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.

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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: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Review: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: May 22, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

In an exuberant picture book, a glimpse of costumed mermaids leaves one boy flooded with wonder and ready to dazzle the world.

While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.

The picture book debut from author-illustrator Jessica Love, Julián is a Mermaid already has multiple starred reviews and critical praise to its name- from publications including The Horn Book and The New York Times Book Review. This picture book title had been on my must-read radar for a few months, after reading multiple rave comments from reviewers and bloggers on social media, and some sneak peaks- needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating this title. And readers, Julián is a Mermaid is a gorgeous, tender, outstanding reading experience.

Image from Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love via SLJ

Jessica Love’s debut is about a young boy named Julián who absolutely loves everything about mermaids. On the subway with his abuela, a book about mermaids open in his lap, he sees three women who are stunningly, amazingly dressed as mermaids- from the tips of their colourful hair to the tails of their gowns. Julián then imagines himself taken under the sea, swept up in a rush of sea life, transforming into a mermaid. He later gets the opportunity to actually turn himself into a mermaid- emulating the real-life mermaids he sees around him- while Abuela goes to take a bath. With great ingenuity, Julián uses various objects around their place- a willowy curtain, plant fronds, and more- to slowly transform himself into a stunning, unforgettable mermaid. Our protagonist’s joy is sharply faded, though, as he wonders and worries what Abuela might say as she sees the mess he has made while bringing his mermaid dream to life. The author takes the story in a truly wonderful direction after a moment of decision hangs in the air: how Julián’s Abuela responds to seeing the mess, and seeing him as a mermaid is something that embraces and touches the core of the heart. (I don’t want to reveal the ending here as I loved being surprised by it, but if you’re curious to read more about the finale, take a read through this wonderfully detailed look in School Library Journal by Elizabeth Bird that talks more in-depth about possible readings of the ending). I have returned to reading and poring over Julián is a Mermaid countless times since my first read. An exploration and deep celebration of a young person’s character, imagination and uniqueness, as well as love and understanding, Julián is a Mermaid is an exceptional read. Whether read aloud, used during storytime, recommended to mermaid enthusiasts, or finding its way to readers of any age who might just need to have Julián’s story in their lives, Julián is a Mermaid should be read, shared, and loved.

Image from Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love via SLJ

Overall, an incredible, radiant picture book. Jessica Love has done a tremendous job here with her debut: the illustrative work is stunning, so saturated and evocative and fluid, and the text is just light enough to let the art and beautiful story shine. I highly recommend taking a read of this title and spending time with Julián, Abuela, and his world. Be sure to take a look at the picture book’s page here, as you’ll be able to get a further inside look!

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: Great Picture Books (15)!

A look at some wonderful picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading lately! All are titles I have read and enjoyed. On this installment of Recently Read, we have a few titles that my three year old has requested multiple read alouds of including Nobody’s Duck from Mary Sullivan, which is a totally entertaining, witty and sweet story. Sullivan has authored and illustrated numerous wonderfully funny titles including Treat and Ball. Nobody’s Duck is great- visual gags and kookiness abound. My daughter, after our first read aloud said- (while giggling)- ‘That was really funny!’ Fans of Ame Dyckman, Jan Thomas and Keith Graves might like this one! Next we have Steve Antony‘s Unplugged, about an adorable robot named Blip who, after a blackout, finds herself unplugged- literally and figuratively. Unplugged is another one my daughter loves having read to her. The title is strong on the message about making sure we all unplug and be with friends, and find our own adventures away from screens- but, honestly, it is a timely point and the text is so genuine and wonderfully illustrated. Unplugged would pair nicely with Matthew Cordell‘s hello! hello!. Other great picture book picks include: Yellow Kayak, a visually arresting, melodic, rhyming title from Nina Laden with artwork by Melissa Castrillón; Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley‘s charming and heartening Vincent Comes Home; All the Animals Where I Live, by Philip C. Stead, uncommonly told and structured, but what a wondrous treat; and the utterly heartwarming and surprising The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling – another fantastic and unusual title from Timothy Basil Ering.

Review: Knockout by K.A. Holt

Review: Knockout by K.A. Holt
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 6, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Levi just wants to be treated like a typical kid. As a baby, he had a serious disease that caused him respiratory issues. He’s fine now, but his mom and overprotective brother still think of him as damaged, and his schoolmates see him as the same class clown he’s always been. He feels stuck. So when his dad-divorced from his mom-suggests he take up boxing, he falls in love with the sport. And when he finds out about a school with a killer boxing team and a free-study curriculum, it feels like he’s found a ticket to a new Levi. But how can he tell his mom about boxing? And how can he convince his family to set him free?

