’s Scribbles Collection by Sarah Anderson

Molly and the Bear Collection by Bob Scott
Your Grandma Rocks, Mine Rolls: A Grand Avenue Collection by Steve Breen
Happy as a Clam: A Sherman’s Lagoon Collection by Jim Toomey
I’m Only in This for Me A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan Pastis
Gross!: A Baby Blues Collection by Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott

 

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2016. Some titles appearing on this list may also have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this has no bearing on making this list. These are my personal selections.

Spotlight: Interview with Illustrator and Cartoonist Eric Orchard!

eric-orchard-1Welcome to a very special spotlight post! I am absolutely delighted and honoured to have Canadian cartoonist and illustrator Eric Orchard here for an interview, organized by the lovely folks at Raincoast Books.

Eric is an award-winning cartoonist and illustrator who has published such works as the graphic novel Maddy Kettle: The Adventures of the Thimblewitch. Most recently, he published the unforgettable, unique and incredibly illustrated graphic novel Bera the One-Headed Troll. Read on for my interview with Eric where we talk in much more detail about Bera, fairytales, favourite artists and future work…

 

Did you always plan to write a graphic novel based upon your mother’s mental illness and raising children on her own, or did the idea of Bera the One-Headed Troll morph into a story about your mother?
I definitely noticed as the story unfolded that Bera was a lot like my mother. I never intended to her to be like my mother but it just happened that way. I started to see similarities in how Bera confronted her fear and feelings of inadequacy and how she kept going and tried to make the best decisions. I had drawn Bera years ago, a long time before I made the comic and I didn’t even notice she looks like my mother until I started drawing it. 



From your initial idea and conception of Bera the One-Headed Troll, how much changed? Were there any major or surprising characters or plot points there in the beginning that changed or were dropped?
 

Well, there was always an owl involved! There are three versions of Bera I went through. Initially Bera was much darker. I think my work has just lightened in recent years and that’s reflected in the book. In the early version there were lots of ghosts and an even creepier mood. Later I wrote Bera more like a simple fairy tale. This version was lighter than the final version. And the baby was stolen by a dragon. It was in the second version I decided Bera has three basic trials to overcome. And finally I wrote the final version which more or less combines elements from the first two versions. 



Readers’ perceptions of Bera the One-Headed Troll, or their overall experience with Bera, may change upon reading your background and history with mental illness. Is this something that ever gave you cause for concern- I.e. that readers might be missing a key component to Bera’s story?


Not really. I really want the book to be able to stand on [its] own. I want people to be able to take what they want from Bera. I wanted to talk about mental illness because I wanted to do my part to destigmatize it but not as a frame work to understand the story. 
 
Bera is, arguably, a darker tale- in both colour palette and of course in subject matter.

bera25663501

Did you always plan for the story to be written and published (and marketed) for a younger/youth audience?
I did yes. I hope anyone can enjoy my books but I think of myself as working very much in the tradition of books for young readers. To me it’s the most exciting audience and the most exciting aspect of publishing. My favourite children’s book artists are Arthur Rackham and Maurice Sendak both of whom happily acknowledge both the joy and darkness of childhood. I like to think Bera is emotionally honest in that regard. It’s silly and strange and dark and joyful, all things that are an integral part of childhood. 



To what extent has your work, and Bera in particular, been impacted, if at all, by your own experience reading fairy tales?
I’m always really pleased when people mention this because this is really at the heart of the book. I very much wanted to honour the wonderful, strange world of fairy tales. I can’t imagine I’ll ever grow tired of fairy tales. I still read them every day. And I find they are both a wonderful escape and an amazing way in to the world. I read fairytales from every corner of the world and am constantly bowled over by the sense of wonder they give me. 

 

 

Which artists, illustrators and/or writers have been some of your biggest influences or inspirations in your approach to artwork and narrative? 
This is such a hard question! It’s a massive list and I’m always forgetting some of the most important names.  Maurice Sendak and Arthur Rackham for sure. I have a real love for fairytale artists. Lizbeth Zwerger is a big influence as is Tony Diterlizzi and Brian Froud. And there are so many cartoonists too. George Herriman, Walt Kelly, Jeff Smith and Charles Vess are big influences. I’m sure I’m leaving out a bunch of very important names!

What kinds of books or genres were you most interested in while you were growing up? Did you always have a big interest in graphic novels or comics?
I’ve always loved comics and have collected them as long as I can remember. I’ve always read a lot of genre fiction, fantasy and science fiction. The sci fi fantasy section in bookstores was always a favourite. The first story I remember writing myself was a ghost story.

Do you think you might ever branch to a different genre- e.g. move into picture books or mixed-media children’s novels?
I’m pretty happy doing comic books but they are an incredible amount of work. I keep thinking I should do an illustrated novel but I’ve been doing comic books so long I always go to them first as a way to tell stories. Illustration [is] something I love very much and would love to do more of. The problem is that comics take up all my time.

