Picture Book Review: Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate & Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Review: Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate & Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 3, 2018 by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

From Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Katherine Applegate, a sweet book of encouragement, filled with humor and insight into the effort behind any meaningful accomplishment in life. A perfect gift for baby shower, birthday, or graduation.

This gorgeous gift book, equally perfect for preschool graduations or college commencements, baby showers or birthdays, is an inspirational tribute to the universal struggles and achievements of childhood. Beginning with a first birthday, the scenes travel through childhood triumphs and milestones, coming full circle to graduation. A magical blend of succinct text and beautiful watercolors renders each moment with tenderness and humor and encourages readers to “remember then, with every try, sometimes you fail . . . sometimes you fly.”

Before the cake…
before the peas…
before the laugh…
before the seas…

So begins the heartfelt, sweet and wonderfully illustrated picture book Sometimes You Fly by Newbery Medal winner Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Blue Ethel).

A starred review from Booklist (a snippet of which is also quoted on the book jacket) notes Sometimes You Fly as a ‘natural successor’ to the perennial graduation gift Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. And yes, absolutely: given the hopeful, commemorative and forward-looking nature, Sometimes You Fly is a super new choice or alternative pick to the usual! With Katherine Applegate’s rhyming and rhythmic text reading as so genuine and natural, and Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s memorable artwork- which I fell in love with in Blue EthelSometimes You Fly truly stand-outs and sings as an all-ages kind of celebratory read.

Image from Sometimes You Fly via Mr. Schu Reads blog post

With each short line of text of ‘before’, full page illustrations (front and back) illustrate or highlight the before and after of a momentous occasion. For example, with ‘before the team…’ readers see a girl try multiple swings at bat, while the back side shows the young girl jumping up in excitement at having made a softball team. After numerous and varied ‘before’s’, the book gently shifts to take readers through some of the highs and lows of attempting new things, of making mistakes, of saying goodbyes, and softly stresses the importance of what we take and learn from our experiences. Applegate’s writing here, as in her children’s novels, is composed and reassuring, this lovely mix of gravitas mixed with lightness. Reinhardt’s illustrations are such a brilliant complement to Applegate’s text: the illustrations show such detail, such expressiveness and nuanced emotions, from moments of joy to catastrophe to everything in between.

Overall, Sometimes You Fly is a kindhearted, hopeful read with marvelous illustrations that will indeed make it an appealing (and rightfully so!) gift to celebrate graduations and other such occasions, but it’s also a lovely read in its own right that can be enjoyed quietly or aloud at anytime by any reader looking for a little assurance or hope.

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

 

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Picture Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: April 11, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

 

Image from Alma and How She Got Her Name via Juana Martinez-Neal’s site

Juana Martinez-Neal makes her debut as both author and illustrator with the critically-lauded Alma and How She Got Her Name. Gorgeously illustrated, poignant, and starring an endearing protagonist, Martinez-Neal’s notable picture book is not to be missed.

When readers meet Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, she is writing her name and requires two pieces of paper- taped together- to get her full name down! We learn that she considers her name to be “too long, if you asked her”. She approaches her dad and reiterates her stance that her name is just too long and that “it never fits”. Her dad responds by taking a photo album off of a shelf: “…Let me tell you the story of your name. Then you decide if it fits”. Beginning with the name Sofia, and ending with the name Alma, Alma and her dad take a look at a photograph of each namesake and speak in a brief and thoughtful fashion about each respective relative- whether personal notes about their interests, their beliefs, their crafts, etc. At each name, Alma thinks about how remarkable it is that some parts of her relatives’ personalities and passions are somehow reflected in her or even an intrinsic part of her own person! As one can imagine, the more Alma hears from her father about her family’s history, the more her consideration and awe about her namesakes blossoms, as does her own sense of self and the uniqueness of her story.

Image from Alma and How She Got Her Name via Candlewick Press

A picture book that packs meaning, nostalgia, and general loveliness within its pages, Juana Martinez-Neal’s Alma and How She Got Her Name is an all-around wonderful read- beautifully told, beautifully illustrated (I am just in love with the art)- that also offers inspiration for readers. I have been reading this book with my three year old and she not only enjoys hearing about Alma’s name, but also hearing the stories behind her own full name which has quite a bit of family history nestled within it! Due to its more concise text length, I could see Alma and How She Got Her Name being used with a smaller Kindergarten and up group (or really, with any group of children perhaps working on family trees, or studying their own family!). Be sure to read “A Note from Juana” at the end of the book; Martinez-Neal talks about her own name’s history, as well as offering some related prompts for writing or discussion!

