Jul 9, 2014

Julia, Child

Julia, Child

Words by: Kyo Maclear

Pictures by: Julie Morstad

Published by: Tundra Books

Published on: July 9, 2014

Ages: 4+

What do you make when you add a love of cooking to a bowl full of friendship and bake with the talent of two of Canada's most loved children's book artisans?

Julia, Child.

Kyo Maclear is the author of two the children's books I love most, Spork and Virginia Wolf. As in these amazing books, her writing in Julia, Child speaks to those of all ages. As in Virginia Wolf, Maclear imagines an episode in the childhood of a famous women. Julia and her friend Simka love butter and baking and French food and wish they could spread their joy to others.

Those who have joy and those who need some are easily differentiated in Morstad's (How To) delightful gouache and ink illustrations. Julie and Simka are adorable, but it's truly the little touches like recipe cards with helpful cooking hints or recipes changed to add more butter that show Morstad's true mastery.

I do love extras in books, and the introduction wrapped as an invitation on the first page, as well as the book description on the cover flaps all add to the joy of reading. Any book which mixes a swooshy rainbow and crying lumberjack has to be formulated to bring smiles to the readers' faces.

Like Julia and Simka, Maclear and Morstad are generous with their talent and sharing this book is sure to bring joy to others.

Jun 29, 2014

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

Written by: Christine Baldacchino

Illustrated by: Isabelle Malenfant

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: May 13, 2014

Ages: 4+

Morris Mickelwhite, son of Moira and roommate of Moo the cat, is a character. He's creative and strong and unique. When he hits a snag he takes a moment out then dusts himself off and comes back up again.

Morris loves to play dress up in a tangerine dress, and I'm sure you can imagine the comments he gets from school mates. These comments about something he love give him a stomachache. Taking time off to regroup with his mother, his cat, and his imagination gives him the confidence to go into school and blaze his own path.

I have read a lot of "issue" books and it just doesn't work if the quality isn't there. In this case the storytelling, the character building, and the artwork are well beyond what you would expect of a normal picture book. Baldacchino uses great use of onomatopoeia to bring  interest to younger readers as well as older readers who will enjoy the story and characters.

Morris isn't the only the star character. Malenfant uses the same deft hand for the moving expressions on Morris' face as she does to bring the tangerine dress to life. Make no mistake, this dress will be as fascinating to most readers as to Morris. Malenfant's charcoal, watercolour and pastel illustrations draw your eye to that dress and make you realize just why he has such a yearning for it.

This is more than just an issue book. Yes, it breaks gender stereotypes and gives a great role model for going your own way, but the reason you'll re-read it is because of the stunning artwork and the way the words work perfectly together.

Jun 28, 2014

Just So Stories Volume II

Just So Stories Volume II

Written by: Rudyard Kipling

Illustrated by: Ian Wallace

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: October 1, 2013

Ages: 8+

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

The second volume of Rudyard Kipling's classic stories provides an excellent companion to Just So Stories, Volume I.

Like the first volume, Kipling's classic stories are married with Wallace's stunning art.

My kids, currently learning Japanese characters which includes the history of these pictorial characters, were especially fascinated by How the Alphabet Was Made, the continuation to How the First Letter Was Written. My kids haven't been exposed to a story like this about the roman alphabet, so it was especially exciting. Since O is similar to the shape of the mouth to make the sound and S looks like a snake these are easy to figure out but the A for the mouth of a carp fish is pretty ingenious., as is the beaver tail for the letter B. It helps that the character of Taffy is engaging as well as being creative.

Kipling has a heavy respect for nature and its creatures, and this comes through in Wallace's paintings. From the ocean to the crabs and butterflies, all the natural components is fused with life and movement, and Wallace's style is classical enough to meld with the old style of Kipling's stories.

Jun 12, 2014

Kicking a Ball

Kicking a Ball

Written by: Allan Ahlberg

Illustrated by: Sebasten Braun

Published by:  Puffin Books

Published on: May 1, 2014

Ages: 3+

The World Cup starts today! Despite the controversies, we are so excited in our house! Soccer is our game and we are all rooting for Japan and a variety of secondary countries. May the best team win!

