Review: Small Things by Mel Tregonning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Adult Non-Fiction, Humour and Other:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

Review: Nine Lessons (A Josephine Tey Mystery #7) by Nicola Upson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 10, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Called to the peaceful wooded churchyard of St-John’s-at-Hampstead, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose faces one of the most audacious and unusual murders of his career. The body of the church’s organist is found in an opened grave, together with a photograph of a manor house and a cryptic note. The image leads Archie to Cambridge, where the crisp autumn air has brought with it bustling life to the ancient university and town.

Both Josephine Tey and Archie’s lover Bridget have recently settled in Cambridge, though both women are not equally happy to see him. One has concealed an important secret from Archie which now threatens to come to light. Meanwhile, the change of seasons has also brought with it a series of vicious attacks against women in town, spreading fear and suspicion through the community.

Soon, another body is revealed, and in the shadow of King’s College Chapel, Archie uncovers a connection twenty-five years old which haunted both victims—as well as some of their living companions. As Archie and Josephine each grapple with savage malefactors intent on making their victims pay, they must race to stop another attack in this beautifully written, intricately plotted mystery.

 

Curling up with a compelling, detailed and surprising historical mystery is one of my great reading pleasures, so imagine my delight to have been introduced to a new, terrifically written historical mystery series! Nicola Upson’s well-reviewed Nine Lessons is the seventh entry in the critically acclaimed Josephine Tey Mystery 1930s-set series, though the first one I have had the pleasure of reading. Beautifully, elegantly written with a subtle darker edge at its core and rounded out by terrific, engrossing characters, I found Nine Lessons to be quite a standout historical mystery title.

Nine Lessons begins in a churchyard with the discovery of a body in an open grave. Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, as readers can surmise, has seen his fair share of crime scenes and death; but this, the finding of the church organist’s body is something…different. Penrose, with the aid of his police colleagues, finds out almost incomprehensibly disturbing details about how the deceased, former Cambridge student Dr. Stephen Laxborough, might have been killed. As Penrose begins piecing together strange and frustratingly vague clues left on the deceased person, more murders- all linked, somehow, to Dr. Laxborough and a group of Cambridge classmates- occur. While Penrose focuses most of his time and attention on the Laxborough murder and connected crimes in and around Cambridge, a string of heinous, violent sexual crimes against women are happening in the same city. As the two crime threads intersect at intervals, readers are introduced (or re-introduced) to Penrose’s friend, mystery author and amateur sleuth Josephine Tey (a character Upson has based on the highly-regarded Scottish author). As Tey finds herself exploring in both crime threads to aid Penrose and women in the Cambridge area, readers are proffered glimpses into Tey and Penrose’s somewhat delicate history and how they have come to be with their current romantic partners. How the crime threads are investigated and culminate is pretty terrific- meticulously plotted and presented. Moreover, there is another related piece to Nine Lessons that I want to bring up: just how much substance and critical weight to the subject matter Upson covers in Nine Lessons. Everything from police and public response to sexual assault, victim (female) blaming and shaming after rape, historical and public conceptions and intolerance regarding same-sex partnerships, and more. You might be wondering, with such an incredible scope, just how does everything tie together and wrap itself up by the end of 300 pages? Lest you worry, I can say that Upson does a superb job with making Nine Lessons read cohesively- never overwhelming or burdening the reader.

Overall, an excellent, complicated mystery that leaves the reader satisfied: polished, interesting and compelling from start to finish with tremendous depth. I was so intrigued by the main characters of Archie and Josephine- and their clearly complex history- during my reading, that I have now made it a goal to go back and read the series from the beginning. While I don’t think any curious readers diving into the series at this entry point will have any issues following along, my interest has definitely been piqued and I am aiming to go back and gain more insight into Archie and Josephine’s separate and joint histories. For any readers who adore this sub-genre of mystery/suspense, I highly recommend this title and series; if you’re not yet convinced, Nine Lessons has made Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2017 in the mystery/thriller category!

