Picture Book Review: Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

Review: Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 2, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Meet Pete.

Pete is gray. He’s round. And he’s not wearing any pants.

So Pete must be a boulder. Or is he a pigeon? Or a squirrel? Or a cloud?

Join Pete in his quest to answer the world’s oldest question: Why do I have to wear pants? Wait, that’s the second oldest. Born from the one-of-a-kind imagination of Rowboat Watkins, this hilarious book (the asides just beg to be read aloud) about finding out who you are features a satisfying and touching ending that will encourage young readers to be true to themselves as it reminds the adults in their lives to support them no matter what.

I like- no, love- a picture book with a funny title, and Pete With No Pants might be up there with the best of them! (Just say it aloud a few times and try not to laugh). The extra good thing about Rowboat Watkins’ Pete With No Pants though is that it is not just a picture book with a fun-to-say-title, it’s also a very good read. Slightly off-kilter, a little sweet, a little sly- like a combination of Mo Willems, Jory John and Bob Shea- Watkins’ sophomore picture book is great.

We meet Pete the elephant ‘shortly after breakfast’, as he decides he is a boulder. Why? Well, he’s big, gray, and not wearing pants- just like a boulder. Pete then proceeds to go through a range of emotions as he quickly goes from professing his love of boulders, to having a very one-sided game of knock-knock with a boulder, to soon declaring ‘Wah! Boulders are the worst‘. We follow Pete as he experiments with being a squirrel, faces his mother’s exasperation at his lack of pants, and unexpectedly finds a wonderful person who loves him for exactly who he is.

Pete With No Pants is a busy, funny, sometimes subversive, story that utilizes speech bubbles and concurrent dialogue from multiple characters; the story relies, to a certain degree, on reader understanding and comprehension, or an able storyteller. Watkins’ illustrations are terrific- expressive and comical, and perhaps do best to be viewed up close. I can see using this story as a read aloud for preschool and up ages: a smaller, enthusiastic crowd with an eye and ear for the wacky and unexpected might especially appreciate Pete With No Pants. I have had my own experience of reading this story to my daughter (almost three) and she loves it best when I perform it in a kooky, loud fashion, with voices. My daughter might just be especially enamored with Pete as she gets to happily giggle and shout for a book called Pete With No Pants (again, just try not to laugh saying that title!)…but that’s totally okay by me!

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 & Non-Fiction Titles!

It’s been a tad quiet on the Fab Book Reviews front lately…I had lofty goals for posting in June, somehow (why?!?) not counting on the fact that Summer Reading Club, school visits, and recent life craziness, etc., would really impact my reading and posting schedule! Ah well!

Here are some wonderful picture books and non-fiction children’s titles I’ve recently read and/or shared at storytimes. Some titles have been promoted during Summer Reading Club, though I may do another separate post just for those titles! I’ve starred the ones which I have used and were a big hit at one of my storytimes. I haven’t yet used Corinna Luyken’s The Book of Mistakes or Adam Lehrhaupt and Felicita Sala’s I Don’t Draw, I Color! at storytimes, but I highly, highly recommend taking a close look at both of these titles. Totally unique- an experience in storytelling and incredible visuals– just amazing work!

 

Shark Dog! by Ged Adamson*
Morris Mole by Dan Yaccarino*
You Don’t Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman, illus. Liz Climo*
My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel*
Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas*
Whose Poop Is That? by Darrin P. Lunde, illus. Kelsey Oseid*
Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals (World of Weird Animals) by Jess Keating, illus. David DeGrand*
South by Daniel Duncan
Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault
I Don’t Draw, I Color! by Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. Felicita Sala
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

Picture Book Reviews: Blue Ethel & A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum…

Review: Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Source: AR courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: May 30, 2017 by Farrar Straus & Giroux
Book Description:

Ethel is old, she is fat, she is black, and she is white. She is also a cat who is very set in her ways… until the day she turns blue! Blue Ethel is an adorable story written and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, showing readers that being different can be a good thing.

