August 21, 2017

Best Pirate

Written by Kari-Lynn Winters
Illustrated by Dean Griffiths
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-019-2
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
For release September, 2017

First she was a Bad Pirate (2015) and then she was a Good Pirate (2016) but now Augusta, daughter of Captain Barnacle Garrick, is on her way to becoming an even better pirate. That is, until she burns a hole in her father's treasure map, the one that would lead them to the same treasure the Tuna Lubbers (i.e., cats) were on their way to grab on Crossbones Island.
From Best Pirate 
by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by Dean Griffiths
Scully who is supposed to retrieve the treasure is sure he can help her become that better pirate.  So he works her at being crafty and nimble and fearless.  But when she drops a cannonball on his one good foot, his treasure-seeking mission is thwarted.  Augusta is determined to make things right and heads off to the island herself.

On the island, she encounters a cat pirate just as they both fall into the pit harbouring the treasure.  As they argue over whose booty it is, they realize they have to get out first.  Scuppers is afraid–he truly is a scaredy cat–but Augusta turns on her craftiness and gets Scuppers to help her jam swords and daggers into the pit's walls.  Turning on her nimbleness, she scampers up the walls using the swords as footholds.  And when a dagger comes away and Scuppers is in danger, she sets aside her fear and reaches out a paw and saves him.  
From Best Pirate 
by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by Dean Griffiths
Though Scuppers recognizes Augusta as the best pirate, deserving of the treasure, she acknowledges their teamwork as leading to their success and insists they split the booty.
From Best Pirate 
by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by Dean Griffiths
Too bad that Augusta doesn't get the credit from her father for finding the treasure–he believes Scully actually retrieved it–and lauded as a hero as Scuppers is by his father and the crew of the Tuna Lubbers.  Captain Barnacle still doesn't get how accomplished his daughter is at being a pirate, though Scully, Squid and Bones and Scuppers acknowledge this readily.  Readers will certainly learn a lesson from Augusta and Kari-Lynn Winters about determination and fulfilment that comes from success without the need for accolades.  She may be a dog but she's a gutsy lassy.

Dean Griffiths, who illustrated Kari-Lynn Winters' earlier Pirate books, continues to endow the story with colour richness and opulent textures from another time, just like the recurring yellow parchment backgrounds and scroll banners. And you can almost feel the movement of the sea and smell the saltiness of the air.  Even the lushness of the island's vegetation is palpable. Of course, young readers will love the dogs and cats of all species with their distinguishing features of fur and shape as well as the wide array of their expressions: friendliness,  fear, surprise, dismay, anger.

Aye, blow me down but Best Pirate is a treasure of a fine tale for pirate lovers on both sea and land.

August 17, 2017

Federica

Written and illustrated by Scot Ritchie
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-968-3
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
August 2017

The cover of Federica may suggest a little girl herding sheep and, though she's not, I think it would be far easier than herding her family to keep the house tidy.  Because everyone is so busy–there's mum and dad and baby in addition to Federica–"her house was a buggy, buzzy mess." Yech!
From Federica by Scot Ritchie
No wonder Federica enjoys the peace and solitude of the park, a space with an assortment of free-roaming goats, sheep, raccoons and more. Watching the animals, she gets her big idea.

For the first part of her plan, she brings the sheep and goats home.  She's a very good girl, though, and asks her dad's permission for her "friends" to come in.  He's too busy to notice and answers with an "Uh-huh." Similarly, she brings in some spiders and dragonflies, a toad and an owl, and some raccoons, always asking her inattentive parents first.
From Federica by Scot Ritchie
The second part of her plan is getting her family out of the house for a picnic at the park.  This is easy-peasy.  As soon as the door closes behind them, Federica's new friends get to work.  They eat bugs and mice and scraps off the floor and plates and even wash the dishes and the kitchen counters.  Mum and Dad may be shocked by the animals in the house but "The flies were gone, the carpet was clean.  The grass was cut, and the kitchen spotless."  But could the family keep up the cleaning once Federica's friends returned to their homes?

In most households, it's the parents and guardians hounding children to keep their rooms and other areas tidy, but Scot Ritchie turns that tale around by Federica being the impetus for getting and keeping the house clean.  I suspect that there are numerous households like Federica's where the parents are so focused on their own activities that they fail to notice what their children who, getting what they want, may not get what they need. In Federica's case, she craves cleanliness.  And though she finds an unconventional way to get that what she needs, she does instill that need for tidiness in her family that will keep them all healthy and happy in the future.