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

Recently Read: Kate Messner’s Breakout & Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise

Review posts featuring a children’s lit title and young adult lit title don’t often (if ever!) appear on this site. However, after reading Kate Messner’s Breakout (the children’s title) and Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise (the young adult title) in succession, I thought it might be interesting to pair them together in a review. Both titles deal with the criminal justice system (incarceration, punishment, and the complicated responsibility of prison wardens) albeit in different capacities, degrees and vantage points. While weighty and controversial issues surrounding the justice system and prison system are never off the grid, I feel as though these reads- and the subjects they proffer for sincere examination- might be considered even more timely and significant. (Just a warning, there are some plot spoilers ahead in the reviews!).

In Kate Messner‘s latest middle grade novel Breakout– already receiving a number of positive critical reviews- multiple middle school characters tell the complicated story of what happened over the course of a summer in which two prison inmates escaped a high-security prison located in the heart of their small town of Wolf Creek. Best friends Nora and Lizzie, along with new classmate Elidee, through journal entries, recorded conversations, text messages, posters, new clippings, and recorded morning announcements (and the addition of Nora’s younger brother’s comics), track the events, aftereffects, and transformations of their community after the breakout of two maximum security prisoners. Breakout tackles and confronts a number of heavy-hitting issues, including privilege, spreading of misinformation, prejudice and racism (in and out of the prison), and what foolishness and fear can breed- or inflame. Elidee’s narrative is a standout here: her being a newcomer to town, her being a racial minority in Wolf Creek, and the the fact that her brother is serving time in Wolf Creek’s prison works to highlight the biases of even the most well-minded and well-meaning children and adults. Moreover, through Elidee’s narrative, Messner rather wonderfully ties in the brilliant and influential voices of Jacqueline Woodson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nikki Grimes (among others): as Elidee finds Wolf Creek and its residents increasingly stifling, explicitly and appallingly racist at times, her study of lyricists and poets inspires her to write and try to make her own breakout from Wolf Creek. Breakout is definitely a read to get dialogue and self-reflection going; I can see elementary classes getting their teeth into this layered read. Well-written, absorbing and truly substantial in terms of content and subject matter, Breakout is a read that offers much for serious consideration.

Sarah Crossan‘s newest young adult novel Moonrise is a read that moved me to tears, and like Breakout, one that I keep thinking back on. Crossan, author of the acclaimed novels One, Apple and Rain, and Ireland’s new Children’s Literature Laureate, has written a novel in verse about a seventeen year old whose older brother receives the date of his execution while on death row in Texas. There is, as one might expect, a tremendous amount of sadness and brutality in this novel, as well as the pervasive atmosphere of desperation and tension that threatens to overflow at every turn. When readers meet Joe, we learn that he hasn’t seen his older brother Ed in ten years- since Joe was seven years old. While Joe and his older sister Angela have never forgotten about Ed and his incarceration, the prospect of his being put to death- even while serving time on death row in Wakefield, Texas- seemed unreal. But when Ed receives his date of execution, and chances for appeal are almost out, Joe makes the difficult trip to Wakefield. The reason for Ed’s incarceration is a slow reveal: the exploration into his making a false admission of guilt and claim of innocence becomes almost secondary to Joe and Ed’s reunion; their remembrances of a childhood fraught with a terrible parent; Joe’s memories of some moments of true happiness with Ed; and how Joe, Angela and Ed come to fathom the looming possibility of saying a final goodbye. Crossan’s writing is deceptively smooth and effortless- so much profundity is imbued in Joe’s often stark narrative. As with Kate Messner’s Breakout, Moonrise offers so much for contemplation here regarding fallacies and serious fractures within the justice and prison systems (and regarding those who work on the inside). Moonrise is a potentread, where the knowledge of unalterable, irrevocable character decisions and repercussions make for a haunting, unsettling read. Readers who have previously read and appreciated Crossan’s affecting work, readers of novels-in-verse, and those searching for contemporary, weightier YA, might especially be interested in seeking Moonrise out.

I received copies of Breakout and Moonrise courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. Thank you! Both titles have been published and are currently available. All opinions and comments are my own.