Blue Ethel, written and gloriously illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, is a sweetly surprising story about an old black and white cat who experiences changes while out on her day-to-day activities. One of the most unusually drawn, vivid and adorable (huggable) cats I have seen recently in picture books, Ethel is a creature of habit. As we learn, Ethel does the same few things every day: she looks out over the land (from her spot on the porch); closely watches the weather and clouds (from a lovely grassy hill); and goes after nefarious creatures (look out for the ants!). One thing that Ethel also loves to do is explore the sidewalk and roll around on it before falling asleep.  But one day, Ethel rolls down the covered-with-colourful-chalk-drawings sidewalk and turns the colour blue! Ethel, of course, cannot see that she now looks different- different from her usual self and quite different from the other cats in her neighborhood. Ethel finds her mood turning to match her new blue colour as the other cats whisper about her new, funny colour. Luckily, a brave little white cat named Fluffy comes to Ethel’s rescue with an idea of how they can be happy and colourful together.

Blue Ethel is a story that emphasizes acceptance, friendship, kindness and empathy; the turns of humour, quiet bursts of quirk and the illustrations make the story so lively and one that kids (and cat lovers!) might especially clamor for. Jennifer Black Reinhardt does such a wonderful job here with the full-page dynamic illustrations and straightforward storyline and text that makes just the right use of repetition. I have had the pleasure of reading this story aloud with my daughter- who is quite obsessed with Ethel and Fluffy now- and she and I both love the story’s tranquil, diverting nature and deserved happy ending.

Review: A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum… by Davide Cali, illus. Benjamin Chaud
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 14, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

There’s more to this museum than meets the eye! This is the wonderfully wacky world of celebrated international author-illustrator team Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud, the duo behind Junior Library Guild selections I Didn’t Do My Homework Because . . ., The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer . . ., and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School . . . . Notoriously (and delightfully) unreliable narrator Henry is late to a museum where his class is spending the day. But he has a plan: He’ll just catch up in one of the exhibits. That’s not possible in these halls! With volcanoes erupting, dinosaurs charging, and secret stairwells lurking, reuniting with his classmates becomes a quest of outrageous proportions. Young readers will revel in this entertaining book’s over-the-top antics.

Author Davide Cali (Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs) and illustrator Benjamin Chaud (The Bear’s Song) have collaborated together on a number of fun book projects. Included in their collaborative work are other titles in this series of picture books/early fiction titles involving protagonist Henry and his larger-than-life, incredible diversions. Henry has so far, had some spectacular (and some might argue unbelievable!…) adventures during his summer break, while getting to school, and attempting to finish his homework. Now, we turn to the museum!

In this latest adventure, the story begins with Henry’s teacher asking how he found their class trip to the museum. Henry immediately dives in with letting his teacher know that it “wasn’t exactly what he expected” as he was “charged by a triceratops” as soon as he set foot in the museum! From there, Henry (and his constant canine companion) experience one tremendous, funny, or bonkers experience to the next. Cali has a sharp and funny sense of humour that plays so well in his storytelling; Chaud’s finely detailed, bright, eye-catching and funny illustrations capture Cali’s stories so well. Cali and Chaud’s series of stories featuring Henry are good fun and should appeal to readers who enjoy wacky reads or stories by authors like Jon Agee, Ole Könnecke, Gemma Merino or Margery Cuyler. Reluctant readers who enjoy funny reads and might find themselves scared off by heavier text in early readers or early chapter books- but don’t want to necessarily read “picture books”- might find themselves reaching for A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum.. and other titles in this series.

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

Recently Read: Great Picture Books from Lucy Cousins, Mary Sullivan, Aaron Blabey & more!

Another spate of recently read wonderful picture books- with a board book tossed in for good measure! Everything from the new and terrifically vibrant, active read alouds, to cheeky and funny rhyming stories to the quietly gorgeous and interactive picture books. As ever ,I am in awe of the talent and innovation in picture books (and board books). I’ve starred the ones which I have used (and were a big hit!) at one of my storytimes.