Scot Ritchie's take on getting a family to come together to clean at the behest of one of the children is charming.  Federica is never heavy-handed or angry, though that would be perfectly warranted.  The text is cherry and the illustrations are the same, light and airy and never burdensome as cleaning can be.  Cleaning has never been so animated and entertaining.
From Federica by Scot Ritchie

August 16, 2017

Animals Do, Too!: How They Behave Just Like You

Written by Etta Kaner
Illustrated by Marilyn Faucher
Kids Can Press
978-1-77138-569-5
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
May 2017

Though Animals Do, Too! is non-fiction book with a mandate to teach young children about animal behaviour, the book takes a light-hearted approach which leans towards picture book rather than teaching text.  In a series of questions, young readers are asked about fun activities in which they like to engage: dancing, playing tag, playing leapfrog, blowing bubbles, growing food, getting piggyback rides, and being babysat.  For each activity, there is a detailed double-spread asking the question and demonstrating kids partaking.  Then, a double-spread illustration answers the question with an example from the animal kingdom and a single paragraph of text provides the details.  It becomes evident that, if kids like doing those things, Animals Do, Too!
From Animals Do, Too! 
by Etta Kaner 
illus. by Marilyn Faucher
The animals depicted cover the range from mammals to insects, birds and amphibians. Etta Kaner shares the honey-bee dance, gazelles chasing each other to build strength and speed, cattle egrets jumping over each other to grab insects, gray tree frogs who make bubble nests, leaf-cutter ants who grow fungi, marmosets who carry their young piggyback-style and flamingos who babysit.  And though Animals Do, Too! is a concept book and not a story book, Marilyn Faucher's artwork is elaborate and vivid, going beyond children just dancing or playing tag.  For each, her illustration tells a story about the humans, like a party in full swing, with yummy cake and cookies, or the animals in their habitats as part of social communities.  Her art is dynamic and her colours are deep, creating rich scenes, both familiar and not.
From Animals Do, Too! 
by Etta Kaner 
illus. by Marilyn Faucher
Animals Do, Too! is a great introductory animal behaviour book for very young children.  It goes beyond identifying animals and provides a taste for learning about animals without the boring details that their older children might appreciate.  The repetitive queries and responses will help in the reading of the book and make for an entertaining read, though a competent reader like mom or dad or big sister or brother will need to ensure the details are fully clarified.
From Animals Do, Too! 
by Etta Kaner 
illus. by Marilyn Faucher

August 15, 2017

Counting Wolves

Written by Michael F. Stewart
978-0-993757945
217 pp.
Ages 12+
August 2017

"For the last three years I've been hunted by the wolf–wait."  I hold a hand up.  "I  know it sounds crazy–but I've been holding it back with my count.  It works like a magic spell, and it keeps others safe too, everyone.  I've felt the wolf.  I've seen it." (pg. 140)
We all have wolves at our doors.  Some just howl louder or claw more violently.  They may be the wolves of past events come to haunt us, or bad thoughts that want to become actions, or the ones that portend disaster.  But how do you survive the wolves when they're always, always waiting to get you?

Fifteen-year-old Milly Malone is convinced that she has found the magic spell to banish the wolf to the Dark Wood and survive: she counts.  She counts to 100 each time she passes through doorways or eats a single bite or speaks.  Perpetuating the predator theme, Milly will only cross a door's threshold by hopping.  Needless to say, she's often late for class, eats very little in the time allotted, and people get frustrated waiting for her to express herself verbally.  Her boyfriend Billy is her rock, defending her to those who might ridicule her, but even he can't help her when she hears the smacking of jaws, sees the welts of claw marks on her back and collapses, "Lost in the blackest of fairy tales." (pg. 6)

After a visit to Emerg with her step-mother Adriana who believes Milly's issue is an eating disorder–Milly's mother passed away three years earlier and her father is away on business–Milly is admitted to the Pediatric Psychiatry ward where she meets an assortment of characters.  There's Peter, a large boy who is convinced he's a fairy (a leg cast is indicative of a recent flying attempt off the building); the manic Vanet who "is like some stoned fairy godmother who's as liable to kill you as help you"; pg. 81); Red, a girl who dresses in red and is plagued by nightmares; Eleanor a.k.a. Pig, the aggressive homeless girl who likes to burn stuff; Wesley whom she calls Rottengoth whose parents hate him; and Sleeping Beauty, a girl who is on IV constantly and rarely awakens. And then there's Wolfgang, the scary dude with the dead eyes in an acute care room.  Through meals, group therapy, recreational activities and interviews with Doctor Balder all the young people reveal their own wolves, sparring in words and actions and ultimately forming a community of support to keep the wolves away.

