Must Read Monday (69): Children’s Titles from Victoria Jamieson, Casey Lyall, Beth Vrabel & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: more children’s fiction! It’s been a few weeks since the last Must Read Monday post, and while I haven’t been able to get in much reading, my to-read pile has SOMEHOW grown…! In any event, here are some titles I have my eye on for August and September release: the third installment of the totally charming From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess from Meg Cabot; the newest graphic novel from Roller Girl author-artist Victoria Jamieson; the latest contemporary title from wonderful middle-grade author Beth Vrabel; Ben Hatke’s newest graphic novel in the Mighty Jack series; and last, but not least, the second novel in Casey Lyall’s utterly terrific Howard Wallace, P.I. mystery series.

 

Royal Crush (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess #3) by Meg Cabot
Expected publication: August 1, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Being the newest princess of Genovia is WAY more complicated than she expected, but Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison is getting used to it. She gets to live in an actual palace with two fabulous poodles, a pet iguana, her very own pony, and, best of all, a loving family to help her figure things out!

And right now Olivia, having finally admitted that she likes Prince Khalil as more than just a friend, could REALLY use some advice. What is a princess supposed to do once she’s found a prince she likes? With her half-sister Mia busy enjoying her honeymoon, Olivia turns to Grandmere for help.

The third book in the middle-grade Princess Diaries spin-off series, written and illustrated by New York Times-bestselling author Meg Cabot.

 

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King (Mighty Jack #2) by Ben Hatke
Expected publication: September 5, 2017 by First Second
Book Description:

Like a bolt from the blue, Jack’s little sister Maddy is gone―carried into another realm by an ogre.

When Jack and Lilly follow Maddy’s captor through the portal, they are ready for anything . . . except what they find waiting for them in the floating crossroads between worlds. Even the power of their magic plants may not be enough to get them back to earth alive.

Alone and injured, Jack and Lilly must each face their own monsters―as well as giants who grind the bones of human children to feed their “beast” and a fearsome goblin king in the sewers down below.But when Jack finds himself in a tough spot, help comes from the most unlikely person: the goblin king!

 

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
Expected publication: September 5, 2017 by Dial Books
Book Description:

Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind–she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

 

Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I. #2) by Casey Lyall
Expected publication: September, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books
Book Description:

Middle-school detectives Howard Wallace and Ivy Mason are itching for a juicy case. But when their friend and cohort Marvin hires them to prove his nephew— über-bully Carl Dean—didn’t pugnap the school mascot, they’re less than thrilled. To succeed, not only must Howard and Ivy play nice with Carl, they’ll have to dodge a scrappy, snoopy reporter and come face-to-face with Howard’s worst enemy, his ex-best friend Miles Fletcher. Can Howard deal with all these complications and still be there for Ivy when her life is turned upside down? Or will he once again find himself a friendless P.I.?

 

Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel
Expected publication: September 12, 2017 by Running Press
Book Description:

Twelve-year-old Caleb is shorter, frailer, and more protected than most kids his age. That’s because he has cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning lungs that fill with mucus and a shortened lifespan. Caleb tries not to let his disorder define him, but it can be hard with an overprotective, prying mom and a big brother who is perfect in every way.

Then Caleb meets Kit-a vibrant, independent, and free girl who lives in a house in the woods-and his world changes instantly. Kit reads Caleb’s palm and tells him they are destined to become friends. She calls birds down from the sky, turns every day into an adventure, and never sees him as his disorder. Her magic is contagious, making Caleb question the rules and order in his life. But being Kit’s friend means embracing deception and, more and more, danger. Soon Caleb will have to decide if his friendship with Kit is really what’s best for him-or Kit.

Coming up: Blog tour for Internet Famous & other things

I have been away on a brief blogging hiatus due to a myriad of factors and life being generally frenetic, and perhaps unsurprisingly am behind on reading and writing reviews. But somehow- mysteriously!-  more books have made their way onto my must-read list! Besides reading comics- which is my go-to comfort reading when things are bumpy- there are a few books I have managed to start in the last week. The first is a graphic novel called Invisible Emmie by Terri Libensen- I’m about halfway through and really enjoying it. Great mix of humour with aches and pains of middle school…This is a perfect read to recommend to any Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jamieson fans out there! The second is a contemporary YA title by Canadian-based author Jennifer Honeybourn called Wesley James Ruined My Life. Due out in July, this is, so far, a delightful, frothy read, reminiscent of Lindsey Leavitt and Jessica Brody. I haven’t talked much lately about contemporary/romantic YA- it is unfortunately a genre that has fallen a bit off my radar. But having had the chance meet Jennifer at a recent event and getting to hear more about her writing, Wesley James, and her process to publication really cinched it for me as a YA title I wanted to dive into.

Also coming up this week- more YA! The Raincoast Books blog tour for Canadian author Danika Stone‘s young adult novel Internet Famous stops here on Friday, June 16th. You can take a look at the blog tour postcard to see which awesome bloggers/reviewers are participating and when!

Must Read Monday (65): Children’s titles from Lisa Thompson, Rachel Vail, Mike Lawrence & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Books I’ve Read…

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. I have not been doing a great job with keeping up and participating, but I have been inspired this week’s topic: the most unique books we’ve read!