Recently Read: Great Picture Books (16)!

A look at some wonderful picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading lately! All are titles I have read and enjoyed and would recommend. Let’s start off with two funny books featuring bears: first up is Don’t Feed the Bear by Kathleen Doherty, illustrated by Chip Wass, a riotous story about an escalating battle of wit and words between a determined-to-get-food bear and an equally stubborn ranger (a bit of a loving nod to Yogi Bear and Disney’s Humphrey the Bear!); second up is Bear and Chicken by Jannie Ho, an adorably illustrated title that gently builds up tension between an anxious chicken and the hungry bear who rescues her from the cold (…this book would pair nicely with That Is Not A Good Idea! or The Doghouse!). Next is Red Sky at Night, from paper artist Elly MacKay, which looks at various weather sayings (e.g.red sky in the morning, sailors take warning) with beautiful, dreamlike accompanying pictorial representations. If you’d like to take a wonderfully sweet trip across Canada, may I recommend Linda Bailey and Kass Reich‘s terrifically told and illustrated Carson Crosses Canada, about a sparkling, funny dog and his equally sparkling and awesomely adventurous owner. Readers who love stories about invention and treehouses, be sure to check out Carter Higgins and Emily Hughes‘s glorious Everything You Need for a Treehouse, a book to inspire and to be pored over and read again and again. If you’re looking for a cat-centred jewel of a picture book with minimal text, try Isabelle Simler‘s marvelously illustrated Plume. Sophie Blackall’s latest title is Hello Lighthouse, a fascinating- and gloriously illustrated- detailed look inside a lighthouse and the life of its current keeper. Last but definitely not least we have I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët, a remarkable, necessary wordless picture book.

Picture Book Review: Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston & Misa Saburi

Review: Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston, illus. Misa Saburi
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 20, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

When Sakura’s father gets a new job, she and her parents leave their home in Japan. In America, Sakura misses the blossoming cherry tree where she and her grandmother would play and picnic. How will she feel at home in this new and unfamiliar place? What if she forgets the beloved grandmother she left behind? Making friends with her neighbour helps Sakura feel more settled and when springtime finally arrives, a gorgeous and fateful surprise awaits her.

Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms captures the beauty of the healing power of friendship through Weston’s Japanese poetry-inspired text and Saburi’s breathtaking illustrations.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

“I’ve watched this tree grow
all my life,” said Obaachan.
This is how I learned

seeing these blossoms in bloom
is always finest with friends.”

Author Robert Paul Weston (Blues for Zoey) turns to picture books with Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms, illustrated by Misa Saburi (Monster Trucks, with Joy Keller). Written in a series of tanka poems, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms tells the story of a young girl named Sakura- whose name means cherry blossoms- as she and her parents leave Japan and her beloved Obaachan for America.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

When Sakura arrives at their new home, she is understandably sad and lonely, missing her grandmother, their picnics, as well as the “soft and sweet scent” of cherry blossoms. A thoughtful young boy from next door named Luke tries to lift her spirits by offering to look at the night sky together through his telescope. After night adventures of contemplating the world above them- and its fleeting nature- Sakura soon finds that with a friend by her side, her new home and new school does not feel quite so daunting or cold. Sakura’s story, however, takes a sad turn with news about her Obaachan. Sakura and her family make a trip back to Japan to spend time with her now-ailing Obaachan. Quiet notes about love, grief and remembrance lace through the final spreads of the picture book, with the incredible reveal of cherry blossoms and a tender nod to Obachaan’s thoughts about enjoying “blossoms in bloom…with friends”.

Image from Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms via Misa Saburi’s website

Overall, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms is lovely- quietly and poetically- told, with illustrations to match the changing tones throughout the story. While it is indeed a story that touches upon a few more serious, pensive topics, Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms is still a hopeful read that emphasizes the reach of love, kindness and friendship. Weston’s approach to telling Sakura’s story in tanka form is unusual but great, and works very well in allowing the more momentous topics to be broached without overwhelming readers. Regarding the artwork, I particularly appreciate Saburi’s idiosyncratic illustrative style and how it works so well with Weston’s poetic writing: characters (and often objects) are well-defined and outlined in dark colours, while some inanimate objects and scenery (like the cherry blossoms) are softly drawn; a broad colour palette is used as well, lively and rich colours to denote happier scenes, while darker, muted shades are used to denote contemplative and sad scenes. Sakura’s Cherry Blossom is a picture book that could be used as a gentler fiction read on loss and mourning, about moving and making a new home, or even about making new friends; used in a classroom or home, this story could also even be used to inspire students to explore and attempt tanka poetry. Be sure to check out the final page: there is notation from the author regarding tanka poetry- an introduction to the style, its structure, as well a brief historical note.