Hooray for Birds! by Lucy Cousins*
Publication: March 28, 2017 by Candlewick Press

Treat by Mary Sullivan
Publication: March 1, 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey*
Publication: July 1, 2014 by Scholastic

Hello, Mr. Dodo! by Nicholas John Firth
Publication: January 31, 2017 by Arthur A. Levine Books

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima*
Publication: February 14, 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Patricia Hegarty, illus. Britta Teckentrup
Publication: February 9, 2016 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers (this edition)

Chicken Story Time by Sandy Asher, illus. Mark Fearing*
Publication: December 13, 2016 by Dial Books

Charlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin, illus. Samantha Cotterill
Publication: March 14, 2017 by Dial Books

Bunnybear by Andrea J. Loney, illus. Carmen Saldana*
Publication: January 31st 2017 by Albert Whitman Company

Tickle My Ears by Jörg Mühle (board book)*
Publication: September 2016 by Gecko Press (this edition)

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada via First Reads. Thank you!
Publication: March 25, 2014 by Ballantine Books (Trade Paperback edition)
Book Description
:

It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left of the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work. But all she has to show for her efforts so far is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club. Her roommates―her best friend Jane, and Dan, an aspiring sci-fi writer―are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn’t exactly count as success. Everyone tells her she needs a backup plan, and though she can almost picture moving back home and settling down with her perfectly nice ex-boyfriend, she’s not ready to give up on her goal of having a career like her idols Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. Not just yet. But while she dreams of filling their shoes, in the meantime, she’d happily settle for a speaking part in almost anything—and finding a hair product combination that works.

Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she’ll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. And she can’t let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class, even though he’s suddenly started paying attention. Meanwhile, her bank account is rapidly dwindling, her father wants her to come home, and her agent doesn’t return her calls. But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

You know when you consider yourself a fan of someone’s oeuvre- whether they are a singer, author, activist, actress, etc.- you tend to approach any new work with equal amounts delirious excitement and major trepidation? This is how I feel about Lauren Graham and her work. I will be honest here: Gilmore Girls is one of my all-time favourite shows, thus I have adored Lauren Graham (and her portrayal of character Lorelai Gilmore) for years now. I actually held off reading Someday, Someday, Maybe when it first came out because: excitement + trepidation. But when the opportunity came up recently to read Graham’s debut novel recently, I was finally ready to dive in.

As per the book’s description, Someday, Someday, Maybe tells the story of aspiring actress Franny Banks, who is on the last six months of her self-imposed deadline to make something of herself as an actress. Taking place in New York in the mid-90s, the novel is told in Franny’s  loquacious and witty first-person narrative. Similarly to her Gilmore Girls‘ character- known for making extensive and esoteric pop culture references- Graham crafts the character of Franny as a knowledgeable, educated, highly verbose and analytical person. Franny, however, is trying to forge into the entertainment world, and that strange, illogical and often insincere world (as portrayed in the book) does not often jibe with Franny’s heart or expectations. As readers go through the whirlwind of Franny’s six month countdown, we get to meet and know three major secondary characters: her roommates Jane (a production assistant) and Dan (struggling screenwriter), as well as fellow aspiring actor (and crush) James Franklin. Jane and Dan act as the sounding board/conscience to Franny’s moments of crazy and brushes with celebrity; James becomes the voice of sincere pretension and ‘I’m an AC-TOR‘- a character that you sincerely hope Franny doesn’t become enamored of. Dan is an especially lovely, supporting character, well-written and maintained, who grows more integral to the story as Franny’s impending deadline looms.

Graham spends much of the novel (as one would expect) exploring the sometimes truly bizarre processes of auditioning, working on stage, filming shows and commercials, working with actors, agents, and more. As a well-known actress with a solid stage/theatrical background herself, Graham likely has a treasure trove of entertainment stories and unbelievable experiences: I feel as though some were carried over, if not adapted, to fit directly into Franny’s story here. Additionally, I really appreciate that Franny’s story was not one of instant success or quickly fought minor setbacks. A winning story, and one full of comedy to be sure, but Franny’s story here is also one of struggle and persistence. Of small yet tremendous feats, and of crushing lows and major doubt. Someday, Someday, Maybe is also a story that interestingly shows so much love and respect to theatre and the study of acting, yet is simultaneously wary (if not loathing) of aspects regarding celebrity and fame.

