Recently Read: Great Picture Books! (17)

Yes, another round-up of terrific books recently read! My three year old is zipping through the last few weeks of our library’s summer reading club program so there are even more books than usual surrounding us at home! It’s been the biggest joy discovering and reading new books with her (as well as rediscovering some older favourites). My daughter has been eagerly helping me place picture books on hold and picking up stacks of books from our library- a reader after my own heart!

 

Here are some of the recent highlights of the books I have recently read and would recommend (most all of these titles have been read aloud and enjoyed!). Let’s start off with Bridget Heos’s Stegothesaurus, vibrant illustrations by T.L. McBeth: this one has become a new bedtime favourite; funny, clever and sly all at once, about a word-loving stegosaurus- a stegothesaurus!- who runs into big (…massive …gargantuan!) trouble when he meets a duplicitous allosaurus. Next up: the incredibly beautiful and touching intergenerational story Drawn Together by by Minh Lê, with truly stunning, awe-inspiring artwork by Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat; Honey by David Ezra Stein, a warm, satisfying hug of a book featuring the sweet bear from Leaves; the marvelous and illuminating A Storytelling of Ravens by Kyle Lukoff, with art by Natalie Nelson, all about unexpected names of animal groups (hello, a smack of jellyfish!); the amazingly beautiful, rhapsodic and educational The Honeybee by Kirsten Hall, with art by Canadian favourite Isabelle Arsenault; Cate Berry and artist Charles Santoso bring major giggles and awesomeness to Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime!, which is a super fun and interactive read aloud; the almost-wordless Night Out* by Daniel Miyares, another glorious, atmospheric and imaginative picture book from the artist behind Float, this is a perfect read for those who enjoy the ambient work of Akiko Miyakoshi; Jacob Grant, author and artist behind the terrific Cat Knit returns with the adorable and sweetly funny Bear’s Scare; Crescent Moons and Painted Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes* by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, a thoughtful and informative study of shapes; and last but not least, Little Robot Alone* by Newbery Medal winner Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, art by Matt Phelan, a quiet and endearing story about one robot who perseveres in making and welcoming a new friend.

*I was gifted a copy of Night Out courtesy of Daniel Miyares through a giveaway; I received copies of Crescent Moons and Painted Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes and Little Robot Alone courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. 

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Board Book Look: Titles from Xavier Deneux, Joyce Wan, Christopher Silas Neal & more!

A while back, I realized I had fallen rather behind on posting about board books! So, here’s a look at some the standout board books I have read and enjoyed over the last few months. Most all I have shared as read alouds with my littlest one, as well as with my three year old to pretty solid acclaim; some have already been featured on my Twitter feed! Some, such as the titles by Xavier Deneux, Joyce Wan, Molly Idle, Matthew Van Fleet, Janik Coat, Becky Davies and Gareth Lucas, or Yujin Shin are more interactive; these are innovative titles featuring pull tabs, fold out pages, fun tactile surfaces- standout ways to get kids involved in the reading process. Deneux’s books also feature grouped vocabulary; for example, in Little Critters, the words featured on the ‘spider’ and ‘fly’ page go from animal parts (legs, abdomen) to action verbs (weaving, spinning). Some, like the ones by Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert are, quite simply, beautiful, vital classics for learning and exploration that I was so happy to reread and rediscover. The board book titles by Christopher Silas Neal are knockouts, with very clever wordplay and concept learning (shapes and colours), all highlighting his unique illustrative style (my three year old was positively cackling while we read together). For Canadian loveliness, or unicorn joy, or an all-around delightful story, there are titles by Trish Madson and David W. Miles, Dana Simpson, and Sandra Boynton and George Booth, respectively. (Note: For double the unicorn awesomeness, pair My Magical Unicorn with Today I’ll Be a Unicorn!)

