Blog Tour Stop: Jennifer Honeybourn’s Wesley James Ruined My Life!

Welcome to the last stop on the Raincoast Books blog tour for Jennifer Honeybourn‘s contemporary YA debut, Wesley James Ruined My Life! Read on for my thoughts on the book as well as a short Q & A with Jennifer!

Wesley James Ruined My Life by Jennifer Honeybourn
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: July 18, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Quinn Hardwick’s having a rough summer. Her beloved grandmother has been put into a nursing home, her dad’s gambling addiction has flared back up, and now her worst enemy is back in town: Wesley James, former childhood friend and life ruiner.

So when Wesley is hired to work with her at Tudor Tymes, a medieval England-themed restaurant, the last thing Quinn’s going to do is forgive and forget. She’s determined to remove him from her life and even the score for once and for all-by getting him fired.

But getting rid of Wesley isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. When Quinn finds herself falling for him, she has to decide what she wants more: to get even, or to get the boy.

Jennifer Honeybourn’s debut novel, Wesley James Ruined My Life, is a contemporary young adult title that blends teen romance and comedy with some more serious issues. From the first-person narrative of sixteen-year-old Quinn, readers are taken into her world, where her once-best-friend/crush and now mortal enemy, Wesley James, has returned to town.

Quinn, as we learn, already has enough on her plate: trying to save up money for a band trip to her dream city- London, England- Quinn is balancing work at a medieval England-themed restaurant, dealing with the aftermath of her parent’s separation, her father’s gambling addiction, and her beloved grandmother’s seriously declining health. Into all of this walks Quinn’s once-upon-a-time former best friend and perhaps crush, Wesley James. Back in town after a few years, and suddenly everywhere Quinn turns, Wesley James is infuriatingly inescapable- and charming, sweet, kind, and stirring up feelings that Quinn does not want to have. In an intriguing turn, readers learn that Quinn’s now years-long despisement of Wesley stems from her holding him responsible for the break-up of her parent’s marriage. As the book description hints, Quinn turns her focus to try and make Wesley pay – somehow- for the perceived damage he has caused her; but, as we can guess, things don’t quite work out or reveal themselves the way Quinn anticipates!

While on the whole a lighter, often frothy and fun (and very cute) read, Honeybourn fortifies and freshens the more traditional rom-com story in a few ways. Namely, with a genuinely likable and cognizant protagonist/narrator in Quinn (Wesley is also very likable); weightier storylines in terms of family matters; and a peculiar, funny, and memorable story point with the themed Tudor Tymes restaurant. Likely to appeal to readers who enjoy YA rom-coms, and those who like the writing of authors such as Leila Sales, Jessica Brody, Sarah Ockler, or Huntley Fitzpatrick, Wesley James Ruined My Life makes for fun, yet rooted YA reading. Overall, Jennifer Honeybourn has done a very good job with her debut YA, crafting an endearing and self-aware protagonist with a sweet romantic element and thoughtful story.

Question & Answer with Jennifer!

Q: One aspect of the novel I really appreciated- and think made the novel stronger!- was the combination of fun and romance with more serious issues. Was there ever a version of Wesley James that did not include more serious subject matter- i.e. Quinn’s father’s gambling addition or declining grandparents? Or did you always set out to write a rooted, real contemporary YA romance that delved into some harder issues?

A: The bones of WESLEY JAMES RUINED MY LIFE were always there, even from the first draft. I don’t think I set out to write about specific issues, they just sort of presented themselves along the way, as I was drafting and learning more about the characters. I wanted romance to play a large role, but not be the only focus of the story, because I felt like there was more to Quinn’s life, things she was grappling with, and that made her more real to me.

 

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. Q & A organized by Raincoast Books. Thank you!

Picture Book Review: Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros & Brianne Farley

Review: Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros, illus. Brianne Farley
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 14, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

Charlotte is a serious scientist. She solves important problems by following the scientific method. She has all the right equipment: protective glasses, a lab coat, a clipboard, and a magnifying glass. What she doesn’t have is space. She has so many brothers and sisters (she is a rabbit, after all) that she is too squished to work on her experiments! Can she use science to solve her problem? This funny, satisfying story is a playful introduction to the scientific method and perfect for sparking an interest in STEM subjects.