What have been some of the highlights of your 2016 reading year?
Another tough one! I read a lot and it’s hard to narrow it down to a few books.  I really loved Oyster War by Ben Towle, and anything Raina [Telgemeier] does. Astronaut Academy by Dave Roman, Battling Boy by Paul Pope, Margo Maloo by Drew Weing, anything by Ben Hatke, Korgi book 4 by Christian Slade, Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, anything by Emily Carroll, Eth’s Skin by Sfé, The Dreamwalkers by Viviane Schwarz.

maddy-kettle-100dpi_lg

If you are able to, I would love to hear about any upcoming projects you are working on! And do you ever think we might have a revisit with Bera and baby?
I’m always thinking ahead! There are three books I’m currently working on. The first is the second Maddy Kettle book, a sequel to Maddy Kettle and the Adventure of the Thimblewitch. I’m well into working on that book.  And I’ve been working on a fairytale comic about a fire breathing duck who comes home to the farm he grew up on.  And finally a story using the folklore and history of my home province Nova Scotia. A little place jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean just brimming with strange tales.  I would love to do another Bera book! I’m just waiting for the perfect story to come along.

Thank you so much for your time! 
Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure.

 

Comic Strip Review: Molly and the Bear by Bob Scott

mollyandthebear27040044Review: Molly and the Bear by Bob Scott
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of the author and publisher. Thank you!
Publication: March 8, 2016 by Cameron + Company
Book Description:

It can be tough on a family when someone new has moved in, especially if it’s a 900-pound scaredy-bear so terrified of wilderness life that he’s fled to the burbs. Fortunately Bear was found by Molly, a fearlessly optimistic 11-year-old can-doer who has taken him firmly in hand, devoted to seeing her hirsute BFF cope with modern life. Molly’s Mom is happy with the new sibling — Bear’s an excellent conversationalist and loves her homemade cookies. But Dad is having a harder time, his role as center of the universe now shared with an ursine behemoth who, unfortunately, adores him.

One thought that kept running through my mind as I read Bob Scott’s Molly and the Bear was, I wish I had known about this comic strip earlier. Having grown up reading (and re-reading) Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, FoxTrot, Herman, Hagar the Horrible (and many more favourites!), comic strips have been a major part of my life since I was a kid. Molly and the Bear would have easily slotted into that mix back then- as it also fits into my reading today. Artist, animator, illustrator Bob Scott, who has worked on projects including Pixar’s The Incredibles, brings a wonderful level of madcap charm and endearing nostalgia with his web comic Molly and the Bear.

Fleeing from the fearsome dangers of the wilderness, Bear- similarly to Goldilocks- sneaks into a house. There he finds a best friend in Molly, an eleven-year-old girl who is thoughtful and brave, and most of all, loves him through and through. The contrast between Bear, a high-strung nine-hundred pound creature, with that of a petite, enthusiastic young girl is ripe for comedy from the get-go, but Scott makes it even richer and sweeter (and funnier) as he draws out and grows their genuine friendship and affection for each other. Bear, though arguably happier in civilization than the wild, comes up against constant obstacles in his new residence. Namely, an obstacle known as Molly’s father. Reminding me a little of a Hanna-Barbera character in nature and appearance, Molly’s father is a bit of a curmudgeon- an ornery and proud man of the house (…like Fred Flinstone…) who is often at odds with Molly and his wife about the fact that he would much prefer Bear to go back to the wilderness. Bear and Dad’s relationship is one feature of the strip that makes for great comedy: while Molly’s dad typically blows a gasket at Bear’s minor accidents and major mistakes, it is a lot of fun to see their ups and downs and how Dad’s fondness of Bear grows begrudgingly.

I find Molly and the Bear to be at its funniest, most surprising and most genuine when it does not insert more contemporary pop culture and/or modern references the mix. To be fair, this doesn’t occur too often- but as an example, there are moments in the strip when characters send text messages, or when Slash from Guns ‘N Roses and Angelina Jolie are mentioned. For various reasons, Molly and the Bear has the fantastically evocative and joyful feel of a more classic, if not retro comic strip that doesn’t need to focus on trend, which is why some of the more current references feel slightly discordant. I feel that Scott’s writing and thus the gags work at their strongest and sharpest when the focus is on the main characters and their interplay rather than when its trying to place itself in contemporary time.

In all, I had a whale of a time reading through the collection of Molly and the Bear strips. While easily found online as a web comic, I would like to note that the hardcover edition is quite beautiful: the larger page layouts are conducive to easy reading, and it includes an introduction, a welcome to the main characters- in full colour-, as well as a special ‘Behind the Ink’ section. Comic strip book aficionados might particularly appreciate those features! Any readers who have read and/or enjoy comic strips such as Mother Goose & Grimm, Dennis the Menace, Red and Rover, or any of the comics mentioned above, might especially take to the classic comedy and heart in Molly and the Bear.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Bob Scott and Cameron + Company in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5) by Stephan Pastis

timmyfailure528686922Review: The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5) by Stephan Pastis
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Candlewick Press. Thank you!
Publication: September 27, 2016 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

Banishment from his life’s calling can’t keep a comically overconfident detective down in the latest episode by New York Times bestseller Stephan Pastis.