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

Picture Book Reviews: Professional Crocodile & Lines

Two glorious wordless picture books on the review docket! But first, a slight preamble:

I think I have previously reflected that authors and illustrators perform incredible feats in carrying out wordless picture books: plotting and mapping a story, holding interest, moving from beginning, middle, climax/reveal, to end, all without words to propel and prompt. Wordless picture books can be somewhat of a misunderstood/under-read category of picture books, and when I read treasures like Professional Crocodile and Lines, it pains me to think readers might miss out on so much! In my time so far as a children’s librarian I have heard kids being discouraged from checking out wordless picture books by adults saying they’re “too easy” or “not challenging enough”– essentially, boiling down to the argument of ‘without words to test you, what’s the point?’ Well, as someone who advocates and adores the category, I would like make the case that there is indeed marvel, challenge, curiosity and joy in sharing and experiencing wordless picture books! Let’s take a closer look now at two stellar examples:

 

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli illus. by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Mr. Crocodile loves his job. Every morning he gets up with an alarm. He brushes his teeth. He chooses the right tie to match his outfit, eats a quick slice of toast, and heads off to work on a crowded train. But what exactly is his job? The answer may surprise you! Readers will want to pore over this witty, wordless book again and again, finding new details and fresh stories with every reading.

Professional Crocodile is one of those picture books that I am delighted to have read and experienced. Prior to reading this wordless picture book, I had seen snippets of the book from other reviewers, thought the book looked gorgeous and added it my must-read. I was very fortunate to be surprised with a copy of it and can now quite confidently say that it is indeed a marvelous picture book.

We meet Mr. Crocodile as he wakes up to a new day in his dapper pajamas. As we join Mr. Crocodile and follow him about, readers see that by all accounts, he is a careful, elegant, well put together character. We see Mr. Crocodile do everything from taking a crowded train, to enjoying a whiff of food stuff so fragrant and delicious that it begs his purchase, to purchasing lovely flowers to surprise a young woman. But where exactly is Mr. Crocodile’s day taking him? We then get our answer as Mr. Crocodile surprises with a reveal of where he works and what his job is! A straightforward premise told in a supremely innovative and clever way here, Professional Crocodile is one of those reads that begs for multiple reads and studies. I have pored over this book now multiple times beginning to end and have found new facets and details each time that make Professional Crocodiles ending that much more marvelous.

Some of my personal favourites in children’s lit- Shaun Tan, Molly Idle, David Wiesner, Suzy Lee, to name but a few- are masters of the wordless book, and Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio’s work here is on par with that excellence. Professional Crocodile is a truly exceptional, clever, out of the ordinary story and experience for readers of all ages.

 

 

Lines by Suzy Lee
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 5, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

It starts with a line. Whether made by the tip of a pencil or the blade of a skate, the magic starts there.

And magic once again flows from the pencil and imagination of internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee. With the lightest of touches, this masterwork blurs the lines between real and imagined, reminding us why Lee’s books have been lauded around the world, recognized on New York Times Best Illustrated Books lists and nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international honor given to children’s book creators. This seemingly simple story about a young skater on a frozen pond will charm the youngest of readers while simultaneously astounding book enthusiasts of any age.

Since first reading (and rereading) Suzy Lee’s award-winning wordless picture books Wave, Mirror, and Shadow in succession, I have been a dedicated fan of the author-illustrator’s work. Sophisticated, experimental yet approachable for all ages of reader, Lee’s work is sublime, surprising and something to behold. In her latest wordless picture book Lines, Suzy Lee starts with the glide of a pencil tip to tell a gently- quietly- ebullient and ingenious tale.

Like a story within a story, Lines has layers and dimensions that draws the reader in and plays with perceptions about a story’s narrative, artwork, interruptions in reader experience, and how artists can turn a supposed slip back into something picture-perfect. Readers fall under the spell of an ice skater, watching as their blade cuts more and more lines of various width, shape, and weight into the ice. As the skater’s moves become more complicated, we see the ice become a patchwork of busier and busier carved lines until the ice skater leaps into a jump, spins in the air and— then– the story stops, restarts, and finishes in wonderful and surprising ways. Lee plays here so well with format and dimension, testing and nudging the reader into experiencing the story as both a journey of an artist working their way through a story and a standalone wintry narrative.

Lee’s work in Lines is terrific, thoughtful and understated brilliance, and I continue to be such a fan of her work. If you haven’t yet had a chance to explore Suzy Lee’s work, I highly recommend taking a look through the artist’s entire oeuvre up to and including this latest treat.

I received copies of Professional Crocodile and Lines courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

Picture Books: More Halloween Ready Reads!

A few years ago, I put together a book list just in time for Halloween called, ‘Picture Book Picks: Halloween Ready Reads‘. Given the number of spooky seasonal reads I’ve had the chance to pore over since then, I thought it high time to do an update of sorts!

Here are some of my newer picks- a mix of Halloween reads, as well as goofy, monsterly, fun and spooky selections. (The picks from the original post are single spaced at the bottom of the post!)