Surprise!
I make them laugh.
I make them point.
That way
the tightrope is mine
to control.

The excellence of middle grade literature continues! So far this year, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a number of terrific, moving, unique children’s fiction titles, and that train of awesome continued with my back-to-back reading of K.A. Holt’s House Arrest and Knockout. A companion novel-in-verse to 2015’s House Arrest, Knockout tells the story of twelve-year-old Levi Davidson as he begins a tumultuous and audacious year.

Knockout is told in the first-person narrative of Levi. We are introduced to Levi and his world as he sets himself up to begin grade seven alongside his best friend Tam. Levi and Tam met back in kindergarten and discovered commonalities: both were born premature at two pounds and required an inhaler. However, as Levi tells us, the differences are vast. Levi had a trach as a child; his life has been in and out of hospitals, with him still having to go for major annual checkups. His mom (divorced from his dad) and Timothy continue to hover and set boundaries, watching, warning, and pleading with Levi to be careful. To always be safe. When Levi’s dad suggest that Levi try a sport, he doesn’t expect to fall in love with boxing, but he does. Levi discovers a raw aptitude for boxing; surprising everyone with tenacity and lightening speed that make up for his lack of height and slight build. As Levi’s year marches on, he continues to hide boxing from Tam, his mom and brother-who would be terrified for his health- until one boxing accident lands him in the hospital, injured, vulnerable and with lies unveiled. As with House Arrest, Knockout is utterly compelling from opening to ending- Holt’s writing is beautiful and seamless. Levi’s voice is unforgettable here, and readers get to experience his fears, his mistakes with Tam, his highs, and hopes for a more independent future at a sports-focused school through dynamic and heartbreaking verse. Especially moving throughout the novel are the extraordinary moments and reveals between Timothy and Levi, which we get to read via their written exchanges to one another.

I take out an earbud
offer it to Timothy
and we listen together
head to head,
song after song,
the same music as always, and yet…
different now.

Overall, Knockout is terrific- profound, wise and funny, told in a blistering pace that wonderfully allows for both consequential and quiet moments to permeate. Readers who previously read and loved K.A. Holt’s House Arrest might definitely be itching to read more about the Davidson boys- and to find out what Timothy is up to in his twenties! It is probably not necessary to have read House Arrest prior to Knockout, though I personally loved having read Timothy’s story first and having been introduced to Levi when he was a baby. It’s a win either way to get to read two tremendous, affecting and memorable books! Readers looking for more novels in verse in the vein of Kwame Alexander, or those who like authors such as Kate Messner, Beth Vrabel, Leslie Connor or Lisa Graff might especially love K.A. Holt’s Knockout.

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

Review: Bloom by Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Graphic Novel Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, color by Alec Longstreth
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 24, 2018 by First Second
Book Description:

All Vera wants to do is fit in – but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range – Russian summer camp.

Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!

There are a few sub-genres of children’s books that I have long loved reading about: one being about adventures at boarding school, and the other being about experiences at camp. Maybe because I’ve only ever been to outdoor school once- and never summer camp!- I have always been curious to read about other kids camp experiences. And Vera Brosgol’s graphic novel Be Prepared, an autobiographical story about the author’s childhood experience at Russian summer camp, is all-around fascinating, unsparing, and touching.

Be Prepared opens with a poignant vignette: we meet eight (almost nine) year old Vera attending her friend Sarah’s birthday party. Vera carefully notes all the American factors of the time that make her friend’s party perfect: Carvel ice cream cake, stuffed crust Pizza Hut pizza, cool party favours, and a sleepover. As a few girls point out Vera being from Russia, her lack of expensive doll-of-the-moment, and their own plans for various summer camps, Vera starts feeling more than left-out. Readers then see Vera attempt- as dauntlessly as anyone could- to recreate the same ‘cool’ American party for her own ninth birthday and watch as things falter. When Vera and her younger brother attend a service at their Russian Orthodox church, Vera learns about and begs her mother to let her go to Russian summer camp. Finally, Vera thinks, a place where she might actually belong, where her being Russian won’t be considered strange! She’s going to finally have that elusive summer camp experience!

