Dec 18, 2012

Top Ten Picture Books of 2012

I read a lot of picture books in 2012. Over 100 in English, plus about 30 in Japanese. These are my favourite of all those I have read in the last year. I have, for the first time, linked up with The Broke & The Bookish for their Tuesday Top Ten list.

10.  Plant a Kiss - I am getting my cheats out of the way first. This upbeat book that is a great first book for kids to read themselves was released just a few days before 2012 started, but I am including it anyway.

9. Starfall - As much as I loved this book, it too was released in 2011! But this unique book- a picture book with actual photographs, was too heartwarming to leave off the list. Especially since it helped me almost completely conquer my fear of clowns.

8. A Stick Is an Excellent Thing - fun and rhythmical rhymes celebrating playing outside, this is the perfect act-it-out book.

7. The Stone Hatchlings - Imaginative Abby from A Flock of Shoes is back and giving inanimate objects life and love.

6. The Tooth Mouse - A tiny little mouse works her way past bigger competitors using her brains and her talent, not to mention a dose of gumption in this book that is evocative of classic French tales.

5. Larf - A bunny-wearing sasquatch looks for love and acceptance in this giggle-worthy tome.

4. Stuck with the Blooz - A loveable grump moves in with an androgynous kiddo who tries so hard to get unstuck, you can't help but cheer at the end.

3. Laundry Day - This fantastic little graphic novel celebrates a diverse neighbourhood, making friends, and pluckiness.

Hey, where's #2? Sorry, I cannot decide which of these books I love the most. We have read both so many times this year, and I find something new to love every single reading. In alphabetical order, then, my favourite books of 2012 are:

1. Sora and the Cloud - Beguiling illustrations and a bilingual book with lyrical prose in both languages. You can't help losing a bit of your heart to the cheeky little cloud.

1. Virginia Wolf - Heartwarming story of generosity of spirit and ingenuity exhibited by two adorable sisters, also winner of the 2012 Governor General's award for Children's Illustration.

What are the best books you read this year? Any of them picture books?

I am linking up to Teacher Treasure Hunter where everyone is posting their favourite books of 2012!
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Dec 17, 2012

The Tooth Mouse

The Tooth Mouse (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written  by: Susan Hood

Illustrated by: Janice Nadeau

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: August 1, 2012

Ages: 3+

I bought this book as soon as it came out, as it had been my Most Anticipated Picture Books of 2012 list, and because the illustrator was nominated for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award for the adorable Cinnamon  Baby, and I wanted to compare these books.

We read it right away and loved it. But I didn't review it. I was waiting for a post where I could announce that Spinky had lost his first tooth and I could tie it into this book. But months have passed, almost all the children in his kindergarten class have lost their teeth. And Spinky? Not a wiggle in sight. It's hard being the youngest in your class!

Like Spinky, Sophie the dancing mouse is small. But she has pluck, and she has smarts, and she will keep going to the end without giving up. The end, in this case, is a competition to see who can be the new Tooth Mouse, France's version of the Tooth Fairy. Sophie whirls and twirls her way through the competition, coming up with inventive ideas and doing it with integrity. Bravery, honesty, and wisdom are the traits that make her who she is.

Susan Hood blends French phrases seamlessly with delightful English turns of phrase. Janice Nadeau, who has won three (!) Governor General prizes for Children's Illustration, adds so much detail and tells extra stories in her soft watercolours which provide the perfect timeless French feel.  Oh those adorable mouse-sized berets!

So why have I finally decided I need to get this out in the blogosphere if my son still has all his teeth? Because I will round up the best picture books of 2012 this week, and this book needs to be on that list!

This is the twenty-ninth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge

Dec 13, 2012

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and illustrated by: K.G. Campbell

Published by: Kids Can Press

 Published on: September 1, 2012

 Ages: 4+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.


I remember, as a child, thinking that adults just didn't get it. I had my own rules, I knew what was right and wrong, everything was black and white. Lester's like that. He is the keeper of his own world. He keeps everything in order. 