Overall, a funny and thoughtful, appealing contemporary fiction read. Franny is an effervescent, deprecating yet sincere voice- a character to adore and root for. Readers who like their reads on the side of entertaining and/or packed with fascinating insight into ‘the business we call show‘, then Someday, Someday, Maybe might especially be your cup of tea. Fans of Graham’s work, or those who have enjoyed her non-fiction title Talking As Fast As I Can (great as an audiobook), have likely already read this title, but if you haven’t yet, I would give a whirl! A note that this trade paperback version includes a conversation between Lauren Graham and Parenthood costar (and terrific actress) Mae Whitman, and is quite delightful.

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.

Picture Book Reviews: A Perfect Day by Lane Smith & Noisy Night by Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs

9781626725362Review: A Perfect Day by Lane Smith
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 14, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Today is a perfect day for Cat, Dog, Chickadee, and Squirrel.

Cat is lounging among the daffodils. Dog is sitting in the wading pool, deep in the cool water. Chickadee is eating fresh seed from the birdfeeder. Squirrel is munching on his very own corncob. Today is a perfect day in Bert’s backyard.

Until Bear comes along, that is. Bear crushes the daffodils, drinks the pool water, and happily gobbles up the birdseed and corncob.

Today was a perfect day for Cat, Dog, Chickadee, and Squirrel. Now, it’s just a perfect day for Bear.

Just look at happy Bear on the cover! Sniffing beautiful flowers, lounging on the grass and enjoying the sunshine- what could be wrong?! In bestselling and award-winning Lane Smith’s funny and terrifically timed A Perfect Day, readers get a look at multiple animals’ perspectives of what makes for their idea of a perfect day.

A Perfect Day starts off with Cat enjoying some colourful flowers and Dog enjoying the feel of cool water, followed by a few other adorable animals having their own ultimate day. Where some authors/illustrators might veer- or perhaps stay- on a straight line of the darling and sweet, Smith takes a wonderful and quiet dive off to the comical and unexpected- all the while maintaining major levels of adorable. As we get to little Squirrel enjoying some corn, readers have, up to that point, only seen that all animals have been enjoying a perfect day…but then- surprise!- in trundles big, lumbering, impervious Bear, making a grand mess of things. And while effectively wrecking everyone’s flawless day, Bear ends up (happily) making his own day of perfection.

Overall, A Perfect Day is a delight, begging for multiple readings and closer inspections of Lane Smith’s illustrations. A relatively simple story, light on text, A Perfect Day makes great use of repeated words and phrasing, and sets itself apart with its comical twist in the introduction of Bear. This story could work brilliantly as a read aloud for toddlers/preschoolers (I hope to try it out soon!), especially if given the right intonation and animated stress on certain words. Smith’s mixed-media illustrations are lively; detailed yet broad at the same time, and though distinctive (as is all of Smith’s beautiful art), his work is easily approachable for all ages to enjoy.

9781596439672Review: Noisy Night by Mac Barnett, illus. Brian Biggs
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

It’s a noisy night in this city building! The residents of each floor can hear their neighbors above them, and are wondering what’s going on above their heads. Climb floor by floor and page by page to find out whose singing, dancing, cheering, and cooing are keeping a grumpy old man awake.

With innovative split-level spreads that offer the feeling of climbing an apartment building floor by floor, this clever and colorful collaboration between New York Times -bestselling author Mac Barnett and gifted illustrator Brian Biggs offers an irresistible investigation of one noisy night.

I love a good, boisterous book for reading aloud and Noisy Night, from award-winners Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs, certainly delivers on multiple fronts. A rambunctious story centred around figuring out the various- and unexpected!- noises going on in an apartment building, readers are treated to one wacky surprise after another.

Noisy Night opens with a quiet scene of a young boy fast asleep in his bed. The lights are off, the scene is washed in blues and grays and then…suddenly, the lights are on and something or someone has woken up the young boy! As the young boy asks what is making the ‘la la la’ noise above his bed in the apartment above, readers are treated to a reveal on the next page, followed by the next apartment resident asking what is going on above their own head. Noisy Night follows a straightforward pattern, allowing readers to easily get into the rhythm of the ask and answer. If performed as a read aloud, kids might really get a kick out of trying to guess who or what could be making noises- especially as the reveals get a little bit kooky as we get higher and higher up the apartment!