 

Here, George! by Sandra Boynton, illus. George Booth
The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s ABC by Eric Carle
Llamaphones by Janik Coat
Peekaboo Pals: A to Z by Becky Davies, art by Gareth Lucas*
TouchThinkLearn: Little Critters by Xavier Deneux*
TouchThinkLearn: Wild Animals by Xavier Deneux*
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Lick!: Mini Board Book by Matthew Van Fleet
Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book by Molly Idle (Flora’s Board Books) by Molly Idle*
C Is for Canada: A Canuck ABC Primer by Trish Madson, illus. David W. Miles*
Animal Colors by Christopher Silas Neal
Animal Shapes by Christopher Silas Neal
My Magical Unicorn by Yujin Shin
Today I’ll Be a Unicorn by Dana Simpson
Count My Cupcakes 123 by Joyce Wan

*These titles were received courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

Picture Book Reviews: Ta-Da! & We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book

Ta-Da! by Kathy Ellen Davis, illus. Kaylani Juanita
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: June 26, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

What makes a good story? One little girl thinks it’s a princess with magic powers that can (ta-da!) overcome any obstacle. Her friend thinks it’s (dun dun duh!) a host of dragons, pirates, and volcanos that cause total chaos. But as each of their stories intertwine and interact, these two young storytellers soon learn that a good story needs both destruction and triumph, conflict and resolution. Ta-Da! is an irresistible celebration of imagination, storytelling, and the joys of collaboration.

If you are in the mood for a very fun, totally appealing, winningly illustrated picture book, Ta-Da! might be the perfect pick for you. The picture book debut of both author Kathy Ellen Davis and illustrator/artist Kaylani Juanita, Ta-Da! features a young duo of friends who have pretty different takes on what makes a story good. The young girl in Ta-Da!– with the help of her gallant and amenable little dog- likes to use “Ta-Da!” to make story turns like scary fire-breathing dragons into kind dragons that fly “away into the sunset”. The girl’s friend, on the other hand, relishes the use of “Dun Dun Duh!” to make pirates attack and take prisoners, and have people living “horrible ever after”. Readers see one wonderfully imagined scenario after another, with the young friends going back-and-forth, ta-da-ing and dun-dun-duh-ing, fixing or putting the kibosh on the others’ imagined scene after imagined scene. But after one big flourish of a ta-da! that erases the young boy’s attempts to shake up the story with conflict, the young boy says “never mind” and walks off. At first, the young girl thinks how perfectly smooth and calm things are, how lovely the happily ever after is…until it’s really…not! Is there a way for the two friends to make their different approaches to storytelling work so that they can both have a good time…together? A truly fun, engaging story start to finish with delightfully vibrant full-page illustrations (I am IN LOVE with Juanita’s artwork!) that emphasizes collaboration (and highlights the utter magic of stories and make-believe!), Ta-Da! is a treat for an enthusiastic read-aloud, as well as for quiet reading exploration. Beware, though, you might just have too much fun exclaiming “TA-DA!” and “DUN DUN DUH!”! What a terrific debut; I hope we see more children’s lit from Kathy Ellen Davis and Kaylani Juanita!

Image from Ta-Da! via Amazon Japan

 

Image from Ta-Da! via Amazon Japan

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

 

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book by Michael Rosen, illus. Helen Oxenbury
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: May 22, 2018 by Candlewick Entertainment
Book Description:

Bear lovers rejoice! Pull the tabs and watch the pictures transform in an interactive edition of the award-winning classic.

Follow and join in the family’s excitement as they wade through the grass, splash through the river, and squelch through the mud in search of a bear. Pull the tabs to change the pictures along the way — we’re going to catch a big one!

“We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.

Uh-oh!…”

And so begins the arguably well-known, much-recited and often-read classic (from 1989!) We’re Going on Bear Hunt, by prolific author Michael Rosen, illustrated by celebrated illustrator Helen Oxenbury. This “changing picture book” edition is an innovative version of the classic picture book, with pull tabs that slowly transform a page’s inset black and white image into a colour image that magically blends into the full-colour page it is nestled in. I personally love this interactive element to the story; it brings a fun freshness to this classic! I have seen how my three year-old has been absolutely adoring this particular edition: now you’re not just working with the catchy refrain and fun noises to mimic, you also have the addition of the tabs which add an interactive, playful element for children, getting them even more into the story. This is great interactive and fun edition of a classic!