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 Review: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

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

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

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

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

Image from Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love via SLJ

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

Image from Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love via SLJ

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

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

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: May 11, 2018 by Pajama Press (in Canada)
Book Description:

He’s a rescue, a mutt. Maybe there’s a little golden retriever in him, although he’s not exactly pretty. He’s had a run-in with coyotes and he’s missing an eye. But Mike is eleven-year-old Cara Donovan’s dog, and they love each other absolutely. Usually her pet follows Cara everywhere, but on the day the family first smells smoke in the air, Mike becomes anxious. Pine Grove is in the path of a wildfire, and the family is ordered to evacuate. In the ensuing chaos, Mike runs off. And then the unthinkable happens; there is no time to search for Mike. They are forced to leave him behind.

Shocked and devastated, Cara watches helplessly as the family drives through a nightmare, with burning debris falling from the sky and wild animals fleeing for their lives. Once in the city far from the burn zone, the Donovans are housed with a volunteer host family. Jewel, the hosts’ daughter, is nice, but Cara can only think about what she may have lost. What will happen if nothing is left? But as she reflects on what “home” means to her, Cara knows only one thing. She is not going to lose Mike. She will do what it takes to find him, even if it means going back to Pine Grove on her own.

The wildfires are bad this year
new ones popping up every day

It’s hard to tell how far away the smoke is
but the tightness in my gut
says it’s not far enough.

Canadian author Shari Green, author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel-in-verse Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, returns with Missing Mike, a middle grade novel (also in free verse) about a young girl’s unbreakable bond with her rescue dog Mike and what happens to Mike, her family, and their community when a devastating, seemingly unstoppable wildfire hits their town.

That’s when I saw Mike.
He wasn’t a puppy
and he wasn’t cute
but I was pretty sure
he needed somebody to love him.

We meet Cara Donovan and her dog, Mike (full name Mike Wazowski, after the famous monster), shortly before she and her family have to evacuate their home of Pine Grove (hours north from Vancouver) due to rapidly-spreading wildfires. In first-person narrative, Cara takes readers through the terror she, her older sister Sloane, and their mom and dad feel as they are faced with ten minutes to vacate their house. In the immediate sharpness and disorientation of the moment, Cara and her family quickly pack, taking their pre-prepared ‘just in case’ bags with whatever they think their must-have items could be. Cara, in the middle of brushing her beloved one-eyed rescue mutt, leaves Mike in their backyard, with the plan to take him to the car promptly after packing. The only thing is, when Cara goes back to their fenced-in backyard, Mike is gone: “Mike’s not in the yard / probably jumped clear over the lousy fence / searching for a cool spot / a not-so-smoky spot / a safe spot”. Cara pleads with her family to let her search for her best friend, but the utter urgency of their evacuation orders overrides everything. Even looking for a much-loved family member. We follow Cara and her family as they are taken in by a well-meaning, hospitable couple and their child Jewel, who becomes a friend and ally when Cara attempts, multiple times, to locate her dog. Woven in Missing Mike is Cara’s exercise- stemming from her love of crossword puzzles- in figuring out different words for home…and what ‘home’ really means in the midst of tragedy and displacement, while feeling and receiving kindness and warmth from strangers brought together in crisis. The main thread in Missing Mike, though, is that of Cara’s unyielding quest to, beyond all hope, find her much loved dog. Never resting, Cara is proactive in her multiple searches, helped by Jewel and even her strangely distant sister, providing readers with just enough small rays of hope to believe that her resilient dog Mike might just be out there, facing down coyotes and fires, waiting for his best friend to come back.

Overall, Missing Mike is a touching, lyrical story with the beautiful, boundless relationship of Cara and Mike as its core and achor. Shari Green’s writing style is effortless and candid, a perfect match for Cara’s natural and appropriately trusting, childlike narrative. Readers who love stories about human-animal bonds, children’s novels told in free verse, or middle grade titles that explore family dynamics and strength in facing adversity might find much to love about Missing Mike. Those who enjoy the writing of authors such as K.A. Holt, Katherine Applegate, Barbara O’Connor, Beth Vrabel or Alison Hughes might also want to check this moving middle grade novel out.