Except, when Vera and her brother arrive at the ORRA- Organization of Russian Razvedchiki in America- camp, things are not exactly what Vera had been hoping for. As Vera meets her older, disparaging bunk mates, gets a glimpse at the terrifying- truly horrid- outhouse, less-than-friendly conditions and witnesses her brother seem to have a pretty awesome time of things, she despairs. We then follow Vera as she weathers through an big error in judgment as well as major upsets and frustrations with her fellow bunk mates, her brother, and her mother. Not all is horrible or lost though, as Vera inches her way to a friendship with a younger camper and makes a daring, utterly brave nighttime search and retrieval. With a touching opening and introduction to Vera and her family- and some of their Russian traditions- Brosgol settles readers in to the core of the camp story easily and smoothly. Vera’s time at the ORRA camp is absolutely compelling; raw, sometimes funny, and reveals Vera’s struggle of being and feeling Russian yet not Russian enough at camp. The selective colour palette of the graphic novel- black, white, various shades of greens- works so well here and highlights both the outdoor component and often bittersweet nature of the story. Be sure to read the entirety of the Author’s Note and Word of Thanks at the end, as it all adds even more resonance and insight to the graphic novel.

Overall, what a memorable story; a fantastic graphic novel that is beautifully illustrated and terrifically told. I read Be Prepared in one big gulp, I could not put this one down! Brosgol’s adventures in Russian camp are unlike anything I have yet read, and seeing her amalgamated experiences come alive on the page really make for an affecting, honest read. Any readers who have clamored for the work of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, or loved titles like Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Jimmy Gownley’s The Dumbest Idea Ever, or Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends might especially appreciate this title. Readers who have previously read and loved Brosgol’s storytelling and art in the Eisner Award-winning Anya’s Ghost or Caldecott Honor book Leave Me Alone! might want to check this one out! As Be Prepared ends on a wee bit of a cliff-hanger, I am wondering whether Vera Brosgol has plans for a companion novel? I for one would love to read more of her- and her family’s- story!

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Take a peak at the book trailer:

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 Review: Petra by Marianna Coppo

Review: Petra by Marianna Coppo
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Petra is a little rock who believes she is a mighty mountain . . . until a dog fetches her for its owner, and she is tossed into a bird’s nest. A mountain? No, Petra is now an egg! An egg of the world in a world of possibility. Until she’s flung into a pond, and becomes an amazing island . . . and, eventually, a little girl’s pet rock. What will she be tomorrow? Who knows? But she’s a rock, and this is how she rolls!

‘Nothing can move me.’

Everyone, please meet Petra! The star of author-illustrator Marianna Coppo’s debut, Petra is the tale of a delightfully expressive, wry, and adaptable rock who not only experiences some mighty changes to her world, but also faces down some challenges to her self-confidence about being an immovable being.

Petra greets readers with the big statement that she cannot be moved, not by wind, not by time; that she is, in fact, ‘a mighty, magnificent mountain’! Petra certainly looks the part; but is she really be a mountain, and not what seems to be a rock? Coppo then follows with a wordless pictorial spread of what could be a log or stick being thrown over Petra’s head. Hmm…just how big or small is Petra, actually? Coppo plays so well with dimension/size in Petra and the eventual disclosure of Petra’s size is done very cleverly: the reveal of the thrown wooden object- and who or what is chasing the object!- gives readers a fuller sense of Petra’s physical stature. The status of Petra’s self-possession and ability to accept change though, is another matter altogether! Through some funny turns of events, shown via beautiful spreads and perfectly succinct text, we learn just how amenable and coolly versatile the incredible Petra really is.

Overall, what a delicious, clever, innovative treat of a picture book! Marianne Coppo might have created for rocks what Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault have done with sporks: i.e. imbuing such expression and spectrum of emotion and story possibility with an inanimate object that rarely features in picture books! Readers who enjoy the work of authors and illustrators like Maclear and Arsenault, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, or stories like Esmé Shapiro’s Ooko, and Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans’ Sparky! might especially adore the story and art in Petra.

 

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

Review: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Review: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Farrar Straus & Giroux
Book Description:

The critically acclaimed, award-winning, modern classic Speak is now a stunning graphic novel.

“Speak up for yourself-we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless-an outcast-because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel.

Since its publication in 1999, Speak, the first novel of critically acclaimed and award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson, has been much talked about, challenged, dissected, and shared. Almost twenty years since it was first published and was a National Book Award Finalist, it has been adapted into graphic novel format, with illustrations by Canadian artist Emily Carroll (Through the Woods).