 

 

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: Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel & Suzanne Del Rizzo

Review: Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. Suzanne Del Rizzo
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: May 25, 2018 (in Canada) by Pajama Press
Book Description:

From Suzanne Del Rizzo, award-winning illustrator of My Beautiful Birds, and author Deborah Kerbel comes a unique story about a brave sled dog puppy’s adventures under the Arctic Circle’s midnight sun

Juno and her boy live in a red house at the top of the world. One day Juno will be big and strong enough to help pull a sled across the tundra, but for now she is just a small puppy with a big-dog heart. Small puppies have to go to bed when their boys do, but Juno can’t sleep with the midnight sun shining out across the town. She slips outside to play. Returning to see a hungry polar bear sniffing around the open door, Juno has no time to be afraid. It’s time to find her voice, summon the big dog inside her, and save her beloved boy.

With Deborah Kerbel’s warm, expressive text, Sun Dog is a love letter to life in the Arctic Circle from the perspective of a sled dog pup. Suzanne Del Rizzo’s dimensional art in polymer clay and acrylic wash offers both an intimate romp with a young puppy and a sweeping celebration of the vast and beautiful tundra.

Juno might be little, but there’s a big dog inside of her. She know it because it comes out every evening after dinner.

Canadian author Deborah Kerbel and Canadian artist Suzanne Del Rizzo have teamed up for the recently released picture book Sun Dog. A story told from the perspective of a young puppy named Juno who lives with her much loved boy at “at the very top of the world” in the tundra, Sun Dog is at once a tale of love, adventure and bravery.

Image from Sun Dog via Pajama Press site

When we meet puppy Juno and her boy, we learn a few things about the playful, happy pup: she loves her boy, she loves to play, and she wants to become a sled dog one day. As the summer months set in, “for days, weeks, months, the sun never sets”, and Juno does not want to go to bed. While her boy tries to get Juno to settle and get some good sleep, we see Juno playing with a striped sock on her boy’s bed, “puppy legs…itching to play”. So Juno decides to sneak out of their red house and go on an adventure of her own. At the beginning of her adventure, Juno sees rabbits, seals and even narwhals tucked in their various beds, but then her escapade takes a turn. After a close call with a (rather fearsome!) snowy owl, Juno runs home only to see a prowling polar bear right by their house. While frightened, Juno thinks of her boy who might be in danger and summons all of her courage to stand up and protect her beloved boy. Kerbel’s writing is so fluid and measured; while so much activity happens over the course of the picture book, Kerbel’s writing is focused, utterly inviting, and perfectly action-packed (yet not frightening for younger readers) when the climactic action occurs. Del Rizzo’s clay and acrylic art is so meticulously detailed and dynamic (from larger scenery to the smallest particulars)- I am in awe. There is one spread in particular in Sun Dog featuring the story’s polar bear that is incredible- quite a work of art. (Side note: If you haven’t yet had a chance to read Del Rizzo’s award-winning My Beautiful Birds, I highly recommend). The combination of Kerbel’s storytelling and Del Rizzo’s art make for terrific reading, and I hope we get to see further collaborations from the duo.

 

Image from Sun Dog via Pajama Press site

Overall, what a gorgeous picture book! With a terrific combination of warmth, playfulness and love, and moments of excitement and danger that lead to a sunny ending, Sun Dog is sure to please readers and/or an audience of young and old.  With such appealing and vibrant art, and a beautifully written, well-paced story, Sun Dog would make for great read aloud material (for preschool ages and up), as well as for quiet reading and sharing. Dog lovers might especially adore this story of Juno and her boy, and the overarching devotion and protective bond that the two share with one another.

Bonus: Don’t miss the notes on the endpapers about a different kind of sun dog, and the midnight sun! 