But Cousin Clara knows nothing of order. She makes dreadful sweaters, that don't go with his tie and cover up his perfectly slicked hair. She messes up all the order in his world, and his parents are her enablers. He does what he can to get rid of the offending items but they keep coming back- until he finds people who can appreciate her gifts for what they are.

 Lester's Dreadful Sweaters is a peculiarly British-sounding book full of eccentrics, none so much as the fastidious and lovable Lester. The retro grammar school feel extends to both text and illustrations, and reminds me as much of The Cat In The Hat with its uninvited guest as it does of Adrian Mole. The unbelievably odd combinations of sweaters give the reader quite a few giggles. Definitely an exciting debut for a picture book creator!


Dec 12, 2012

What are you reading Wednesday?

What are you reading this week?

The kids are sick this week so I have my day job plus looking after sick kiddos plus bleaching everything they have come into contact with. But I do lay down with them for 10 minutes at a time or so, so it's the perfect time to break out a book of short stories.

I have gotten sucked into the Post-Apocalyptic Young Adult Birthmarked series. I am reading the second in the triology, Prized, right now. It's about a young midwife in a post-oil era when new societies with population problems have arisen. Of course the leaders are jerks and she needs to take them on. It feels more like Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series than The Hunger Games. The protagonist is a bit of a Mary Sue but her love interest is intriguing. He's kind of like Andrei in We The Living, which is my favourite novel of all time (I am not a Randist though!).

My kids are full-on into the Christmas spirit already! We are reading Magic Treehouse: Christmas in Camelot this week. It's been a while since we have delved into a Jack & Annie book and we missed them! Thanks to John at TheBookMineSet for the inspiration last week!

What are you reading this week? Any holiday books?

Dec 11, 2012

Island Kids

Island Kids (CAN, JP, US, INT)
Part of the Courageous Kids series

Written by: Tara Saracuse

Published by: Brindle and Glass Publishing Ltd.

Published on: February 1, 2010

Ages: 9+

Provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

In this, the third book in the Courageous Kids series, Tara Saracuse explores the world of kids on the Pacific islands of British Columbia. As in the previous book I read in this series, Northern Kids, there are a number of stories from real kids about how they interact with their environment.

True to the other books in the series, the author provides stories from long ago up to the present day, drawing a timeline as the environment changes and gets more populated. From creation stories to Emily Carr and a tsunami, Saracuse manages to cover the history of Vancouver Island and the islands around it from an easily understandable kids-eye view.

My kids liked the first story, The Raven, The Clam, and The Kids, best. I think it was the description of a giant canoe big enough for 60 people made out of a single tree trunk! Personally, I liked that there were stories from a number of First Nations tribes, so that the reader gets a cross-section of views from different peoples rather than lumping them all together.

Another favourite was The Golden Rule, featuring a young boy who goes to live with his grandmother in Chinatown and celebrates Yee Lan (Summer Visitation Day). This day of celebrating the ancestors at the graveyard bears a lot of resemblance to the Obon ceremony we celebrate every summer here in Japan. How very cool it is for my kids to see the ties between an Asian-Canadian boy in western Canada and Canadian-Asian kids in southern Japan.

Also like Northern Kids, this book gives an in to talking about some of the most difficult issues in Canadian society, from racism and residential schools to the Japanese internment. By first presenting a story and then providing context, Saracuse gives the reader a good introduction to these tough topics. I can see these as a great social studies resource for upper elementary school kids.

But these aren't just great resources, they are also fun reads which catch kids' attention. With topics like dinosaur finds, a school escape, rats and slugs, a monkey called Woo, and a chocolate strike, how could any kid (or adult!) not be interested?

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Wrapped in Foil.