Joining the wonderful, growing stream of science-leaning picture books, Camille Andros and Brianne Farley’s Charlotte the Scientist is Squished is a beautifully illustrated, utterly delightful story that comfortably and easily introduces the scientific method to children- with an adorable story to boot.

You might be wondering how a picture book can all of those things, and I think it comes down to how debut author Andros approaches the story, and how Secret Tree Fort illustrator Farley captures the spirit of the story. The story is set-up with readers being introduced to scientist Charlotte and her big problem: she is squished and unable to properly conduct her science experiments. Her rabbit family is so large and her siblings are making things very difficult for her. So, Charlotte approaches her problem of being squished with the five steps of the scientific method. Andros, with Farley’s delicious illustrations, outlines the five steps- from question, hypothesis, experiment, observation, conclusion- in a comfortable, understandable fashion, that works beautifully due to Andros’ natural storytelling style. Readers get to go along a journey with Charlotte as she experiments with everything from trying to make herself invisible to commandeering her carrot-like rocket ship to space.

Charlotte the Scientist is Squished eases along into a satisfying, well-deserved ending for both Charlotte and her family, all the while maintaining a nice balance between the sweet storytelling side and the science side of things. I think this could make for a great read aloud for a preschool and up age group; older children might be more curious in the science leanings and have their interest piqued by Charlotte’s scientific approach, while a younger audience might especially adore the delightful, bright illustrations and happy ending. Overall, a lovely, fun, educational read that promises and delivers on storytelling, illustrations and a unique angle.

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

Picture Book Review: Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

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

Meet Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recently Read: Great Picture Books & Non-Fiction Titles!

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

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

 

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

Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling

Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling, with illus. by Melissa Castrillon
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2017 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

Mary Anning, considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovered her first big find at the age of twelve. This novel is an imaginative re-creation of her childhood in early nineteenth-century Lyme Regis.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, England, to a poor family. She and her older brother were the only two of ten children to survive. Her father, a carpenter and part-time fossil hunter, taught his children to look for fossils. When her father injured himself and was unable to work, Mary quit school and took up fossil hunting full-time to help support her family, a task that became even more important when her father died, leaving the Annings in debt.At the age of twelve, Mary, with her older brother Joe, found what they believed to be the skeleton of a gigantic crocodile, the Great Croc of the legends. Between dodging her rival fossil hunter, the Curiman, and the sheer work of carefully digging out the fossil, Mary took almost a year to excavate what would later be termed the Ichthyosaurus.

Mary Anning may have been uneducated, poor and a woman, but her life’s work of fossil hunting led her to make many discoveries that influenced our understanding of prehistoric creatures and the age of the Earth. In 2010, Mary was named among the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Charles Darwin even cited Mary’s fossilized creatures as evidence in his book On the Origin of Species.

In this triumphant novel about scientific discovery, Monica Kulling brings Mary Anning and her world to life for young readers.

 

To think, a mere lass, with little schooling, did what those great scientists do all the time- and all of them big men, mind. It boggles my mind, it does. I can’t help but wonder what else you are destined to do.

An out of the ordinary, gorgeous treasure of a book, Mary Anning’s Curiosity is one of the few books I’ve read so far this year in one sitting. Written by Canadian author Monica Kulling, with marvelous illustrations by Melissa Castrillon, Mary Anning’s Curiosity gives readers a look into the earlier life of groundbreaking, celebrated fossilist Mary Anning and her earlier fossil discoveries in and around her place of birth of Lyme Regis, England.