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

Picture Book Reviews: A Dog with Nice Ears & The Other Dog

From Lauren Child‘s Charlie and Lola dreaming of and picking out a rather unexpected dog, to Madeleine L’Engle‘s dog Touché telling her story- brought to life by artist Christine Davenier– of having to come to terms with a new, unusual sort of dog, canines are on the roster today!

In Lauren Child’s A Dog with Nice Ears (Featuring Charlie and Lola), the effervescent and irreverent brother and sister duo talk about their plans for getting a pet…more specifically, what kind of perfect dog they would like to get! Now, Charlie and Lola’s parents have told them “Absolutely no dogs!”, but little Lola has a plan. Though their dad has promised to “take Lola to the pet shop one Saturday” so that “she can choose whichever rabbit she wants”, Lola will try and bring a dog home instead. With a promise made to Charlie that she will choose a dog, not a rabbit, Lola and Charlie go back and forth about dog names, what kind of tail they’d like their dog to have, as well as the imperative of their dog having nice ears (for wearing its reading glasses!). Their friend Marv comments that with all their various wants and wishes for a dog, Charlie and Lola are definitely going to have a weird dog. The story leads to an adorable, sweetly funny and perfectly on-brand off-kilter ending when Lola brings home a most peculiar, wiggly-nosed, large-eared, puffy-tailed, hopping sort of dog. I have long loved Lauren Child’s writing and artistry: my first foray into her work was the fabulous Clarice Bean picture books, later the Clarice Bean novels, and I’ve been happily reading Child’s work since! A Dog with Nice Ears is a solidly fun and completely charming addition to the popular Charlie and Lola series.

The Other Dog, written by A Wrinkle in Time Newbery Medal winner Madeleine L’Engle and illustrated by prolific artist Christine Davenier (illustrator of Miss Lina’s Ballerinas, The Very Fairy Princess series), is a story narrated by L’Engle’s poodle Touché. When readers meet the great, refined, proud poodle, Touché L’Engle-Franklin lets us know the she, in fact, wrote this story with the help of an “inferior canine” named Jo. As we delve into the story, we find out that Touché’s mistress disappeared for several days and dared to came back home with another dog named Jo (readers see L’Engle cuddling a little baby!). For Touché, this rates as rather silly: dogs are expensive and surely “one dog is enough for any family”! Touché is talented, has acted on stage, is beautiful, loves sitting on laps, has a tail “like a little chrysanthemum”, and knows to never go to the bathroom inside the house, so “why another dog?”. However, when Jo-dog (as Touché refers to her) starts to grow and explore her world bit by bit, Touché finds that, actually, not all is lost. Yes, Jo-dog requires a lot of looking after, and will never grow a chrysanthemum tail, but Touché enjoys that Jo-dog is a great listener and seems to appreciate her company, so much so that Touché has to admit: “in spite of everything…I am getting very fond of our other dog”. In all, dog lovers of any and all ages might just fall in love with Touché’s terrific story. Touché’s narrative is observant, dry and witty all at once, while Davenier’s signature loose yet refined pencil and watercolour style so wonderfully captures Touché’s learned manner, the story’s overall elegance, and the gently sentimental feel of the story. Be sure to read the lovely forward included in this edition of The Other Dog, written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis, L’Engle’s granddaughter and daughter of Jo (Josephine) of the story. It was very surprising to learn that this children’s title was not accepted for publication until fifty years after L’Engle first wrote it! There is also a fantastically detailed Author’s Note (including sketches!) from Madeleine L’Engle detailing how Touché came into her life, Touché’s life with their family, and how much L’Engle and family clearly loved and cared for their furry friends.

I received a copy of A Dog with Nice Ears courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. I received a copy of The Other Dog courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments regarding the titles are my own. Thank you to the publishers! Both titles have been published and are currently available.

Picture Book Picks: Not Just for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day!

