LifeCynthia Rylant, author. Brendan Wenzel, illustrator. Beach Lane Books, 2017

Life begins small . . . and grows. In much the same way this small picture book–it’s only 189 words–stirs then swells inside the reader. Animals of all types tell us that there is much to love about life, especially the day-to-day: How I love the line: “. . . the turtle loves life. How could it not, with so much rain on its back?”

The various animals used to tell this tale of life’s joys, sorrows and perseverance through the wilderness to the Life_Whalescertain, happier times ahead add lightness and create child appeal. This poetic, meditative picture book will also resonate with adults facing challenges and bringing new life into the world.



Valentiny Writing Context


Valentine ContestI have entered Susanna Leonard Hill’s Annual Valentiny Contest. The rules were to create a story in which someone is hopeful, using a maximum of 214 words. Here goes!



Hazel’s mom loved chocolate. Hazel loved Mom.

Hazel took secret notes when they baked chocolate cake together.

On Valentine’s Day, Hazel awoke early to cook up Mom’s surprise.

One cup milk. One cup warm water. Halfway with oil.

Crack, plunk. Crack, plunk.

Sniff. Sni-i-i-f.


Drip, drip.

Whisk, whisk, whisk.

Two scoops flour. Two scoops sugar. One scoop cocoa powder.

Mix, mix, mix.

Hmmm, was something missing . . .?

A dash of salt!

Hazel stirred until the ribbons of white disappeared.

Buttering the pan was Hazel’s job. But using the oven was not.

Knock, knock, knock.

“Hello, Hazel,” said Mrs. Wilson.

“Can I bake a cake in your apartment? It’s a surprise for Mom.”

Baking required a large serving of patience.

Between a bowl of porridge and a game of Go Fish, Hazel dashed to the oven window.

“It must need to cook longer.”

“Is the oven hot enough?”

“It’s still flat!” said Hazel. “Rise, cake. Rise!”

Eventually, the timer sounded: beep, beep, be-e-e-p.

“Mom’s cake is a flop!”

Knock, knock, knock.

“Is Hazel here?” said Mom.

“Yes. Come in, the coffee is on,” said Mrs. Wilson.

“Something smells good,” said Mom.

“I wanted to surprise you with a chocolate cake. But instead, we’re having . . . brownies. Happy Valentine’s Day!”





A Cooked-Up Fairy TalePenny Parker Klostermann, author. Ben Mantle, Illustrator. Random House, 2017

This clever fairy tale mash-up brings together not only characters from our favourite fairy tales, but also foods. Make those foods transformed by William, a budding chef who’s having difficulty finding his niche in fairy tale land. Snow White’s apple, Jack’s beans and Cinderella’s pumpkin all get made into gourmet dishes, altering the course of the fairy tales they are part of. Judy, the commander of fairy tale headquarters, is outraged. “Don’t you know anything about fairy tales?” she asks. Alas, William reads cookbooks, not fairy tales! When one of William’s concoctions creates a true recipe for disaster, he steps in to cook up a happy ending, which leads to his own happily ever after.

Ben Mantle’s illustrations are just as delicious as the text–bright, clear and filled with fairy tale tidbits children will devour. Pint-sized Judy, with her horn-rimmed glasses and grey hair streaks, adds a dash of wit to this delectable picture book.

Love Is


Love IsDiane Adam, author; Claire Kean, illustrator.

Chronicle, 2017

I love, love, love ‘adult’ picture books à la LOVE YOU FOREVER (Munsch, 1995) and SOMEDAY (McGhee, 2007), where the parents watch in wonder as their child grows and learns to navigate the world on their own. They turn my heart to mush, but my children find them much less engaging. LOVE IS has skirted this problem brilliantly. To a child, it is the story of a girl raising a duckling. To a parent, the story is clearly about raising, holding on to and letting go of your child(ren). The child protagonist holds the fragile duckling, experiences noisy midnight feedings and must eventually accept that her baby is ready for a bigger pond (pass the tissues, please!). But never fear, the ending is happy and satisfying. The illustrations use a simple palette and are filled with action and emotion. This picture book would make a wonderful gift to new parents and those with children getting ready to fledge the nest.

Caterpillar Dreams


Caterpillar DreamsClive McFarland. Harper Collins, 2017

Every time I read this book an ‘awww’ shoots out of me on the second last page–its timeless theme is charming. Henri is a very small caterpillar with a big dream–to fly. Henri wants to see the world outside the garden and have an amazing, incredible, impossible-seeming adventure. He has no idea of the transformation that is in store for him, so he leaves his friends in the garden and sets out for adventure. Eventually, as caterpillars do, Henri soars. I won’t reveal where Henri’s wings finally take him, but will say that his adventure was indeed amazing, incredible and impossibly possible. The white backgrounds on each page allow for children to zoom in on the adorable critter illustrations (check out those eyes!). As Henri flutters off the final page, readers are reminded to never stop chasing their dreams.

Beep and Bah


James Burks. Carolrhoda Books, 2012Beep and Bah

Beep and Bah is what I’ve been waiting to cross my path – I love a laugh out loud picture book with a surprise ending. Although published in 2012, I’ve just discovered it. My daughter was quick to point out that James Burks is also responsible for the also very witty graphic novel series, Bird and Squirrel.

Beep declares adventure as he and Bah set out to look for Bah’s missing sock. All that Bah says is “Bah”, leaving much open to interpretation by Beep, whose commentary never ceases. They journey far and wide, interview many creatures and finally reach the end of the road (literally), without finding the missing sock. But when they turn around to go back to the beginning–the sock is found, at least by the reader, who will also want to go back to the beginning and read this gem of a picture book again.

Town is by the Sea


Joanne Schwartz, author; Sydney Smith, illustrator. Groundwood Books, 2017.

Town is By the SeaA boy recounts how his day passes in a small town by the sea. The sea is the constant focal point; its sparkling expanse is contrasted by the confined coal mine that lies beneath it. The protagonist shares that he will be a third generation coal miner. He’s not bitter about his certain future, only acknowledges it. The illustrations fully carry the rising tension, and the reader begins to wonder if the father survived the collapse of the coal mine that day. A happy ending ensues. Phewf!

The word choice is soothing and poetic and left me mesmerised. I was also left with a melancholy feeling–although the tranquility and simplicity of small town life may be enviable, the boy does not even think to dream of a different future or a world beyond his town by the sea. Nonetheless, for this proud Canuk, this picture book is beautiful, haunting Canadiana at its best.