This is the seventh book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge

Dec 7, 2012

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and illustrated by: Colin Stimpson

Published by: Templar Publishing

Published on: July 10, 2012

Ages: 3+

This reimagining of the Jack and the Beanstalk fable was on my Most Anticipated Picture Books of 2012 list, and no wonder I was salivating over it!

The visuals are just so great in this book. Stimpson has worked in film animation and this really reflects that vibe. I could totally see this on the big screen with a velvet curtain opening before the film starts. The deep colours and cartoon-like features of the characters as well as the exaggerated 1940s styles are comforting.

The story starts out similarly to all versions of this fable. Jack and his mother are dealing with extreme poverty, and he spends the last of their money on a magic bean. But this time Jack and his mother live in an old burger van, and a freeway over their location is the cause of their poverty. A trip up the beanstalk and a meeting with a friendly giant solve their problems.

The idealizing of the past, the demonizing of highways, the saving of an old business due to a famous attraction are all familiar to anyone who has watched the tv show Cars. But event though this is well-trodden ground, Stimpson puts his mark on with likeable characters and excellent execution. This was Stimpson's authorial debut and I hope the next one keeps his artistic flair and pairs it with a slightly more original story.

Dec 5, 2012

What are you reading Wednesday?

What are you reading this week?

The kids are sick this week so I have my day job plus looking after sick kiddos plus bleaching everything they have come into contact with. But I do lay down with them for 10 minutes at a time or so, so it's the perfect time to break out a book of short stories.

I am reading Coming Home, a book of short stories by a number of writers from the Northwest Territories, as chosen by John Mutford, the host of the Great Canadian Book Challenge, and Judy McLinton. I have especially enjoyed "Haunted Hill Mine" by Cathy Jewison, can't wait to read the rest of the book.

My kids need comfort and crawling up in a futon with an old-timey book is definitely comfort. So we are going with some Little Golden Books. I Can Fly, with the charming rhymes from Ruth Krauss, definitely hit the comfort spot.

What are you reading this week?

Do you comfort read?

Dec 2, 2012

Island Santa

Island Santa (CAN, JP, US)

Written by: Sheryl McFarlane

Illustrated by: Sheena Lott

Published by: Children's Health Foundation of Vancouver Island

Published on: October 3, 2012

Ages: 4+

Island Santa is a moving story of family, generosity, and geography. It is based on the true story of Kaare Norgaard, the real Island Santa. Using his ship, the Blue Fjord, he made it to the island homes of children bearing gifts for children.

In this story, a young boy is along for the boat ride, learning about his island neighbours and how to give from the heart. He also learns how hard it is to be separated from a loved one when they are ill and there is no relevant medical help nearby.

McFarlane's melodic text pairs beautifully with Lott's ocean-inspired palette. As an added bonus, the profits from this book benefit Jeneece Place in Victoria, BC, a home for families who are away from their own home for their child’s medical care.

This is the last day to win your choice of either this book or Scaredy Squirrel! Enter the giveaway here!

Nov 30, 2012

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Mélanie Watt

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: October 1, 2012

Ages:  4+

Provided by the publisher for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Scaredy Squirrel is back and just as neurotic as every. He is determined that both he and you will have a super-safe holiday, safe from such dangers as the Abominable Snowman, runaway toboggans, and  fruitcake. This is the longest Scaredy Squirrel book so far, organized in 8 chapters covering such subjects as Christmas Characters and Pet Peeves.

This is, first and formost, a hilarious tip book. Scareday Orville Squirrel's tips for surviving the holidays include such gems as how to avoid mistletoe mishaps, how to choose ecological and safe decorations, and many others. Also, despite the appropriate colour scheme, a dragon is absolutely, positively, not a good decorating choice for the holidays. Neither is dynamite.

Scaredy is just as cute as ever, even when he has a Mo Willems' Pigeon-like freakout. So are the supporting characters like a mystical unicorn and grumpy dinosaur.  His neuroses are just part of the Scaredy package we have come to know and love. Some of the jokes go well over my kindergarteners' heads, but are amusing for the parent to read aloud. No worries though, plenty of child giggles involved.