In the last few months, we’ve had celebrations for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. While I do love reading themed/holiday picture books on and for specific dates, I must say I do enjoy reading picture books on all subjects throughout the year…(even more so now that I have a three year old who loves to have Halloween-themed books read aloud all the time!). Picture books that celebrate parents, grandparents, family members and families in general, are always welcome, I think. Here, I’m sharing some of my picks (picture books and board books) that can be appreciated any time of the year:

 
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
Made for Me by Zack Bush, illus. by Gregorio De Lauretis*
Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad by Liz Climo
Wish by Matthew Cordell
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato
Little Cub by Olivier Dunrea
My New Mom and Me by Renata Galindo
Baby Penguins Love Their Mama! by Melissa Guion
Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton
Mother Bruce (Bruce #1) by Ryan T. Higgins
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee, illus. Eliza Wheeler
My Dad Used to Be So Cool by Keith Negley
A Family Is a Family Is a Family by Sara O’Leary, illus. Qin Leng
Where You Came From by Sara O’Leary, illus. Julie Morstad
The Mommy Book by Todd Parr
Harris Finds His Feet by Catherine Rayner
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illus. Henry Cole
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam Schiffer, illus. Holly Clifton-Brown
Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illus. Sydney Smith
David Gets In Trouble by David Shannon
One Family by George Shannon, illus. Blanca Gomez
Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein
Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein
You and Me, Me and You by Miguel Tanco*
Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins
Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston, illus. Misa Saburi
A Bedtime Yarn by Nicola Winstanley, illus. by Olivia Chin Mueller**

Board Books:
Edgar Gets Ready for Bed by Jennifer Adams, illus. Ron Stucki
My Mommy (Peppa Pig) by Neville Astley
Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins
My Dad is Amazing! by Sabrina Moyle, illus. Eunice Moyle
My Mom is Magical! by Sabrina Moyle, illus. Eunice Moyle
Little You by Richard Van Camp, illus. Julie Flett
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, illus. Julie Flett
We Belong Together by Joyce Wan

*Titles were sent in for review consideration courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you! Inclusion on this list, opinions and comments are my own.
**Title was sent in for review consideration courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you! Inclusion on this list, opinions and comments are my own.

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: 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: 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.

Picture Book Review: Petra by Marianna Coppo

Review: Petra by Marianna Coppo
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Petra is a little rock who believes she is a mighty mountain . . . until a dog fetches her for its owner, and she is tossed into a bird’s nest. A mountain? No, Petra is now an egg! An egg of the world in a world of possibility. Until she’s flung into a pond, and becomes an amazing island . . . and, eventually, a little girl’s pet rock. What will she be tomorrow? Who knows? But she’s a rock, and this is how she rolls!

‘Nothing can move me.’

Everyone, please meet Petra! The star of author-illustrator Marianna Coppo’s debut, Petra is the tale of a delightfully expressive, wry, and adaptable rock who not only experiences some mighty changes to her world, but also faces down some challenges to her self-confidence about being an immovable being.

Petra greets readers with the big statement that she cannot be moved, not by wind, not by time; that she is, in fact, ‘a mighty, magnificent mountain’! Petra certainly looks the part; but is she really be a mountain, and not what seems to be a rock? Coppo then follows with a wordless pictorial spread of what could be a log or stick being thrown over Petra’s head. Hmm…just how big or small is Petra, actually? Coppo plays so well with dimension/size in Petra and the eventual disclosure of Petra’s size is done very cleverly: the reveal of the thrown wooden object- and who or what is chasing the object!- gives readers a fuller sense of Petra’s physical stature. The status of Petra’s self-possession and ability to accept change though, is another matter altogether! Through some funny turns of events, shown via beautiful spreads and perfectly succinct text, we learn just how amenable and coolly versatile the incredible Petra really is.

Overall, what a delicious, clever, innovative treat of a picture book! Marianne Coppo might have created for rocks what Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault have done with sporks: i.e. imbuing such expression and spectrum of emotion and story possibility with an inanimate object that rarely features in picture books! Readers who enjoy the work of authors and illustrators like Maclear and Arsenault, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, or stories like Esmé Shapiro’s Ooko, and Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans’ Sparky! might especially adore the story and art in Petra.

 

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