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.


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.



Blog Tour Stop: Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli

Welcome to one of the stops (the last one!) on the Raincoast Books blog tour for David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli’s graphic novel Fish Girl! Please read on for my thoughts as well as a look inside the book…

9780547483931Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

Triple Caldecott winner David Wiesner brings his rich visual imagination and trademark artistry to the graphic novel format in a unique coming-of-age tale that begins underwater. A young mermaid, called Fish Girl, in a boardwalk aquarium has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl. Their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank. Sparkling with humor and brilliantly visualized, Fish Girl’s story will resonate with every young person facing the challenges and rewards of growing up.

In Fish Girl, the new graphic novel from David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli, readers are taken into the world of a young mermaid who is kept as a star attraction- and money-making draw- by her keeper, Neptune. Kirkus Reviews has described Fish Girl as a ‘riveting…adaptation’ of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Little Mermaid- and what an on-point, perfect statement that is! Fish Girl is absolutely its own weighty, serious and intense story, but its ties to the Anderson fairy tale are fascinating.

Fish Girl lives her life in an aquatic exhibition run by a man called Neptune. Neptune, as we learn, was a fisherman who apparently took Fish Girl (along with a myriad of other sea life) from the ocean from the time she was a baby. Keeping Fish Girl in a boardwalk exhibition to make money off of teasing exhibition go-ers with the possibility of the existence of a ‘real, live’ mermaid, Neptune is the keeper of Fish Girl. Aside from her magnificent octopus friend and other sea creatures, Fish Girl only has Neptune…until a young girl visiting the exhibition takes genuine interest and care in getting to know Fish Girl. As Fish Girl gets to know the girl, Livia, she begins to question and investigate Neptune, her claustrophobic life as an exhibition, and how she might escape from her caged life and start a new life on land. Layered and complex, Fish Girl is a more serious, contemplative read with darker undercurrents. Neptune in particular, is an uncomfortable character; he mistreats Fish Girl and baits her with promises of stories about her mermaid family if she behaves and performs well. Fish Girl herself becomes a heroine to root for; readers will likely be captivated (and hopeful) as she attempts to thwart Neptune and escape from what has become- and has likely always been- her oceanic prison.

Overall, Fish Girl is an excellent, potent story. David Wiesner’s work is always distinct and impressive; readers who have experienced his wordless and award-winning picture book Flotsam will see once again how majestically he draws sea creatures. The combination of Donna Jo Napoli- an author seasoned in stories based on myth, legends and fairy tales- and Wiesner works wonderfully to bring the singular experience of Fish Girl. A sophisticated and layered story- at times, intense and taut, with sinister undercurrents- Fish Girl works as a graphic novel with definite crossover appeal for older children and teens. Readers who have enjoyed children’s or YA graphic novels with more mature subject matter, along the lines of Sunny Side Up, Matt Phelan’s Bluffton or Snow White, anything from Gene Luen Yang, David Petersen or Kazu Kibuishi, might especially appreciate Fish Girl.


Excerpt from Fish Girl, courtesy of Raincoast Books

Interested in reading more reviews and thoughts about Fish Girl? You can check out the other great blogs participating in the tour:


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

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.


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.


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.


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.

Reviews: The Tea Party in the Woods & The Good Little Book

theteapartywoods25583502Review: The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi
Source: Digital galley courtesy of Kids Can Press via NetGalley. Thank you!
Expected publication: August 1, 2015 by Kids Can Press
Verdict: Very Good

Book Description:

Kikko sets out after her father with a forgotten pie for Grandma. When she arrives at a strange house in the wintry woods, a peek in the window reveals that the footprints Kikko had been following did not belong to her father at all, but to a bear in a long coat and hat! Alice in Wonderland meets Little Red Riding Hood in this charmed tale.

Miyakoshi’s The Tea Party in the Woods is an elegantly illustrated, softly told tale that has- like many classic children’s tales- surreal undercurrents. When we begin the story, we’re introduced to young Kikki who goes running off after her father into the snow covered woods. She has with her a delicious pie and struggles to catch up to him. Someone wearing a distinguished coat appears in the distance and Kikko runs to them believing them to be her father. But it is, as the book description tells us, not her father but rather a bear…

The Tea Party in the Woods is indeed a charming story, but one that I think also tickles the imagination into thinking of darker fairytale endings. Kikko sits among wondrously friendly and helpful animals, each offering help to make a pie. But is everything really as it seems? I cannot help but feel that Miyakoshi’s muted and grey-leaning colour palette only works to add to the eerie atmosphere and almost shadowy feel of the story! In the end, Kikko does not meet a grim fate at the hands of devious or duplicitous creatures and The Tea Party ends in a rather lighthearted fashion. Even so, there is just something about Miyakoshi’s narrative approach and illustrative style that recalls an almost phantasmagorical way of storytelling!

Overall, The Tea Party in the Woods is a lovely and understated picture book. It reads quite similarly to that of a fairytale, albeit one that gets turned on its head in unexpected and charming ways. Readers who enjoy innovative retellings of classics, or picture books along the lines of Marianne Dubuc’s The Bus Ride or Kyo Maclear’s Virginia Wolf might especially enjoy this title.

I received this book as a digital galley from Kids Can Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


thegoodlittlebook23602710Review: The Good Little Book by Kyo Maclear, illus. Marion Arbona
Source: Digital galley courtesy of Tundra Books via NetGalley. Thank you!
Expected publication: August 11, 2015 by Tundra Books
Verdict: Very Good

Book Description:

Boy meets book. It’s not quite love at first sight, but a good little book grows on a boy, soon becoming his loyal companion . . . until, one day, the book is lost. Will the boy get back his good little book? Will the good little book survive on its own without a proper jacket? Open up this good little book to find out.

Having had the pleasure of recently reading Kyo Maclear’s & Katty Maurey’s The Specific Ocean, I couldn’t wait to jump into another picture book written by Maclear.

I have read a number of picture books about books; ones that talk about love of reading and praise the power and memory of books. So how does The Good Little Book fare among other similarly themed picture books? Very well, I think! While, on the face of it, it may seem like we have read this tale many times before: a young boy finds one seemingly not-so-special book that becomes his literary guiding light and alters his views on reading and books. But wait! The Good Little Book is just so much more than that message. It stands up and out from the pack due to two major things: Maclear’s narrative and Marion Arbona’s artwork.

Kyo Maclear has, I think, such an smooth and irresistible writing style in her picture books. Her narrative voice in The Good Little Book does not come across as heavy-handed or as trying too hard to impart a message. The Good Little Book reads like an adventure, a bedtime story, and fantasy all at once. Along with Maclear’s text, Marion Arbona’s illustrations are something to behold. Arbona’s fantastical and vivid images and colours add a dimension of vivaciousness and weight to Maclear’s words and so beautifully emphasize the reach and extraordinary scope of how books can impact our mind and world.

Overall, The Good Little Book is lovely to read and a wonder to the eye. Maclear has written another beautiful picture book, and Arbona’s illustrations are dynamic and fresh. Arbona’s illustrative work is new to me and now something I will have to follow!

I received this book as a digital galley from Tundra Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.