TROUBLE

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K. Battersby. Viking, 2021

TROUBLE has no trouble addressing prejudice in a gentle and humorous fashion.

Squirrel does not plan to invite their new neighbour over for tea–it’s a bear, after all! Squirrel has seen bears on TV and must protect their darling Chamomile from his terrible teeth, knife-like claws and huge horrifying hungers. Battersby’s horizontal split-panels cleverly show the reader that all of Squirrel’s preconceived notions of a bear do not fit the description of their new neighbour, a gentle soul whose hungers are satisfied by chocolate chip cookies.

Squirrel’s overreactions culminate in the unnecessary rescue of Chamomile from Bear’s home, teapot a-swinging! When Squirrel sees Bear knitting and Chamomile playing with the ball of yarn, Squirrel realizes that the only trouble lies only with them.

One must suspect from Battersby’s book dedication that her own friendship that formed over tea and cookies sparked the finale of TROUBLE. As Bear and Squirrel get to know each other readers will be spurred to boil their kettles and settle down to read TROUBLE again. It takes multiple readings to fully savor the whimsical details in the mixed media illustrations (e.g. Bear’s bunny slippers) and exceptional picture book text (e.g. listen for the internal rhyme!).

The endpapers, consisting of pictures of real teapots and cookie jars, make this picture book good to the last drop.

THERE’S A SKELETON INSIDE YOU!

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I. Ben-Barak, author. J. Frost, Illustrator. Roaring Brook Press, 2020

There's A Skeleton Inside You!

Here we have plot-driven, interactive (à la PRESS HERE (Tullet)), not to mention educational picture book brilliance. THERE’S A SKELETON INSIDE YOU! unveils the anatomy and function of a human hand layer-by-layer. First, the bones. Second, the muscles. And finally, the nerves. As each layer is revealed, how it is used to help Quog and Oort repair their spaceship is demonstrated.

“Is this what inside my hand really looks like?” my daughter asked.

“YES!”

It’s a fair question as this story is being told by two space aliens. If there was any doubt, the fine print confirms that the diagrams are true to form.

Child-friendly descriptions indicate how each layer of the hand helps rebuild the spaceship:

Muscles connect to your bones. When they contract they pull the bones and make you move stuff.”

This is one of those ‘wish I’d thought of it myself’ books that will be the first glimpse for many children as to what lies underneath our skin. Budding biologists beware, THERE’S A SKELETON INSIDE YOU! will only have you clamouring for more anatomy and physiology titles, which are rare in the picture book realm.

Give Me Back My Bones!

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K. Norman, author. Bob Kolar, illustrator. Candlewick Press, 2019


Anatomy is at its funnest in Give Me Back My Bones!

Bones are stirred up on the ocean floor after a stormy night at sea, prompting a skeleton to start rebuilding itself. As bones are collected, their seafaring uses are woven into the rhyming text.

I’m grasping for some hand bones,

my wave-ahoy-to-land bones

or dig-a-hole-in-sand bones –

I miss my metacarpals.

Don’t be fooled as I initially was, this picture book that teaches the proper names of bones holds oodles of child appeal. Most pages hint that a certain character is being rebuilt, but it’s not until the final page turn that a pirate is revealed. This caused commotion in my house as my daughters flipped backwards through the pages to discover what they’d missed, like the spyglass in the sand, earring hooked on coral, and peg leg entwined in an octopus arm.

The humour and details in the underwater illustrations by Bob Kolar aren’t fully appreciated until the pages of this picture book are poured over again. We chuckled at the fish carrying the mandible (jaw) with their own mandible and delighted in finding metacarpals (hand bones) among the corals.

Words and pictures unite on the final page to tie this story up perfectly–picture book endings don’t get any better.

STINKING SUNFLOWERS

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Fall Writing Frenzy, 2020 (Image 14, courtesy of Susan Kaye Leopold)

Nausea rises in me every time. This isn’t even a real sunflower! It doesn’t matter. My body reacts instantly, as if I’m allergic. Then my mind joins in, going places I wish it wouldn’t. It’s been two years for goodness sake.

I’m supposed to put another image in my head. Or practice mindfulness–knit, meditate, cook. Today I let the memories percolate in.

The aluminum watering cans bursting with weighty discs of sunshine. One on each round, linen‑covered table, three on the head table, one beside the guest book. I gifted matching mirrors to my bridesmaids. Jigsaw cut by my dad, toll painted by me. The beholder looked as if they wore a loin’s mane of golden petals. Our wedding photos were even taken at a nearby field–the two of us, dwarfed in a sea of gold and green.

No more us. Just me. Me, who’s still figuring out how to fill a Saturday once the apartment is clean and I’ve made enough soup for a month. Me, who’s still reading about the five stages of grief. Me, who still reels at the sight of sunflowers–sunflowers! Stinking sunflowers.

SWASHBY AND THE SEA

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Beth Ferry, author. Juana Martinez-Neal, illustrator.

“Sweet and salty”, as the jacket flap says, is the perfect way to describe this seaside story, where the sea herself is a character. The sea is the only friend that salty Captain Swashby has ever known and has ever wanted. Indeed, the sea has provided for Swashby his entire life.

Swashby’s solitary life on the shore is swept away when an exuberant child and her grandmother move in next door. Swashby does not want company and feeds their oatmeal cookies to the gulls. He proceeds to write them pointed messages in the sand. But the sea knows Swasbhy better than he knows himself, and proceeds to ‘fiddle, just a little’. The sea erases some letters in Swashby’s ‘NO TRESPASSING’ message leaving the child with instructions to ‘SING’.