Mary Anning’s Curiosity mostly focuses upon Mary and the year in which she, and her brother Joe, discover, dig and excavate an incredible fossil that was later named the Ichthyosaurus. Before we dive into that time, though, readers are taken into a bit of introduction to Mary and the Anning household. Kulling concisely and candidly describes the serious hardships faced by Mary’s Ma and Pa and their constant struggle with making enough to survive. We learn that Mary’s Ma wants more for her daughter than this life- the life of following in her father’s footsteps as an eccentric fossil hunter, forever in danger by the cliffs. And while Mary does indeed like school and learning “new words, fancy words”- the things that make her Ma happy- her life is the shoreline, the cliffs and beaches, carefully digging for curiosities- just like her Pa and brother. When Mary and Joe’s dad becomes incapacitated after a fall, though, Mary’s drive to hunt fossils, to make money and help her family, completely becomes her life from the age of eleven. In 1811, Mary and Joe’s dig that would lead to the finding of the Ichthyosaurus, begins. Kulling fascinatingly describes Mary’s intensity, focus, fervor and patience in her excavation; her tremendous and natural skills as a fossil hunter; as well as her and Joe’s attempts to thwart the attention of a seemingly greedy, fossil-hungry Captain.

Overall, an excellent, unusual read, providing readers of all ages tremendous insight into the life of an incredible woman of science and discovery. The growing number of books in children’s fiction and non-fiction titles that are delving into the lives of lesser-known trailblazers, staggering minds and discoveries is a joy to see and experience. With Mary Anning’s Curiosity, Monica Kulling has provided a stellar entry into children’s literature: one that not only excels as a fascinating shorter novel on its own accord, but also one that stands as a successful and awe-inspiring fictionalized biography. I do hope readers both young and old get a chance to pick this gem up!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Board Book Look at Cozy Classics: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Jack & Holman Wang

Cozy Classics: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Jack & Holman Wang
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 9, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Cuddle up with a classic! In twelve needle-felted scenes and twelve child-friendly words, each book in this ingenious series captures the essence of a literary masterpiece. Simple words, sturdy pages, and a beloved story make these books the perfect vehicle for early learning with an erudite twist. Budding bookworms will delight in this clever retelling of the classics made just for them!

In L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a storm transports Dorothy to the magical Land of Oz. Can she defeat the Wicked Witch and find her way home ? It’s a first words primer for your literary little one!

It is perhaps no secret that I quite adore the needle-felted Cozy Classics and Star Wars: Epic Yarns from Canadian authors Jack and Holman Wang! I have featured the brothers’ adorable, thoughtful and awe-inspiring work here a few times; now I have another wonderful new one to talk about!

In their take on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Jack and Holman use twelve words- everything from ‘storm’ to ‘home’- to tell a version of this classic tale . As with other Cozy Classics titles, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz features, per page spread, one highlighted word with an incredibly detailed needle-felted scene on the facing page. As you can see from a few of the photos I took, the Wang brothers are nothing if not painstaking in their care and attention to detail- in both selection of the ten words and in how they bring specific (and some famous!) characters and scenes to life. As someone who has had the great honour to meet Holman in person and see some needle-felt characters up close, I can speak to their utter artistry.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz seems another very tricky title to pull off as a Cozy Classic, as we might often think not only the classic novel but also of the iconic Judy Garland film as a comparison! How can Cozy Classics faithfully represent Dorothy, Toto…the Emerald City? What about the Wicked Witch of the West? As a child who both strangely adored and was terrified of The Wizard of Oz film, I wondered how Jack and Holman would adapt this story- without making it too scary for wee ones! I give full kudos to Jack and Holman for including some of the scarier aspects of the story (we do see felts and scenes with the Wicked Witch of the West and a winged monkey!); but those images are tempered by brighter felts of Dorothy, Toto, the yellow brick road, and other major characters like Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion.

Overall, another fantastical creation from Jack and Holman Wang- I think any fans of Cozy Classics and L. Frank Baum’s work might want to get their hands on this one! I’ve had the utter joy of sharing my home library collection of Cozy Classics (and Epic Yarns!) with my daughter, and they are ones that she has slowly grown into. Initially, the experience was all about the simple child-friendly words and looking at the pictures, but now the meaning of the words and stories have grown as she herself has grown! She actually discovered The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on my shelf before I had even perused it, so we sat down to explore the book together. Now, she sits down with it and chatters away, telling her own short version of the story as she turns the pages- and it is one of the best things I have ever seen.