Pug & Pig Trick or Treat by Sue Lowell Gallion, illus. Joyce Wan

I Am Bat by Morag Hood

Superbat by Matt Carr

Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin

Monster Trucks by Joy Keller, illus. Misa Saburi

Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick-or-Treating by Laura Gehl, illus. Joyce Wan

Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School (Moonlight #1) by Simon Puttock, illus. Ali Pye

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, illus. Peter Brown

Jampires by Sarah McIntyre, illus. David O’Connell

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illus. Zachariah OHora

Go to Sleep, Monster! by Kevin Cornell

Giant Pants by Mark Fearing

Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant, illus. K.G. Campbell

Penguin and Pumpkin by Salina Yoon

What Is Chasing Duck? (The Giggle Gang #1) by Jan Thomas

The Baby That Roared by Simon Puttock

The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers

Room on the Broom by by Julia Donaldson, illus. Axel Scheffler

Fright Club by Ethan Long

The Monsterator by Keith Graves

I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. Scott Magoon

Quit Calling Me a Monster! by Jory John, illus. Bob Shea

I Want to Be In a Scary Story by Sean Taylor, illus. Jean Jullien

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea

The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey

Night Animals by Gianna Marino

I Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell, illus. Charles Santoso

Rattlebone Rock by Sylvia L. Andrews, illus. Jennifer Plecas

Eek! Halloween by Sandra Boynton (board book)

Boo Who? by Ben Clanton

If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega, illus. Zachariah OHora

Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illus. Christian Robinson

Little Blue Truck’s Halloween (A Lift-the-Flap Book) by Alice Schertle, illus. Jill McElmurry

 

Titles from original post:
Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere
Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illus. Peter Brown
The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot! by Scott Magoon
The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell
That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
Crankenstein by Samantha Berger, illus. Dan Santat
Moonlight the Halloween Cat by Cynthia Rylant, illus. Melissa Sweet
Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
The Doghouse by Jan Thomas
There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty
Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas
Buddy and the Bunnies in: Don’t Play With Your Food by Bob Shea
Robot Zombie Frankenstein! by Annette Simon
Ghost in the House by Ammi-Joan Pacquette, illus. Adam Record
Bear Feels Scared by Karma Wilson, illus. Jane Chapman
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illus. Michael J. Stollin
The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illus. Jon Klassen
Ollie’s Halloween by Olivier Dunrea
Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illus. LeUyen Pham
Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, illus. Megan Lloyd

Picture Book Review: After the Fall by Dan Santat

Review: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 3, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

From the New York Times -bestselling creator of The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend comes the inspiring epilogue to the beloved classic nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

Everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But what happened after ?

Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat’s poignant tale follows Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high up on the city wall – that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can longer do many of the things he loves most.

Will he summon the courage to face his fear?

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) is a masterful picture book that will remind readers of all ages that Life begins when you get back up .

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

How many of us, growing up, sang or heard a version of the popular nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty featuring the character as an egg? As one of the many, many children who did, I must confess to having always wondered a little bit at poor egg Humpty Dumpty: what happened to Humpty Dumpty after the king’s horses and men couldn’t put him together again? I never felt quite satisfied that Humpty Dumpty’s story was complete. Enter Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator Dan Santat– one of my favourite storytellers and artists- who tells an incredible, affecting, inspired epilogue of what happened to Humpty Dumpty after the fall

In Santat’s After the Fall, readers are treated to a fantastically illustrated and ingenious tale of what happens to Humpty Dumpty when he decides to get back up again after his fall. In this epilogue, Santat presents a bandaged, suited Humpty Dumpty as a passionate bird watcher. Readers learn how and why Humpty’s fall actually happened: he was sitting “high up on the wall” watching birds, just being close to them, when the accident happened. We learn that much of Humpty simply could not be fixed with “bandages and glue”: after the fall, fear started creeping in to all aspects of Humpty’s life and he became scared of so much. Things that he used to love- most especially being up high, spending time with his beloved birds- he couldn’t face anymore. In a wonderful, impassioned turn- one involving paper airplanes and birds- we see Humpty face his fears as he builds himself up to face the great wall again. I don’t want to give away the ending here, as it should truly be experienced with Santat’s words and gorgeous art, but I will say that Humpty Dumpty’s hope- that you won’t just think of him as “that egg who was famous for falling”- will be made.

Overall, After the Fall is a truly heartening, beautiful experience in storytelling and art; a unique take on a well-known rhyme that will undoubtedly change the way you think of Humpty Dumpty’s story. Inspiring in the deepest, honest sense of the word; a story to be shared with and by children and grown-ups, Dan Santat continues to excel in delighting and engaging readers of all ages.

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