The modified messages continue, and the child’s response to some incite Swashby to teach her some seaside tips. But it’s the sea who, in the end, teaches Swashby that even a salty seaman can be sweetened by friendship.

This story is of the same high calibre of other of Beth Ferry’s picture books, with clever use of language, a sprinkle of humour and loads of heart. Martinez‑Neal’s illustrations in beige and blues make for a perfect seaside palette. The child’s personality swells from the page and the wild and windblown Swashby is what one imagines a salty, and sweet, seaman to be.

BIKES FOR SALE

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C. Higgins, author. Z. OHora, illustrator. Chronicle Books, 2019.

Bikes for Sale

The narrative voice in this story sings, simply sings, through the use of language that uses just a sprinkling of literary devices. BIKES FOR SALE is a story about a neighbourhood and making a new friend in a serendipitous way. It comes complete with the lowest of lows (what could be worse than not one, but two, bike crashes?), a stellar surprise that lifts the reader up again, a lemonade stand and stick collecting. Yes, stick collecting. Other than potentially giving children yet another idea for a rare collectible item to stash in their drawers, this story has no faults. Its illustrations are kid-friendly to the core, with animal characters that include a dog-walking cat. This picture book will warm your heart.

 

THE NEIGHBORS

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The Neighbors

By Einat Tsarfati. Abram Books for Young Readers, 2019

Mount the stairs of an apartment building with a young redhead who is headed home for the day. Each door is a little different–the first has a lot of locks, so must belong to a family of Egyptian artifact thieves. The second door is surrounded by muddy footprints. A rambunctious canine likely lives inside, but the protagonist imagines an explorer and his pet tiger behind the door. The journey to her seventh floor apartment continues in the same creative fashion, ending with a boring door, and behind it, boring parents–or so she thinks.

The surprise ending and the detailed two-page spreads of the apartments behind each door will make this a poured-over picture book. Hunting for the hamster that appears on the ‘LOST’ signs at building’s entrance adds additional charm. The verdict–a lighthearted picture book about the power of imagination that will spark creativity and conversation in your neighborhood, too!

 

STORY BOAT

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Kyo Maclear, Author. Rashin Kheiriyeh, illustrator. Tundra Books, 2020.

Story BoatChild migrants find comfort in their few, consistent items while their sense of place changes daily. The items become part of their story–that which is real and that which is dreamt about as they travel to find a new place to call home.

The anxiousness, lengthiness, and storminess of immigration are all told, yet the story holds a lightheartedness. There is singing, reading, drawing, making, playing, and writing. The cat on every page adds whimsy and the simple colour pallet provides sense of calm, as do the gentle, lyrical prose.

This cup is a home, and this blanket is a sail, and this lamp is a lighthouse, and this flower is a ladder, and this story is a boat.”

And their story carries the children perpetually forward in this age-appropriate and hope-filled glimpse into a migrant’s journey.

TEN RULES OF THE BIRTHDAY WISH

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Beth Ferry, author; Tom Litchenfield, illustrator

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019

ten-rules-b-wishBeth Ferry is one of my favourite picture book authors, hands down. Her style is versatile but it’s her funny books that are my favourites. TEN RULES OF THE BIRTHDAY WISH is packed with literary devices such as internal rhyme, wordplay, and alliteration. The premise is simple and oozing with kid appeal–many children dream of their birthday party with cake, candles, and of course a birthday wish,

ten-rules-b-wish-1Ferry’s 10 rules cover the birthday basics (noting that there is beautifully no mention of presents); the humour lies in the exceptions to the birthday rules that exist in the animal world. For example, Rule #7 is to take a big breath . . . unless you’re a puffer fish, because “a puffed-up puffer fish is not a happy puffer fish.” Rule #9 is to blow out the candles . . . unless you are a camel, because “you will most likely spit on the cake.”

Ferry also includes several tender moments, which relate to the birthday wish itself. Rule #8 highlights Ferry’s poetic prose: “You must make a wish . . . It can be a big wish. Or a little wish. It can be a now wish. Or a later wish. But it should definitely be a “can’t think of anything greater” wish.” 

Litchenfield’s illustrations are clean, adorable, and add to the humour. In Rule #9, a moose is blowing bubbles instead of blowing out the birthday candles. This illustration has an asterisk beside it, and a corresponding footnote reads: “*moose are notoriously bad at following directions.”

This is a picture book that parents will ask to reread as birthdays approach. TEN RULES OF THE BIRTHDAY WISH would also make a terrific birthday gift. 

My next birthday wish will be for more pairings between this author and illustrator duo!

THE GIRL WHO DREW BUTTERFLIES How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science

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Joyce Sidman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

The Girl Who Drew ButterfliesExquisitely executed, weaving poetry, Maria Merian’s artwork, biology, history, and feminism in this award-winning book about a 17th century German woman who lived outside the norms of the time.The Girl Who Drew Butterflies_inside

Sidman presents excerpts from Merian’s journal, factual evidence of her life events, and 17th century beliefs in the field of entomology and women’s rights. Merian wrote almost solely about caterpillars, which she discovered, through her rigorous self-directed studies, metamorphosized into moths and butterflies. As such, Sidman questions how her subject felt being a progressive women in those times–one who successfully fled her marriage, conducted scientific experiments, published books of her art and discoveries,  and traveled alone with her daughter to South America. Acts unheard of at the time!

As describes in Sidman’s author’s note, we do know that Maria Merian had “boundless energy, insatiable curiosity, and superhuman focus – traits that…marked her as a true scientist at a time when the odds were stacked against her.”

This non-fiction book is accompanied by an author’s note, bibliography, and index. It’s obvious appeal is to budding artists and biologists, but it is also a story of passion, will, and girl power. I couldn’t put it down.