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

Blog Tour Stop: Claire Legrand’s Furyborn!

Welcome to one of the stops for Raincoast Books blog tour for Claire Legrand’s Furyborn! Read on for my thoughts on the book as well as a short Q & A with Claire!

Review: Furyborn (The Empirium Trilogy #1) by Claire Legrand
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: May 22, 2018 by Sourcebooks Fire
Book Description:

The stunningly original, must-read fantasy of 2018 follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world… or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed… unless the trials kill her first.

One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable-until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire’s heart is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world-and of each other.

Claire Legrand has critically acclaimed children’s fiction titles to her credit, including Some Kind of Happiness and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Furyborn, book one in the planned Empirium Trilogy, is young adult fantasy title with a deeply intricate, wondrous and explosive story.

With an opening chapter that is absolutely fierce and spellbinding in its mystery, Furyborn starts off with quite a bang and continues in this propulsive manner for the duration of its course. Post-opening, Furyborn is told in two alternating third-person narratives: one being that of Rielle Dardenne in the Second Age; the second being that Eliana Ferracora, of the Third Age. Rielle’s and Eliana’s stories are 1,020 years apart, but readers will come to know their exact bind by the end of the novel. Rielle’s life in the land of Celdaria is that of veneration to elements (sun, air, fire, shadow, water, metal, and earth), where casting of the elements (magic) is practiced and the long-dismissed prophecy of two human queens- one good and one evil- comes to light. Long foretold, it was thought that a Sun Queen and a Blood Queen- each with all the elements of magic- would rise and predict the future or end of the world. As we follow Rielle’s storyline, we’re taken along an unsettling journey as it is revealed that Rielle may hold the magic of all seven elements and will thus have to endure- i.e. survive- seven trials that the King and his advisors have created. With her extraordinary claim of being the prophesied Sun Queen- the good Queen that will protect the world from the savagery and vengeance of banished angels- Rielle’s life is forever altered, as are the lives of her best friends- the King’s heir Audric, and his bride-to-be, Ludivine. Eliana’s world, millenia after Rielle, is one where magic, prophecy and angels and the stories of the prophesied queens are thought of as mere remnants of old tales- completely fictitious. In contrast with Rielle’s life, Eliana’s is perhaps even more disturbing and dark. Making her living as an bounty hunter by working for the terrifying ruling Empire and ratting out supposed traitors to the Empire, Eliana’s life is completely derailed when a man named the Wolf traps her and forces her hand to join forces against the empire. As the two narratives get deeper and deeper, the relationship between Eliana’s present and Rielle become clearer- as do the seemingly gossamer connections between the two protagonists inexplicable, leviathan powers, the banishment of and venom against angels, and the catastrophic battles that have attempted to forever keep angels away from human life.

Legrand has carefully built up a pretty incredible world here especially given the fact that our main characters live in the crafted world of Avitas millennia apart. From dress, armor, weaponry, geography, not to mention the details of the seven elements, their respective saints and casts…there is so much to awe over and ingest here. Legrand also does a solid job in maintaining tension between Rielle’s and Eliana’s storylines; as the reader, we know we’re going to come to a massive reveal as to how they are actually connected (and why that has somehow survived centuries of time!). While readers might immediately or in short course of time figure out the exact link between Rielle and Eliana, the journey to get to the ultimate end (at least end of book one!) is fascinating. I would argue that Eliana’s storyline, and perhaps even her character, is the more nuanced and complex protagonist, especially as Eliana’s story with the Wolf moves forward and her loyalties and love for her beloved brother Remy and her mother Rozen are tested time and time again. Rielle’s storyline reminded me, in some capacity, of the trails and tribulations that Katniss goes through in the first of The Hunger Games– but it did not make it less intense. With so much packed in Furyborn, not everything is made sense of nor entirely cleared; some major questions are left unresolved, plot points left uncertain, and character choices left vague, but I was nonetheless held captive with the story start to finish (…I also imagine that the second and third books will illuminate any unanswered questions and issues!).