Overall, Barnett and Biggs have crafted a genuinely vibrant, livelier than lively story here. As with Lane Smith’s A Perfect Day, the story format and plot in Noisy Night is arguably simple and accessible. And as with A Perfect Day, author and illustrator give that something extra to the story to make it memorable. In Noisy Night, it is the particular details of Barnett’s flare for comedic language and approach to sounds, in combination with Biggs’ unmistakable vivid art that gives this story that extra pizzazz to make it shine. I have already had the pleasure of reading this story aloud to my daughter multiple times and she loves the artwork and making the variety of funny noises along with me! Mark Noisy Night as a must-read picture book for a funny (and booming!) storytime or read aloud.

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

Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

dcover-584Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Farrar Straus & Giroux

Book Description:

Hollis Darby-Barnes has never met her father, but she hates him.  For making her feel like a lab experiment, a half-person, a freak.  Sometimes she fantasizes about tracking the guy down, setting up a time and a place to meet, and then—right after she says, “Hi, I’m Hollis”—slapping him across the face.

Milo Robinson-Clark has never met his father, but he wants to.  He’s memorized the profile: Height (six feet).  Eyes (hazel).  Hair (dark, thick, and curly).  Does he need to cut it every four weeks to avoid looking like a mushroom?  Does he also have dark, thick eyebrows?  What about body hair?  These are the things Milo wonders about.

When Hollis and Milo met on a seesaw in Brooklyn a gazillion years ago, in some weird sperm donor/lesbian mom reunion, neither of them thought twice.  But when they reconnect as teenagers to find the man who gave them life, everything changes.  Only together can Hollis and Milo discover that family—in all of its weird, messy, freakish permutations—is the only thing that really matters.

Natasha Friend is an author whose work I have been reading and enjoying since I first picked up her YA novel, My Life in Black and White. Her recent middle grade novel, Where You’ll Find Me, is a terrific read and made my Best of 2016 Children’s Fiction list. In her latest contemporary YA novel, The Other F-Word, Friend takes on family– the other f-word- and all of its complicated, thorny, wonderful, heartbreaking and awesome parts.

The novel follows two protagonists (in alternating third-person narratives) through the course of the story: fifteen year old Milo and fourteen year old Hollis. Milo and Hollis met years before as children, when their respective moms connected via a sperm donors group. Now teenagers, Milo and Hollis are essentially strangers and have not been in touch since that fuzzy childhood meeting. The only connection they currently share is DNA: they have the same sperm donor as their biological father. Milo attempts to reconnect with Hollis due to medical reasons and his own frustrations of having to live such a protected, restricted and careful life: from childhood, he has been suffering from severe (some near-fatal) allergic reactions, and his doctor floats the possibility of learning more about his half-sibling’s health history and his biological father’s as a way to do more progressive/advanced allergy testing and trials on Milo.

The opening chapters  of The Other F-Word are a wee bumpy in parts, but do give it time to settle in as once it finds and gets into its quick, witty and heartfelt rhythm, it is a winner. As noted, the early few chapters of the novel come across as a little hasty: the voices of both Milo and Hollis seem a but rushed, Hollis reads as much older than fourteen, and the medical reason for Milo reconnecting with Hollis arguably feels a wee tenuous. However, as Hollis and Milo begin their first steps in messaging, emailing and talking, and sharing their lives, the story takes on tremendous meaning. With great thoughtfulness, Friend takes on subjects such as: same-sex marriages and partnerships; rights (and lack thereof) afforded to same-sex couples; and what connotations and emotional weight (and pain) terms such ‘biologically related’ or ‘non-biologically related’ can bring to families. Once Milo and Hollis find their half-sibling circle is even larger and possibly stranger than previously thought, their intertwined story opens up even more, leading up to an incredible reunion of family.  As the roster of characters grow, Friend does a wonderful job in keeping the increasingly engaging and bustling story moving along smoothly. In tandem, Friend ably keeps Milo and Hollis’s distinct voices and senses of humour running well, and the expanding role of Milo’s best friend JJ is a superb addition to the story.