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

Review: Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith

Review: Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: December 13, 2016 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

NYPD Detective Claire Codella is chomping at the bit for a new case. Lieutenant McGowan is determined to keep her out of the news, but she’s about to be back in the public eye in a big way. Broadway legend Lucy Merchant has tragically succumbed to early onset Alzheimer’s. At age fifty-six, she’s tucked away in the dementia care unit of the ultra-exclusive Manhattan care facility Park Manor. When she falls asleep and doesn’t wake up, her billionaire husband is ready for the funeral, but her daughter demands an investigation.

Only three months back on the job after cancer treatment, Codella finds herself at the center of a high profile case nearly everyone–especially her lieutenant–wants to shut down. But the forensic evidence raises alarming questions and Codella needs answers. To find them, she will have to crack the defenses of slippery administrators, frightened caregivers, and unobliging family members, all while unlocking some of her own dark memories.

Forgotten City, Carrie Smith’s gripping follow-up to Silent City, pits the unrelenting detective against a cast of diverse New Yorkers driven by their desires and ambitions and haunted by their pasts. But can she piece together the truth before the murderer kills again?

Forgotten City is the very strong sophomore novel in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mystery series that began with Silent City. Tailor made for readers who enjoy their procedurals and detective-centred mysteries brisk and intelligent, Forgotten City is tightly plotted, thoroughly engaging mystery, with a terrifically formidable female detective.

The central mystery in Forgotten City is an intriguing and unusual one: Broadway legend Lucy Merchant, who had been suffering from a rare, genetic early-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease, is found dead in a premier care facility in New York. As moves are made to declare that Lucy died of natural causes, Lucy’s daughter voices her shock and disbelief to Detective Codella and claims that her mother has been murdered- possibly poisoned. Codella is just coming off successful- and well-publicized- cases; her immediate (and bigoted) superior, Dennis McGowan, jealous of Codella’s success, will do anything to keep Codella down and away from any potentially big case. Codella, rather wonderfully, navigates her way around McGowan and begins a thorough investigation into the possibility that Lucy Merchant was somehow murdered in her suite at one of the most exclusive care homes known to man. As Codella slowly but surely unfolds convoluted layers, lies from main suspects, and strange ties between the list of suspects, we gain further insight into Codella’s brutal childhood and her tentative relationship with fellow detective Brian Haggerty. Smith has done a terrific job with Forgotten City: smart, twisty, winding, and compelling from start to finish. While not absolutely essential to have read Silent City before diving into Forgotten City, I would suggest starting with the debut; not only gripping and solidly written, but Silent City also provides a firm introduction to Codella, her cancer treatment and recovery, her past and present police team members, as well as a basis of her history with Haggerty.

Overall, Forgotten City is a very well done mystery novel, with the Claire Codella mystery series being one I would absolutely recommend to fans of detective novels, or those who enjoy their reading to align with shows like The Good Wife, Law & Order, or NYPD Blue. Forgotten City does not fall into any kind of sophomore slump here, with this novel being even stronger, sharper and more evenly teased out than the (already solid) first outing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight: Rachelle Delaney’s The Bonaventure Adventures!

Welcome to a special spotlight post featuring Canadian author Rachelle Delaney and her latest children’s novel (out now!), The Bonaventure Adventures. Read on for my thoughts on the novel and an interview with Rachelle!

Sebastian Konstantinov has grown up in a travelling circus, surrounded by talented performers. Seb, however, has no circus skills at all. He can’t even turn a somersault. But he does know this: the old-fashioned circus his father founded is out of date and running low on money. If someone doesn’t figure out how to save it, the Konstantinovs will be in real trouble.

Seb thinks he may have the answer, and it involves attending the highly selective Bonaventure Circus School in Montreal, Canada. Seb secretly writes to the school’s Directrice (conveniently leaving out the part about his lack of circus skills), and to his surprise, he gets accepted right away. Now all he has to do is keep his lack of talent a secret. Fortunately, he isn’t the only misfit at Bonaventure; Seb quickly befriends two other students—Frankie de Luca and Banjo Brady—who don’t quite fit in.