Readers who adore the work of authors such as Leigh Bardugo, Stephanie Garber, Laini Taylor, or Kendare Blake might especially love all of the elaborate world creation, character dynamics and sheer ferocity of Furyborn. Fans of Claire Legrand’s previous titles, even those not so familiar with fantasy, might also want to check this book out, as Legrand’s writing is graceful and fluid no matter what genre she is writing in; the novel simply flies by. Look forward to two more books to come in the Empirium Trilogy!

 

Q&A with Claire Legrand

Q: Big congratulations on Furyborn! On your post for Furyborn on Goodreads, you note that it has been thirteen years that you have been working on the books- and that they are “the books of your heart”. Since 2012, when The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls came out, you have been busy with other multiple book releases. How was your work on The Empirium books impacted by experiencing the release of your other titles and/or with the changing receptiveness to young adult fantasy series?

Claire Legrand: Yes, Furyborn—and the Empirium Trilogy overall—is the story of my heart. I’ve been working on the series off and on since I was eighteen years old. During that time, there were sometimes months-long stretches when I wouldn’t even look at my Furyborn notes because I was busy with other projects. But it was always there, in the back of my mind, waiting patiently for my return. Each book I’ve written has taught me many new things about myself, both as a writer and as a person, and I don’t think I would have been able to make Furyborn the book it is now without the experiences of creating my other books.

Thank you so much for your time!

 

Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog 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 post. All opinions and comments are my own. Author interview was arranged by Raincoast Books.

Graphic Novel Review: Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable

Review: Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths (Peter & Ernesto Volume 1) by Graham Annable
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 10, 2018 by First Second
Book Description:

Peter and Ernesto are sloths. Peter and Ernesto are friends. But Peter and Ernesto are nothing alike. Peter loves their tree and never wants to leave, while Ernesto loves the sky and wants to see it from every place on Earth. When Ernesto leaves to have a grand adventure, Peter stays behind and frets. The two friends grow even closer in separation, as Peter the homebody expands his horizons and Ernesto the wanderer learns the value of home. With ridiculously cute art and simple, funny text, their reunion is even more adorable than you are imagining.

Laika Studios superstar artist, writer, and director Graham Annable brings all his significant powers to bear on this timeless friendship story for the youngest graphic novel readers.

Grickle creator and Oscar nominated animator and cartoonist Graham Annable debuts on the children’s graphic novel scene with Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths. A simultaneously funny, dry and sincere read, this graphic novel is about the deep friendship between the titular two sloths, and what happens when one breaks away from their safe space and goes exploring.

From the images taken from A Tale of Two Sloths above and below, you get a definite sense of the art, style and narrative approach that Annable takes. Straightforward storytelling style, concise and leaner text, clean lines, strong and bright illustrations…and, may I say, two of the quirkiest looking (yet very cute!) sloths I have had the pleasure of reading about. As we learn from the description, Ernesto surprises his best friend Peter with the news that he has to go out on an adventure: “I want to see all of the sky!”, he exclaims to Peter. As Ernesto sets out with a brilliantly optimistic and happy attitude, Peter quivers for a short time on his tree, completely fretting about what misfortunes could befall his friend. Readers get to see one storyline of Ernesto’s pretty awesome and serendipitous adventures in meeting helpful animal friends, and getting a chance to wander and wonder at all the world has to offer. The second storyline follows Peter as he- very bravely- and very cautiously attempts to set out to make sure his friend returns home safely. As Ernesto and Peter go their separate directions, readers can see how their different approaches to facing roadblocks provide varying results- offering some great visual gags and fun plot turns. At its heart, A Tale of Two Sloths is about these two great friends, how much they care about each other and how their adventures expand their understandings of home, making their respective plans for a safe homecoming even sweeter (and very funny, too!).

Sure to delight fans of James Burks’ Bird & Squirrel series, Ben Clanton’s Narwhal and Jelly books, and Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn series, I can see Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths being a big hit for graphic novel readers and/or perhaps more hesitant chapter book readers. Moreover, with summer reading coming up, I know from experience how much graphic novels circulate (even more!) over the summer, so this might be a great one to check out- especially as there are plans for further series entries! All around funny, genuinely sweet, with a helping of eccentricity and wit, Peter & Ernesto is terrific fun. I’ll be looking forward to reading book two! Be sure to check out Graham Annable’s fantastic post on his blog all about the details of making of Peter & Ernesto and the inspiration of Arnold Lobel’s classic Frog and Toad series.

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 (15)!

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