What I like about Scaredy Squirrel books is that Watt can tell a story with just lists. This is great for kids' literacy, learning about different uses of language. It's a real craft to have such a distinct voice using just lists!

One of the other reasons I am such a huge fan of Scaredy Squirrel is all the extras on the website. The storytime suggestions are great resources- and we get out the hand sanitizer before we open up one of his books! If you need to occupy your kids during winter break (nah!) print out some of Scaredy's activity sheets.

This is the twenty-seventh book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge

Nov 28, 2012

What are you reading Wednesday?

What are you reading this week?

I brought 44 books on Kindle to England and I am only now getting around to reading any of them!

I am reading Iced, the first book in the Dani O'Malley series, which is a spinoff of the Fever series from Karen Marie Moning. It's an urban fantasy book, and I like Dani the character very much, and the action is cool, and I want to go to Dublin very badly. However, I have an issue with the book, the same issue I had with Buffy, The Angel Problem. I am not in favour of immortals slobbering over teen girls. Who would have thought I had a prudish side?

My kids are into Fancy Nancy's Tea for Two right now. My son is still playing with his homemade tea shop (and charging me for my own tea!) and the two of them love to serve each other. It's really sweet -  and so is this book.

 What are you and your family reading this week?

Nov 27, 2012

Binky Takes Charge

Binky Takes Charge (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Ashley Spires

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: September 1, 2012

Ages: 7+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

The last time we saw Lt. Binky his space station had a visitor, a fellow space cat, in Binky Under Pressure. He dealt with that threatening situation with such aplomb, FURST (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) has given him a new challenge -  training new recruits. But what happens when the kitten cadet is not even a kitten? No worries, Binky can handle it!

My kids love how seemlessly cat life blends into space training. How can you tell if your cat's schedule of eatting, napping, making alien decoys, napping, and eating, is actually that of an undercover FURST (sorry, PURST! Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) agent? 

It's worth mentioning that my son's new favourite phrase is "sure as fuzzbutt." Spires sure has a way with a simile. It's also worth mentioning that this edition of Binky's adventures has a great moral of playing to your strengths, even if that means coopting a soccer ball into an alien-fighting technological device (which horrified my son!).

Binky's adventures are a perfect first comic series, with great visual gags to keep the kids interested even when encountering new vocabulary. Binky Takes Charge is a great addition to this addictive series.

Binky Takes Charge has been nominated for a 2012 Cybils award in the Graphic Novel category.

This is the twenty-sixth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge

Nov 26, 2012

Short Story Monday: Freckles M'grath

It's been so long since I participated in Short Story Monday! I missed it.

This week I read Freckles M'grath, a short story from Susan Glaspell. I know her play Trifles, an early feminist mystery play. She also won a Pulitzer Prize. Nothing to sneeze at!

This story is about the power plays that go one behind the scene in politics and what is okay or not. The title character is a young spunky fellow who does what he can for his cause and although it's not exactly illegal it's also not really moral. Still, we cheer for him because of his passion. What kind of message does this send about what we accept from our legislators though?

Nov 25, 2012

Holiday Giveaway 2012 (International)

I love this time of year, I am a huge fan of Christmas and New Year's and eating lots of food. I want to share my holiday joy with you too!

Here's my second annual holiday giveaway! This year I want to give you a choice between two brand new Canadian Christmas-theme books. Please choose from either Island Santa or Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas.

Enter using the rafflecopter below.  This giveaway will last one week, closing at midnight Japan time (12 hours ahead of EST) on December 2 so I have time to send the book out to you! This giveaway is open internationally!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nov 20, 2012

Seal Song

Seal Song (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Andrea Spalding

Illustrated by: Pascal Milelli

Published by: Orca Books

Published on: October 1, 2011

Ages: 4+

Tomorrow, October 21, is the gala for the 2012 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards. I've reviewed all the nominees for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, as well as the picture book nominee for the Norma Fleck Award for Children's Nonfiction. So I am excited to see who wins!