Through Anderson’s adapted text and Carroll’s artwork, readers not only see protagonist Melinda’s present day-to-day life, but also see the depiction of Melinda’s horror- the memories of a rape that was committed by an older student named Andy. Speak is a powerful novel and one that is very much about atmosphere and voice; it is also an uncomfortable, disturbing and essential read about a young woman’s sexual assault and aftermath (self-blame, victim shaming, repercussions (or lack thereof) for perpetrators of sexual assault, and more). This graphic novel adaptation brings all of that dialogue, emotion, conflict and utter terror forth. With Carroll’s striking illustrations, the contrast of Melinda’s quiet yet violent mental torment with that of her reality (her drudgery of school, parents, artificial friends) makes the reading experience even more raw and felt. For those who have read Anderson’s novel, you might experience even more discomfort and intense rage at seeing everything Melinda goes through- especially at the culminating scene that sees her rapist attack again. The graphic novel does absolute justice to its primary source; Anderson’s tone and style, and the significant weight of core subject matter(s) is never lost or lessened. Carroll is an impeccable fit here as illustrator; once you see her illustrations and how she has presented/captured Melinda’s story and the essence of Speak you will likely not be able to imagine a different pictorial representation.

There is not much more I can say in conclusion other than to highly recommend this title. This is a do-not-miss; as significant and moving as its original source, with Carroll’s vivid, sometimes unsettling illustrations providing additional impact to Melinda’s story. As noted above, Anderson’s novel is coming up to its twentieth anniversary next year; since I first read it in the early 2000’s for a university class on children’s literature, I feel as though it has stayed forefront in readers’/YA attention (even more so since I have been a librarian). As other reviews have suggested, Speak: The Graphic Novel does indeed bring Anderson’s classic to a new and/or different audience; there is also much to discover and revisit in this adaptation even if you are already familiar with the novel. Readers acquainted with Anderson’s novels, fans of Emily Carroll’s unique, horror-veined work, or those who are interested in consequential graphic novels might especially appreciate this excellent- important- read.

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

Recently Read: Great Picture Books (14)!

A look at some wonderful picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading lately! All are titles I have read and would recommend (and I have noticed that three titles appeared on a recent Must Read Monday!!):

 
 

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara
The illustrations in this one are truly splendid; Hortense and the Shadow really should be pored over in person, the illustrations are that beautiful and intricate! A fairy tale of a story, with a long ago feel, about a young girl who, after ridding herself of her shadow, finds that her shadow’s constant companionship might not actually be such a bad thing.

 
Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake
This one had me cackling, folks! So simple, so perfectly executed and so perfectly illustrated…This is a story about a child who gets utterly stuck in their shirt and wonders (and worries) about what’s going to happen if they stay forever stuck in said shirt. This a gem with a solid (and also very funny) curve at the end!

 
Buster and the Baby by Amy Hester, illus. Polly Dunbar
‘He waits. And watches. And waits some more. THUMP, goes his heart. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP! Then…CHAAA!’
I do enjoy a picture with good repetition and solid read aloud potential, and Buster and the Baby fits the bill on both those points. An absolutely adorably illustrated tale about a playful doggy and an excited baby that play a bustling game of chase until nighttime comes. A sweet turn comes at the end, bringing everything nicely together.

 
The Forever Garden by Laurel Snyder, illus. Samantha Cotterill
Laurel Snyder (Penny Dreadful, Swan) teams up with artist Samantha Cotterill (Charlotte and the Rock) for a heartfelt and genuine story about the breadth of knowledge a woman named Honey passes along to her keen young neighbor. As the young girl, Laurel, copes with the sudden news of Honey’s moving, we see the beautiful effects of their relationship live out in various ways. An Author’s Note from Snyder indicates that The Forever Garden is loosely based on a Talmudic story of passing “from generation to generation”, of planting multiple kinds of seeds.

 
Florette by Anna Walker
Author and illustrator of the beautiful and clever picture book Peggy, Walker returns with another lovely story, so lush and richly illustrated. Perhaps a storyline done before, but worth it for Walker’s take and presentation: Florette is the tale of a young girl named Mae who moves with her family to a grey city and goes on a quest to find some flora to brighten her surroundings.

 
Sleep Tight, Charlie by Michaël Escoffier, illus. Kris Di Giacomo
The duo behind the very funny Brief Thief and Me First! is back with a tale of going to sleep gone awry. Charlie is a very tired rabbit who just wants a good sleep; unfortunately, noisy and annoying interruptions keep happening! There is great wordplay in this one, so lest you think the repetitions of Charlie’s bedtime rituals are unnecessary- they are definitely not! Readers who enjoyed Greg Pizzoli’s Good Night Owl might especially like this one.

 
Rot, the Cutest in the World! by Ben Clanton
I think we might need more picture books about potatoes, right?! Rot, our spudly protagonist, loves contests, so he enters the “Cutest Contest in the World” to the befuddlement of some rather snooty (and more traditionally “cute”) contestants. Poor Rot starts to feel more than a little down as he sees his “cute” competition but do not fear! The entire story is a treat, as is how the contest and results unfold.