The bloated capitalism of the FIFA organization and the very important concerns of the Brazilian peoples haven't been enough to put us off. The reason is, like this book, very simple. Two teams and a ball are just very exciting.

That joy is captured perfectly in Ahlberg's verse. The wee boy in this book just loves the time he spends with his inanimate object, the way he can manipulate it, and the joy it brings.

Props certainly need to be given to the internationalness of this book. Besides the delightful map illustrations, Ahlberg brings mention to many of the countries in which soccer is played, from Nepal to Bengal. It's lovely to see a book for kids about this game that doesn't focus on any one country.

Pick this up for the kicking or poetry lover in your life.

Jun 1, 2014

Soccer Star

Soccer Star

Written by: Mina Javaherbin

Illustrated by: Renato Alarcao

Published by: Candlewick Press

Published on: April 8, 2014

Ages: 5+

It's June and that means World Cup month! The most popular event in the world starts in two short weeks. If your house is anything like mine, World Cup mania has already started and conversations about Japan's hope for the Cup and whether Luis Suarez will actually be healed from his knee injury before Uruguay's first game are dinner table topics. Or maybe not!

Soccer Star is the perfect book for a kid who is interested in soccer or geography, or someone who loves a feel-good sports story about hard work and dedication.

Paulo is the protagonist of this story, and this Brazilian boy loves soccer so much he thinks about it during his job on a fishing boat. The realities of life for most Brazilians are not glossed over here, as all the boys on his team work instead of go to school so they can just eke out a living. Paulo learns from his sister Maria who still goes to school.

Despite his harsh reality, Paulo dreams big. He dreams of being a huge soccer star, big enough to be known as just one name ala Pele! Then he can support his hard-working mother and sister, and play soccer on beautiful pitches for a living.

Javaherbin is also the author of Goal! which was in the same vein as this book, released at the time of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Her rhythmic text captures the imagination of readers while adding in the realities of life in the host countries and a message of never giving up hope are inspirational to young readers, soccer players and non-players alike. Soccer Star and Goal both inspired social studies units in our after schooling regimen and they were very well received. It's hard to say enough good things about these books.

May 31, 2014

Norman, Speak

Norman, Speak

Written by: Caroline Adderson

Illustrated by: Qin Leng

Published by:  Groundwood Books

Published on: May 13 2014

Ages: 4+

When you welcome someone into your life, and communication doesn't go as planned, what do you do? Do you just stop there? Do you investigate the differences? Do you do what you can to communicate with your new friend?

In Norman, Speak! a family welcomes a new furry member but they have trouble communicating with their canine friend. Instead of accepting a lower level of communication, they do what they can to work on the dog's level, which means a lot of effort in this case.

There's so much to love about Norman, Speak! The story is delightful, a really good family message about not giving up on someone you love, and working together as a family with a goal. Then there's Qin Leng's adorable illustrations. Like the people, the dog is expressive and you feel like you really get to know each person.

My two big weaknesses are rosy-cheeked people in artwork and bilingual books. This one is both, with a great story to boot, so it's no wonder it's one of my favourites of 2014.

Apr 15, 2014



Written by: Mike Mullin

Published by: Tanglewood Press

Published on: April 15, 2014

Ages: Young Adult

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

The third, concluding book in the apocalyptic Ashfall series is Sunrise. The title is happier than either of the first two books, Ashfall and Ashen Winter. It alludes to hope, the theme of this book.

Mullin is a master at writing action scenes. There are plenty of those in this book, but also a lot of interaction between the characters we have grown to love in the trilogy. It's the perfect mesh.

In other post-apocalyptic books, we usually get a government gone wrong and people pushing back against them (ala Hunger Games). But I am always most interested in how people get that government. What are the choices that lead them that way?

Alex and Darla have experienced the government's hospitality after the Yellowstone super volcano blew, as well as that of the government's subcontractors. They realize that they are on their own- and they make steps toward being self-sufficient. Alex is able to lead while still being true to Darla and his own young self.

Sunrise is my favourite in this trilogy, which is saying a lot as I really enjoyed Ashfall. The only bad thing is saying goodbye to a trio of books I have enjoyed so much.