It turns out that Seb is not the only one with secrets. The school is literally crumbling beneath the students’ feet, and the Directrice is counting on Seb’s “talent” to save it. But Seb has his own problems to solve. Can he and his friends stay out of trouble long enough to find a way to save Seb’s family circus back home—as well as the Bonaventure Circus School?

While reading The Bonaventure Adventures, recollections of my childhood came up. Most notably, memories of when, as a child, I used to very happily curl up in my room and speed through books such as Enid Blyton’s Adventure Series, or anything by Beverly Clearly, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Laura Ingalls Wilder (and countless others) for hours on end. Growing up, I liked nothing more than to read about children (or animals) who were on adventures of any kind; perhaps more specifically, I adored reading about brave and/or underestimated children or animals who made their way through surprising twists and turns, difficult times or growing pains. Reads that met those criteria are ones that I consider timeless and think of so very fondly to this day. Quite similarly, Rachelle Delaney’s writing style and approach to characters and storyline in The Bonaventure Adventures is also wonderfully timeless.

While of a contemporary, modern-day setting, with references to email and internet, The Bonaventure Adventures, as mentioned above, reads more like an ageless children’s novel. Part of that might have to with the main thrust of the novel which is the circus! When we meet our protagonist, twelve-year-old Sebastian Konstantinov, he is in Europe with his ringmaster father and other close friends who are part of the traveling Konstantinov Family Circus. Unlike his self-confident and magnetic father, though, Seb is not a performer. His father Dragan sometimes jokes (and jibes) about Seb having no discernible circus talent. However, as much as Dragan believes in himself and the family circus, the circus is dangerously floundering and money is almost non-existent. Seb, rather ingeniously, comes up with a plan to enroll himself in a circus school in Montreal where he just might learn enough about the ‘modern circus’ and techniques of storytelling to save his family.

Hold your possible quibbles and disbelief for just a while as Seb rather quickly gets accepted, permission from his father, and somehow to Montreal, for the rest of the story is even more delightful and enjoyable then the opening. As Seb arrives in Montreal and the surprisingly run-down Bonaventure school (housed in a former grand cathedral!), he is stunned when the other circus students and teachers refer to him as a superstar. His father’s reputation as a magnificent ring master and the mistaken belief that the Konstantinov Family Circus is somehow rolling in money leads to the rather nefarious and scheming directrice of Bonaventure expecting piles of money from Dragan! As Seb’s lies get out of control and truths come out, Seb forms a team with two other so-called bad eggs, Frankie and Banjo, to not only save the Konstantinovs, but also to save their odd yet beloved new home at Bonaventure with a heroic- and bold- act.

Overall, The Bonaventure Adventures is an enchanting read that is, quite simply, terrifically fun. I am not sure if there are plans for future titles, but the ending leaves some room for further adventures, and I would be delighted to read more about Seb and his friends. Perfect for kids (and older readers!) who love more classic adventure tales and stories of mischief and daring, this novel will likely appeal to readers who tend toward authors such as Katherine Applegate, Laurel Snyder, Kate DiCamillo, Kathi Appelt, Lisa Graff and more.

Now for my interview with Rachelle!

I learned that Rachelle herself spent some time taking circus classes and I asked her if she could elaborate on her experience:
About three years ago, when I was first attempting to write The Bonaventure Adventures, I decided to take some beginner circus classes to help me understand and describe the skills my characters were learning in the story. This was a departure for me, because I’m awfully uncoordinated—pretty well the least acrobatic person I know. But my main character, Sebastian Konstantinov, is also a hopeless beginner with no skills, so I figured at least I’d be able to empathize.

I dabbled in *very* rudimentary acrobatics, trapeze, silks, aerial hoop, and juggling. And unsurprisingly, I discovered that circus skills are really, really difficult! Also, painful! But my teachers were very patient with me, as were the friends I whimpered to in the days after my classes, when I was too sore to lift my arms.

I also mustered up the nerve to take a parkour workshop, since another one of my main characters, Frankie, is a parkour expert. That was perhaps the most humbling day of my life. Those bruises lasted a long time.