Counting Wolves is an intense read about young people dealing with mental illness and how those around them, medical professionals and family, deal with them.  The stories in which these young people embed themselves are tragic, not unlike the fairy tales that Milly reads or was told as a child.  Like many of the original Grimm fairy tales, whose stories are not always obvious at first read, they are frightening.  There may be lessons within but they are devastating to body and soul, with fear often the prevalent emotion. Michael F. Stewart, whose earlier Assured Destruction series (Assured Destruction, Script Kiddie, and Assured Destruction with Zombies) revealed clever plotting and great characterizations, is able to get into Milly's head and give her a voice that is legitimate though perplexing.  Granted, he's the one who has created that head with its confusing thoughts and beliefs but Michel F. Stewart melds her mental illness with grim fairy tales so flawlessly that it's a wonder all issues can't be viewed better in terms of fables. Even as she works through her anxiety, independently–including with the use of a 1960s workbook–and with her established and new support systems, she is challenging the wolf. There is a surprise revelation when Milly recognizes that her wolf is not whom she believes it to be but that's a secret the readers will need to discover for themselves.

Counting Wolves illuminates the treachery of mental illness, including the distorted thinking that can override all and twist stories even more.  Keeping the wolves at bay under these circumstances can be even more challenging.  Still Michael F. Stewart provides some indication, maybe even hope, that help and protection is available, even where least expected.

August 14, 2017

I Love My Purse

Written by Belle DeMont
Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
Annick Press
978-1-55451-954-5
36 pp.
Ages 5-8
September 2017


Children will be picking out their first-day-of-school clothes soon.  They'll be looking for clothes and accessories that make them feel good and look good but they'll also be thinking about how others will see them.  Charlie, the boy in I Love My Purse, is familiar with this process.  When he looks up at his sky-high (he stands on 4 chairs and 5 pillows and 4 books to reach the top) closet which is a colourful menagerie of clothes, footwear and more, he sees "nothing he liked.  Nothing except the bright red purse that his grandma had let him have." Until now, he'd only worn it viewing himself in the mirror.
From I Love My Purse 
by Belle DeMont 
illus. by Sonja Wimmer
When his hipster dad sees him, he questions why his son is wearing a purse.  Honestly, Charlie tells him, "'Cause I want to." Of course his dad's initial response is to tell him that boys do not carry purses and that one can't always wear what they love, like him and his Hawaiian shirts, inappropriate for his suit and tie workplace.  At school, his classmate Charlotte questions him similarly, declaring that, although she loves face paint, she can't come to school wearing it.  Charlie replicates his response: "'Cause I want to" and "Because I love my purse."  He is polite enough, however, to offer that maybe he'd go along with their suggestions of a backpack the next day.

This continues when a group of older boys led by Sam approaches Charlie in the school cafeteria.  Sam's response is about wishing he could eat actual food rather than the slop served up at school but he can't very well march into the kitchen and start cooking. The crossing guard's feedback is perhaps the warmest.
"Well, I love it!" said the crossing guard.  "Have I ever told you about my favorite sparkly shoes?"
From I Love My Purse 
by Belle DeMont 
illus. by Sonja Wimmer
The next day, everyone who'd questioned him the day before has relaxed their stance, showing a hint of their own preferences, though still somewhat shy.  It's not until the third day that his father is wearing his Hawaiian shirt, Charlotte has her face painted like a tiger, and Sam's cooking risotto.  And the crossing guard?  He's wearing his sparkly shoes that send Charlie on another foray into proclaiming his individuality.

From I Love My Purse 
by Belle DeMont 
illus. by Sonja Wimmer
Nova Scotian writer Belle DeMont and German illustrator Sonja Wimmer (whose art you might recognize from Mahtab Narsimhan's Looking for Lord Ganesh, 2016) give a jazzy feel to the text and illustrations.  Perhaps it's the fluidity of the art and the prose, or maybe it's Charlie's "cool cat" attitude.  From the swinging purse to the pliable characters (both in body and disposition), Belle DeMont and Sonja Wimmer have given us a wonderful story about self-expression.