This book was never meant to exist. No one needs to know the details. Just know this: there’s a Merry, a Larry, a missing tooth, and a teachers’ strike that is crippling Timmy Failure’s academic future. Worst of all, Timmy is banned from detective work. It’s a conspiracy of buffoons. He recorded everything in his private notebook, but then the manuscript was stolen. If this book gets out, he will be grounded for life. Or maybe longer. And will Timmy’s mom really marry Doorman Dave?

“Do you love others, Timothy?”

“I dunno. Do you?”

Oh, Timmy.

Five books into the eccentric and comical Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis and mysteries and misunderstandings are still running amok. In a previous post, I talked about my love of the series- the weirdness, laughter and strange sweetness of Timmy’s world. The aforementioned mix of traits are still alive and well with The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have; but in this title, we meet a few new great characters that show just how helpless, in denial (and extremely obstinate!) Timmy can be.

In The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have, a big change is looming for Timmy: his mom is set to marry Doorman Dave. Now, those familiar with Timmy’s great skill in avoiding big, personal issues, will know that Timmy will focus his attention on everything but the major issue at hand. Rather than face the impending wedding and life changes,  Timmy turns his attention on continuing detective work (surreptitiously) in the midst of being banned from doing any detective work. Throwing further wrenches into his plan to operate his spy work on the sly are cousins Merry and Larry- staying with the Failures and in Timmy’s room- before the big wedding. So, Timmy does the rational thing and decides to take over a garden shed at the Home Despot to continue his operations… Of course, being Timmy, he is waylaid by focusing on spurious dead-end cases and by the fact that his best friend Rollo Tookus is becoming chummy with (gasp!) Merry and Larry. Standing fierce by Timmy’s side through all of his mistakes (both small and…HUGE), though, is Molly Moskins- the tangerine-scented girl who loves Timmy. Pastis throws in a little surprise courtesy of Molly at the end, which I especially adored, as Molly Moskins has become a series favourite for me!

Overall, the Timmy Failure series, five books in, continues to surprise with Pastis’ particular brand of offbeat, very funny writing, and new characters who prove to be a real hoot. While Timmy himself is an ongoing puzzle, sometimes infuriatingly stubborn and oblivious, Pastis manages to balance those less-than-beguiling characteristics by matching Timmy against family and friends who push Timmy to show his vulnerabilities. Any readers who have enjoyed the previous titles in the series or Pastis’ other work with comic Pearls Before Swine will likely enjoy The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have. Readers who like series such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Terrible Two, Big Nate, or Tom Gates, might especially be interested in giving Timmy Failure a read.

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

Review: Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard

bera25663501Review: Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 2, 2016 by First Second
Book Description:

Bera doesn’t ask for much in life. She’s a solitary, humble troll, tending her island pumpkin patch in cheerful isolation. She isn’t looking for any trouble.

But when trouble comes to find her, it comes in spades. A human baby has arrived in the realm of the trolls, and nobody knows where it came from, but Bera seems to be the only person who doesn’t want it dead. There’s nothing to it but to return the adorable little thing to its parents.

Like it or not, Bera’s gone and found herself a quest.

Bera the One-Headed Troll is a graphic novel by award-winning Canadian author and illustrator Eric Orchard. Quite unlike anything I have had the pleasure and surprise of reading in graphic novels, Orchard’s storytelling and artwork in Bera the One-Headed Troll is unusual, moody, and mesmerizing.

Bera is a modest, hard-working, one-headed troll who works as a pumpkin gardener for the troll king and royal family. Bera and her owl friend Winslowe have lived a quiet, solitary life on a small island…until they hear the loud and sad wail of a creature being fought over by vicious mermaids, and their lives change forever. When Bera takes in the wailing creature- a tightly wrapped human baby with a tuft of hair- she discovers that a terrifying former head witch of the troll king with nefarious aims will stop at almost nothing to claim the human as her prize. Deeply atmospheric, with palette of almost entirely burnt tones, Bera the One-Headed Troll is a remarkably drawn story with a darker, uncanny edge and memorable, strange creatures.

I had not been familiar with Eric Orchard’s work prior to reading this book and I look forward to read and explore more of his work, which includes the previously published graphic novel Maddy Kettle. There are weighty undercurrents to the author’s work in Bera the One-Headed Troll; you can take a read here at this fascinating and detailed interview Orchard did with Paste where he not only talks about his inspirations and reading loves, but also talks very openly about mental illness and institutionalization. As per the interview with Paste, Bera the One-Headed Troll is, in some measure, an autobiographical story told in ‘fairy-tale form’ about Orchard’s mother, a paranoid schizophrenic, who was able to raise Orchard in spite of multiple obstacles.

Overall, Bera the One-Headed Troll is a contemplative, shadowy, visually arresting graphic novel that I highly recommend. I would recommend Bera the One-Headed Troll to readers who enjoy darker or unvarnished fairy tales or stories, or work by artists such as Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey or Dave McKean. While marketed for the children’s genre, this is one layered, fantastically told and illustrated graphic novel that absolutely crosses over to young adult readers and adults.

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