There is one English picture book nominated for the main TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, Seal Song. Usually these are for meatier books aimed at older audiences, with mainly text.

But Seal Song holds its own among the other books. This book reads like a finely honed oral tradition that has been passed down for hundreds of years, getting better with each re-telling. It is a delicate balance of prose and poetry that really grabs the reader. 

Cold green water/heaving/swelling
Velvet bodies/diving/swimming
A selkie seal/watching/waiting  

Finn helps his fisherman father with his work, but makes time to make friends with the selkie seals around them. When a unique young girl comes to town, Finn makes fast friends with her too. The fishermen know what he doesn't, that she is a seal girl whose songs bring good luck but who cannot touch the salt water without having to go back to the ocean. Finn's friend Sheila makes the sacrifice of her human body to save Finn and his father from an ocean storm.

Milelli's illustrations reflect the sea and refracted light of the sun on every page. Coupled with Spalding's masterful storytelling, this art proves that picture books can be as deep and moving as any other book. Find out tomorrow if the CCBC judges agree.
This is the twenty-fifth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.  

Nov 19, 2012

Nonfiction Monday November 19, 2012

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday, a weekly roundup of the best nonfiction kidlit book reviews on the web.

Tammy at Apples with Many Seeds has a fantastic book that covers the collective nouns for a number of animals, including "an implausibility of gnus." It's called A Zeal of Zebras.

Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff introduces us to the world of our feathered friends with Sparrow, Eagle, Penguin, and Seagull: What is a Bird? The book uses humor and rhyme to book explore the characteristics that qualify an animal to be a bird. As usual, Jeff also suggests great ways to use the books with kids.

100 Scope Notes features an early reader that details the inside out of castles, called Castle: How It Works. Since the book is from "master explainer" David Macauley, and appeals to a wide range of readers.

One of the most fascinating characters in history is Ben Franklin. Amy at Hope is the Word has a great new picture book biography of this multifaceted man called Electric Ben.

For the math-inclined, Jennifer at the Jean Little Library features a book that introduces money concepts and entrepreneurship, called Lemonade in Winter.

If you are looking for a book that will make kids excited about experiments, look no further than MotherReader, who reviewed Citizen Scientists.

At True Tales & A Cherry on Top, Jeanne features Imogen: The Mother of Modernism and Three Boys. She says "This lovely new picture book biography by Amy Novesky shares the inspiring story of the photographer, Imogen Cunningham, who followed her passion. As Imogen said, "You can't expect things to be smooth and easy and beautiful. You just have to work, find your way out, and do anything you can yourself."

It's Thanksgiving in the US this week, and many families will be gathering. On that theme, Anastasia at Booktalking features a book that shows how scientists discovered shared DNA, Decoding Our DNA: Craig Venter Vs the Human Genome Project.

Iron Guy Carl at Boys Rock, Boys Read is also in the Thanksgiving mood, giving thanks for American football! He introduces 3 different football books for upper elementary kids, including How Football Works and NFC South.

Roberta at Wrapped in Foil takes the Thanksgiving theme a step farther, with 3 books about the holiday, including Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, and Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message. She even suggests an activity related to each book, for which I am thankful!

Shirley at Simply Science is a nonfiction kidlit legend. She has certainly inspired me, and I have used a number of her suggestions to introduce scientific concepts to my kids. So it is bittersweet to know that her review of a book that does a good job of introducing the concept of infinity to children, Infinity and Me, is her last. I wish her well in her writing career, and hope she stops in to the blog to update us from time to time.

Bookends introduces a magician who inspired Harry Houdini as well as a common core curriculum idea in their post about The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician by Gail Jarrow.

At Sal's Fiction Addiction, Sally introduces some fascinating people who care for rescue chickens in City Chickens. It's in verse too!