Who were your favourite authors growing up?
I loved Beverly Cleary and Astrid Lindgren, and I read a lot of L.M. Montgomery, though I have to admit I wasn’t an “Anne girl” – I preferred the Story Girl books. In my teens I discovered Tamora Pierce, and it was game-over; I must have read the Song of the Lioness series fifteen times.

Which characters did you most relate to as a child and then as a teen?
I think I was always drawn to daring and adventurous female characters—not that I was really either of those things growing up, but I aspired to travel and have adventures. I loved Pippi Longstocking’s wild spirit and nutty ideas—thanks to her, my sister and I spent many hours playing Don’t Touch the Floor. And as a teen, I loved Alanna from the Tamora Pierce series I mentioned above. She was another strong and daring character—a girl who disguised herself as her twin brother in order to train to be a knight.

Did you have an “aha” moment where you decided you wanted to be a writer?
I think it was more of a slow realization. Though I’d always loved writing stories and poems, I decided to study conservation sciences in university—mostly because a high school teacher had informed me that writers don’t get paid. But within a year, I was avoiding all my science classes and taking every English class I could squeeze into my schedule. I realized I wanted to study words and stories, so I changed schools and started studying creative writing instead.

How or why did you decide to pursue the profession?
After I finished my undergrad degree in creative writing, I decided to follow it up with an MFA, largely to avoid working a nine-to-five job (a common theme in my life). At that point, I was focused on creative nonfiction—I had vague plans of being an environmental writer. But then I took my first Writing for Children course, and I fell in love with the genre—it’s so much fun to write for young readers. I do still write a lot of nonfiction, though. It’s nice to change things up.

If you weren’t writing or teaching writing, what do you think you would be doing?
I’ve worked a lot of jobs to support my writing habit over the years. I’ve managed programs and communications for non-profits, taught environmental education, and worked on museum and science centre exhibits. But if I had to do something completely different, I’d probably return to conservation biology. I adore tree-climbing and have this long-time dream of being a tree canopy scientist, which is probably a lot harder and more painful than I imagine. Not unlike parkour.

What are some of your reading highlights of the year so far?
I was a bit late to the party on this one, but I just read Ruta Sepetys’s YA novel Salt to the Sea, which was incredibly engrossing. And I’m currently reading [Adam Gidwitz’s) The Inquisitor’s Tale (Or, Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog), and so far it’s delightful.

Thank you so much for your time, Rachelle!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this post. All opinions and comments are my own. Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for organizing the interview with Rachelle.

Picture Book Review: This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

Review: This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 4, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Follow the real lives of seven kids from Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia for a single day! In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days—and this one world we all share—unites them. This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences. Inspired by his own travels, Matt Lamothe transports readers across the globe and back with this luminous and thoughtful picture book.

 

An utterly engaging entry into the informational picture books genre, Matt Lamothe’s This Is How We Do It is a wonderful and illuminating look inside the daily routines of seven children (and their respective families) from countries around the world. From Uganda to Italy, Peru to Russia, This Is How We Do It is educational and all-around fascinating. Lamothe leads readers through his illustrative representations of components of daily life such as “This is who I live with” to “This is how I go to school” and “This is how I spell my name” and beyond. For every one of these components (and there are many!), Lamothe draws each of the seven featured children and their respective experiences. How the authors has encapsulated the representation of each child’s experience is quite marvelous. Readers might find themselves in moments of major surprise as they learn about how vast, or, in fact, how minor our different practices and habits actually are!

Picture books speaking to dissimilarities/commonalities of children around the world are not necessarily a new concept but Lamothe’s entry here is one I would absolutely recommend due its reflective, open nature and attention to detail. It is worth noting here as well that Lamothe acknowledges that these seven children cannot of course be “representative of their country or culture” (or of how family structures have changed)- but the author hopes that there can be learning, insight and surprise to be gained from reading his book. I receive increasing numbers of questions on the children’s reference desk on broader subjects such as empathy, compassion, cultural sensitivity and awareness: This Is How We Do It is one terrific, current, and insightful children’s book to have on hand to recommend. A special bonus: readers get to see some pictures of the children and families featured in the book in a ‘Meet the Families’ spread in the back pages of the book.

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