Overall, The Other F-Word is a well-written, surprising and insightful contemporary YA story. While a funny read with laugh out loud moments of wackiness and sweetness, Friend also meaningfully writes about significant contemporaneous issues as related to family, and pulls off some emotional moments that are tender and so lovely. Already picking up steam with starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist, I do hope The Other F-Word gets read and enjoyed by a wide and appreciative audience. Readers who enjoy YA lit by authors ranging from Hilary T. Smith to Susin Nielsen or from Julie Halpern to Lindsey Leavitt, or those who like any unique YA that tackles real-life, family-centred issues with a great dose of humour and compassion, might especially adore The Other F-Word.

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 2016: Picture Books (Part 2) & the Best of the Rest

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of…picture books!?!

Yes, picture books! This genre has been SO strong this year- whether the form of debuts, or published works from established authors and illustrators, I have been continuously surprised and delighted by my reading in this epic field. The titles on this list are ones that have either excelled as read alouds for my storytimes, ones that I have personally adored, or ones that I have feel have contributed something superb to the genre. Or perhaps all of the three factors combined!

You can check out Part 1 of my picks here.

In no particular order, here are my picks for Part 2:

 

You Belong Here by M.H. Clark, illus. Isabelle Arsenault
Everyone Is Yawning by Anita Bijsterbosch
This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter
I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
My Dad Used to Be So Cool by Keith Negley

 

Penguin Problems by Jory John, illus. Lane Smith
Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion, illus. Joyce Wan
I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. Scott Magoon
There’s A Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
Cat Knit by Jacob Grant

 

The Moon Inside by Sandra V. Feder, illus. Aimée Sicuro
First Snow by Bomi Park
Who What Where? by Oliver Tallec
Bunny Slopes by Claudia Rueda
If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle, illus. Cale Atkinson

 

This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne
Wild by Emily Hughes
Dylan the Villain by K.G. Campbell
Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
One Day, the End.: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illus. Fred Koehler

 

Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold, illus. Matthew Cordell
Quackers by Liz Wong
Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley
Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead
Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow

 

And last, but definitely not least, the best of the rest. This includes board books, children’s non-fiction and others:

 

We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, illus. Julie Flett
Hamsters on the Go by Kass Reich
This Is Not a Book by Jean Jullien
We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers by Julie Flett

 

Gryphons Aren’t So Great by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost & Andrew Arnold
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A BabyLit Fairies Primer by Jennifer Adams, illus. Alison Oliver
Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill
Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

 

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel
Sing a Season Song by Jane Yolen, illus. Lisel Jane Ashlock
Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles by Philippe Cousteau, Deborah Hopkinson, illus. Meilo So
The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien

 

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

Best of 2016: Picture Books (Part 1)

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of…picture books!?!

Yes, picture books! This genre has been SO strong this year- whether the form of debuts, or published works from established authors and illustrators, I have been continuously surprised and delighted by my reading in this epic field. The titles on this list are ones that have either excelled as read alouds for my storytimes, ones that I have personally adored, or ones that I have feel have contributed something superb to the genre. Or perhaps all of the three factors combined!

In no particular order, here are my picks:

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, illus. Júlia Sardà
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston
Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill

 

Ooko by Esme Shapiro
Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer
Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano, illus. Kellen Hatanaka
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illus. Yuyi Morales
The Night Gardener by Terry Fan & Eric Fan

 

A Family Is A Family Is A Family by Sara O’Leary, illus. Qin Leng
Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illus. Beth Krommes
Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski
We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen
Jill & Dragon by Lesley Barnes

 

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illus. Erin. E. Stead
Bring Me a Rock! by Daniel Miyares
Dragonfly Kites by Tomson Highway, illus. Julie Flett
Barnacle is Bored by Jonathan Fenske
Before I Leave by Jessixa Bagley

 

The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear, illus. Chris Turnham
The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illus. Julia Kuo
Friend or Foe? by John Sobol, illus. Dasha Tolstikova
Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
The Storybook Knight by Helen Docherty, illus. Thomas Docherty

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