With the caveat that I have probably/most likely missed a number of unique titles here, I’ve picked ten titles- mostly all children’s titles- that, to me, stand out. Are unusual. Out of the ordinary. Seriously unexpected and seriously unforgettable. Perhaps even peculiar. In no particular order, here are my picks:

 

 

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
A picture book written all in imagined bug language (yes, indeed!), with gorgeous artwork…

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, illus. Júlia Sardà
Kyo Maclear is up there as one of my favourite wordsmiths/storytellers. The Liszts is a newer title: a story about a list-making family that is beyond one’s expectations and imaginings. Sardà’s illustrations are…extraordinary…

Lost & Found by Shaun Tan
I am rather obsessed with Tan’s work. This was one of my first introductions to his work, and I haven’t stopped reading and poring over his incredible work since…

Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
The combination of Orchard’s unusual and beautiful style of artwork with the darker fairy-tale feel- a stand-out graphic novel…

The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz
Ah, The Sleepwalkers! I read this graphic novel after falling in love with Schwarz’s picture books. A genuinely unusual, offbeat but lovely and hypnotic story about a team of heroes who rescue children from nightmares…

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston
A feat in storytelling, visuals and typography, this picture books is also a love letter to the power of books and words…

Press Here by Hervé Tullet
One of the first interactive perfect-for-storytime picture books I remember reading and arguably still one of the best…I would argue this was a game-changer and paved the way for more delightful interactive picture books to follow…I can’t imagine storytime with interactive books…

Art & Max by David Wiesner
David Wiesner, as with many authors and artists on this list, is a favourite. While most anything and everything by Wiesner is breathtaking and innovative, I must confess to a particular soft spot for Art & Max: a picture book about art, art styles, and two friends who test and bend art between the pages of this book that cemented Wiesner’s place on my roster of favourites.

Shadow by Suzy Lee
One of the first wordless picture books where I had a serious ‘aha’ moment about the beauty and signficance of the genre…Also: why isn’t everyone just as bananas about her work as I am?!?

Milk Teeth by Julie Morstad
This is a small book/collection of Morstad’s artwork. Surreal, dreamy, so strange and so beautiful…As with Shaun Tan’s work, I could forever be breathing in Morstad’s exquisite work…

Bonus mentions:

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, illus. Isabelle Arsenault

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

What titles are on your top ten this week?

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.

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.

fishgirl_p70

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:

fish-girl-blog-tour-postcard

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.

Must Read Monday (59): New Heavenly Nostrils, HiLo and Bird & Squirrel!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week is all about children’s graphic novel series!  New series entries are either out or soon to be out for: Dana Simpson‘s Heavenly Nostrils, Judd Winick‘s HiLo, and James BurksBird & Squirrel, three wonderful, fun and vibrant graphic novel series that I adore and often recommend (the kids love them!).

 

31445569Unicorn Crossing (Heavenly Nostrils #5) by Dana Simpson
Expected publication: March 28, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Book Description:

Phoebe and Marigold are back for a fifth installment of the award-winning series. Join in on their latest adventures – and experiments – in being themselves!

Time flies in this fifth volume of Phoebe and Her Unicorn! Follow the lovable duo as they experience somewhat-spooky Halloween parties, ecstatic snow days, and looming summer reading assignments. Although the journey of growing up can sometimes be difficult, along the way Phoebe and Marigold discover something more enduring than goblin fads, unicorn spa vacations, and even a Spell of Forgetting—their one of a kind friendship.

 

30407983The Great Big Boom (HiLo #3) by Judd Winick
Publication: February 21, 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Hilo may look like an ordinary kid, but he s DEFINITELY not! When we last saw Hilo, DJ, and Gina, Gina had been sucked into a mysterious portal to who knows where! But friends don t let friends disappear into NOWHERE! It s up to D.J. and Hilo to follow her. Will there be danger? YES! Will there be amazing surprises? OF COURSE! Will Gina end up being the one to save them? DEFINITELY! With the help of Polly, the magical warrior cat, the friends will have to battle bad guys and face disgusting food, an angry mom, powerful magic, and more! Will they survive . . . and make it back to Earth before the portal closes again?! Find out in the third Hilo adventure!

 

30652339Bird & Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Publication: January 31, 2017 by GRAPHIX
Book Description:

It’s been a long, crazy trip around the world. Now the duo is back in their beloved forest, and Bird wants to throw a party! But Squirrel isn’t in the mood to celebrate. His house needs a good cleaning, the river has been dammed up by a pesky beaver, and the forest animals are jittery about a growing menace. Will the dam dry out the forest? Will the mysterious new danger ruin the party? Will Bird finally convince Squirrel to let go and just have a good time? Find out in their hilarious new adventure!

Best of 2016: Children’s Fiction

Another tremendous year of reading! A year in which middle grade fiction, with its incredible and nuanced tales and characters, really floored me. Bravo! Thank you to all of the authors for bringing such wonderful stories to us readers.

In no particular order, I present my picks for best of children’s fiction- including middle grade lit and graphic novels- of 2016:

A Boy Named Queen by Sara Cassidy
Once Was a Time by Leila Sales
Kabungo by Rolli
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel

Booked by Kwame Alexander
The Best Man by Richard Peck
The Summer We Saved the Bees by Robin Stevenson
Mayday by Karen Harrington
Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart

The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5) by Stephan Pastis
Double Down (Diary of A Wimpy Kid #11) by Jeff Kinney
Royal Wedding Disaster (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess #2) by Meg Cabot
The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden & Everton Miles Is Stranger Than Me (Night Flyers series) by Philippa Dowding

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley
Where You’ll Find Me by Natasha Friend
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
Completely Cassidy series by Tamsyn Murray

The Ministry of Ghosts by Alex Shearer
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
An Island of Our Own by Sally Nichols

 

Children’s graphic novels and early fiction formats:

 

Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton
Fluffy Strikes Back by Ashley Spires
Lucy by Randy Cecil

 

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

Spotlight: Interview with Illustrator and Cartoonist Eric Orchard!

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

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

 

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



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

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



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


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

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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.

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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.