Nonfiction sports books aren't limited to football this week. Amelia at Challenging the Bookworm reviews Brothers at Bat, which tells the true story of 12 (of 16!) brothers who played baseball, and all got inducted to the US National Baseball Hall of Fame!

Here at Perogies & Gyoza I have a review of Lumpito and the Painter from Spain, a simple introduction to Pablo Picasso and a dog he loved.

Don't forget to check out Nonfiction Monday next week, November 26, at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Lumpito and the Painter from Spain

Lumpito and the Painter from Spain (CAN)

Written by: Monica Kulling

Illustrated by: Dean Griffiths

Published by: Pajama Press

Published on: October 15, 2012

Ages: 3+

Provided by the publisher for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Veteran nonfiction author Monica Kulling has teamed up with another veteran, illustrator Dean Griffiths, to create a basic introduction to Pablo Picasso.

Lump is a dog who lives in a big city in Italy with a photographer and another dog, who goes along with the photographer to visit a famous painter in Spain, Pablo Picasso. Lump shows up and gets along with Picasso, his wife, a goat, and another big dog so well that he gains a new name, Lumpito, and never leaves!

This is the kind of book that would be a hit with kids even if there wasn't someone famous in it. The seriously adorable dachshund, Lumpito, was a huge hit with my kids. Using a pet to introduce a historical figure is a great way to draw children in, as also evidenced by Minette's Feast, the introduction to Julia Child using her cat that was released earlier this year.

Picture books biographies about artists are extremely difficult I think. How do you pay tribute to an artist without copying their work or ignoring it? Griffiths does this well, I think, as the scenes outside of the creation of art are in Griffiths' own style, with lots of detail for Italy and Spain. Then the art scenes are excellent tributes to Picasso's work, with even the colours that Lump tramps through, leaving footprints, are the vibrant colours favoured by Picasso.

Using an adorable pet (check out the tail that wraps around to the back cover!) and a cute story, Kulling and Griffiths make the art and life of the 20th century's most famous artist accessible to even the littlest reader (or listener!).

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by me! Please scroll up to check out other fantastic posts on nonfiction kidlit books.

Nov 17, 2012

Presents for Picture Book Lovers

Only 37 days left until Christmas and only 21 until Hanukkah! Have you finished your shopping yet? Do you have someone on your list, young or old, who loves picture books? Someone who loves them so much you are not sure what book to buy them as they probably have them all? In that case how about one of the items on this list. (Hint, hint, husband)

How about piecing together a Franklin puzzle?

Or play a Where The Wild Things Are board game?

Why not cuddle up at night with a beloved children's book character?

Kevin Henkes' Penny

Talking Pigeon

For those adults who want to show off their love of children's literature there are a lot of lovely jewelry options.

From Peter Pan:

From All Things Yummy on Etsy
What would mother think of my becoming a pirate? - Sword and Quote Pendant

From Oliver Jeffers' Lost & Found:

A Penguin ring

From the classics:

Mother Goose Pendant

Why not show off your love of kidlit with these everyday products?

From Hilary Leung, illustrator of The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear:

Year of the Snake (2013) t-shirt

 From Naoko Stoop, author and illustrator of Red Knit Cap Girl:

Trio of note cards

From Julia Cairns, illustrator of Mama Panya's Pancakes:

Sleeping Mama cards

Of course what all picture book lovers really covet is art by the illustrators who create the books we enjoy.

From Rosemary Wells, creator of Max and Ruby and Yoko:

Carry Me Over The River print

From Jill Bergman, illustrator:

The Reading Tree linocut

From Lydia Nichols, illustrator of Phil Lately

Greetings from Gowanus print

From Willow Dawson, illustrator of The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea:

Robot print

Last but not least, we have Felicia Hoshino, the author and illustrated of my beloved Sora and the Cloud, who offers to draw a portrait of your little loved one.

She also offers website banners, which I covet very very badly. 

Which of these do you want? Do you have any other ideas of gifts for picture book fanatics?