Charlie may love that bright red purse but I love Charlie for his refreshing and honest appreciation for  that tote that others question, ridicule and even condemn him for carrying.  For Charlie, carrying that purse is nothing abnormal, it's just something he does.  It's sweet, it's honest and it's Charlie.  And it should be all of us.  The message of I Love My Purse is about fulfilling a need for self-expression in dress or action and it's paramount.  Forget the stereotyping that tells us a boy carrying a purse is inappropriate. Haven't we gone beyond that narrow-minded thinking?  Charlie has.  Let's all embrace our inner Charlie and bear our purses proudly, regardless of gender.

August 11, 2017

The Puffin Problem

Written and illustrated by Lori Doody
Running the Goat Books & Broadsides
978-1-927917-14-5
44 pp.
Ages 3-8
July 2017

Puffins! They're everywhere!  They're on the roofs and on the street.  They're on doorsteps and at store fronts. They're at the museum and art gallery and at the playgrounds.  They may be cute, but they have become The Puffin Problem.

Though there has never been a puffin problem to date, Lori Doody creates a scenario in St. John's whereby the city is overrun with puffins.  It is a quaint problem, though with puffins sidling up to people wherever and whenever, not everyone thinks they're all that cute.  Apparently all the puffins are affecting the people of St. John's as well as their pets and other birds.
From The Puffin Problem by Lori Doody
Birders, of course, love the opportunity to take in the plethora of puffins (actually a collection of puffins is called an improbability, a parliament or a circus) but most people feel otherwise.  The idea of shipping them off to Iceland doesn't fare very well.  However, a child's proposal of luring the puffins with food–with all manner of fish coming from Mudder's Fish Cakes, Ise The By, Me Ole Trout Fish Shop, Fish Out of Water Street, Anyfin Goes and Taiyō Sushi–finally gets the birds out to sea, at least for this year.
From The Puffin Problem by Lori Doody
Only in Newfoundland could this story be had.  And Lori Doody ensures that the reader recognizes the streets and landscapes of St. John's, from their colourful buildings, rocky cliffs and St. John's Harbour to The Rooms and the whimsical store names (like The Picture Plant and The Chocolate Lab).  As in her recently released Capelin Weather, also from Running the Goat Books & Broadsides, the art is fundamental to the story, providing a folksy flavour.  The colours are bold and the lines and shapes are rugged, reflective of the culture of Newfoundland.  The flattened perspective is typical of folk art and Lori Doody produces that feature with strength and distinct design.  The puffin problem may be identified as that by the residents of Lori Doody's story but for readers it's a charming tale of what can happen when cuteness overtakes everyday life.
From The Puffin Problem by Lori Doody

August 10, 2017

Wet

Written and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Henry Holt and Company
978-1-62779-775-7
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
June 2017

Wet is about being wet, about getting wet, about the manner of getting wet and about the gratification or annoyance of being wet.  Wet may be all about wetness but it certainly isn't all wet as topics go.

From Wet by Carey Sookocheff
Through a series of single- and double-spread illustrations, author and illustrator Carey Sookocheff has a boy recollecting how he becomes wet at a pool and elsewhere: quickly or slowly, with friends or by himself, deliberately and accidentally. He also talks of cats, fish, and dogs, floors, painted park benches and more.  He makes note of washing hands and splashed shirts, puddles and spills, and tears, baths and laundry.  But he ends his day in the dryness of a safe, warm bed with only kisses to moisten his face.
From Wet by Carey Sookocheff
Carey Sookocheff, who has illustrated her own Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems (Tundra, 2016) as well as Maureen Fergus' Buddy and Earl series of picture books, creates a child-like ambiance to her illustrations that serves the text wonderfully. There's a simplicity in spirit, recounting how wetness happens and what it looks like.

Wet is a fun little book that doesn't have to be taken as lesson-building material but it could be used so effectively for preschool and kindergarteners learning about emotions and even states of matter or the water cycle.  Because Wet is so familiar in its circumstances relating to swimming, baths, rain, pets and bedtime, children will have no problem relating to this boy's activities as they change and affect his state of dryness.  Whether soaking wet or lightly dampened, it's not so bad being wet.  And Wet, the book, is neither a wet blanket nor a damp squib, and summer is definitely a time to relish being wet.
From Wet by Carey Sookocheff