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.
C. Higgins, author. Z. OHora, illustrator. Chronicle Books, 2019.
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.
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!
Kyo Maclear, Author. Rashin Kheiriyeh, illustrator. Tundra Books, 2020.
Child 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.
Beth Ferry, author; Tom Litchenfield, illustrator
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019
Beth 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,
Ferry’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!
Joyce Sidman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Exquisitely 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.
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.
Jessie Oliveros, author. Dana Wulfekotte, illustrator.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018
In the same vein as Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge (M. Fox, 1985), THE REMEMBER BALLOONS gently broaches the topic of dementia and memory loss in a child-friendly way. Grandpa holds many more memory balloons than his young grandson and loves to tell the child the story that each one holds. When Grandpa starts to age, he lets go of his balloons, slowly, one-by-one. His grandson is particularly upset when Grandpa releases the memory of their fishing trip together. Except for the vibrant, rainbow-coloured balloons, the illustrations are black and white, allowing young readers to focus on the memories and the joy they bring. Even more beauty lies in the call to action of the child protagonist, who becomes the keeper and teller of Grandpa’s forgotten memories. This picture book is must read for those with and without elderly or forgetful loved ones in their life.
Mo Willems, author. Dan Santat, illustrator. Hyperion Books for Children, 2016
I’m endeavouring to write great math books that are so much fun to read children have no idea they’re learning about math. The picture book, THE COOKIE FIASCO, does just that. It’s so good, and not just the chocolate chip cookie part. But of course it is, it’s created by the powerhouse due of Mo Willems and Dan Santat.
Fun and memorable characters abound as 4 friends try to share 3 cookies . . . as the jacket flap says, they have 1 big problem–everyone wants a cookie! Division has never been so crumbly. My 6 year-old delights in solving the cookie fiasco before the characters.
This is also a great picture book for new readers, as they can choose to read the dialogue of their favourite character. Mine is the squirrel who is fighting for equal cookies for all.
The wink to the reader on the final page does not disappoint. Next, the group needs to figure out how to share three glasses of milk . . .
Jory John, author. Lane Smith, illustrator. Random House, 2018.
My daughter and I have fallen in love . . . with a page turn. And I mean a page turn, people. The themes in GIRAFFE PROBLEMS are friendship and embracing yourself as your are. This picture book features a protagonist with a fairly obvious defining feature. Giraffe complains that their neck is too . . . everything. Bow ties, ties, scarves, bundles of scarves, and mountains of scarves don’t even help it. Such substantial necks don’t hide well behind shrubs or in ditches, either. When giraffe meets turtle, turtle points out all the things that giraffe’s neck can do that turtle’s can’t, like reach and look far and wide. The emphasis on actions rather than appearances is a fabulous message for kids to subconsciously take in.
We know from the moment we meet turtle that they’re verbose and well-articulated. But it’s still absolutely hilarious to find turtle’s 100+-word monologue about the ripening banana of his dreams, which they wish would fall from its great height so that they could sample its sweetness. It’s been seven straight days of waiting, and turtle is clearly frustrated by their inability to secure the fruit.
Giraffe: “You want a banana from a tree?”
Turtle: “That’s what I said, yes.”
Giraffe: “Here you go.”
The story wraps up with neck recognition and bow ties for all, topped with a warm feeling of friendship and turtle’s belly full of banana.
If you’re like my 6 year-old and I, you’ll immediately read it again, because giggling that hard just feels so good. Look what our bellies can do.
Monica Clark-Robinson, author. Frank Morrison, Illustrator. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
We have discovered some beautiful picture books at our library during Black History Month. LET THE CHILDREN MARCH is the most stirring thus far.
Deliberate, readable text and descriptive illustrations share the remarkable story of the peaceful march of children and teens in Birmingham Alabama, May 1963, which led to the desegregation of the city and added momentum to the development of the American Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Looking back, it is clear that the introduction of Birmingham’s children into the campaign was one of the wisest moves we made. It brought a new impact to the crusade, and the impetus that we needed to win the struggle.” -Dr. Martin Luther King
The oil-painted illustrations evoke emotion, capturing the brave, determined faces of the youth, hundreds of whom were sprayed with fire houses, chased by dogs, and jailed for days. A fictional female protagonist narrates the story: “Hate dogged my heals all that day, its yellowed canine teeth sharp–but courage walked by my side and kept me going.”
As seen in Birmingham in 1963, children can make a difference–sometimes all the difference. My daughters have the privileged of being sheltered from many things. This book reminds me that children are strong, resilient, brave, and innovative. They can do so much. We need to let them.