Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker & illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

By Maureen Tai, 20 January 2020

“They’re like teardrops. The sky is crying birds.” – Ming-Li

Sparrow Girl

True-life, historical disasters rarely inspire picture books for young children. Sparrow Girl is an exception. From the long-forgotten ashes of China’s disastrous “Four Pests” campaign waged in the late 1950s, Sara Pennypacker (author of the gut-wrenching middle grade novel Pax) has plucked a sliver of hope, turning it into a redemptive fictional account of a child’s compassion and courage. Alas, we know that in reality, the ending was much,  much darker. Continue reading

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar

By Maureen Tai, 10 January 2020

Bradley thought a moment, then said, “Give me a dollar or I’ll spit on you.”

IMG_2421Pop psychology attests that you become who you hang out with. When we meet Bradley Chalkers in There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, he doesn’t hang out with anyone at all. He sits in his own row at the back of his fifth grade class. He is pugnacious. He lies. He does not do homework. He destroys books. His teacher has given up on him, and he is banned from the school library. He has never earned a gold star in class. He has not been to a birthday party in three years. He is unliked by everyone. His parents are distant. His older sister pokes cruel fun at him. His only companions are his battered assortment of collected miniature animals, fashioned from brass, ceramic, glass and ivory. So far, so sadly perplexing. Why is Bradley so troubled and so very unlikeable? Continue reading

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

By Maureen Tai, 8 January 2020

Twelve-year-old Kaori Tanaka – a proud Gemini – liked to tell people her parents were born in the high, misty mountains of a samurai village. In truth, they were both second-generation Japanese Americans from Ohio. No matter. Kaori knew in her bones that they were meant to be born in the mountains. 


While Kaori is not the protagonist in Erin Entrada Kelly’s charming and whimsical Hello, Universe, she is without a doubt, my favourite character in this middle grade novel that Anna, Ben and I literally devoured over our recent summer in Taiwan. Not that any of the other cleverly voiced characters are any less engaging: there is the main character, Virgilio/Virgil, whose family nickname is ‘Turtle’ due to his shy, quiet nature; Valencia, who is strong, warrior-like and deaf; Chet, the school bully with a face like a pug and the disposition of a thug; and Gen, Kaori’s assistant and younger sister, whose trailing pink jump rope appears throughout the book and ends up playing a fairly critical role at the book’s conclusion. Family, friendship, Filipino folklore and fate are deftly weaved together to form an extremely enjoyable and satisfying story, making Hello, Universe one of our top reads for 2019. Continue reading

Hello, New Year

January 2020

The last few weeks of 2019 went by in a blur of family and feasting. We chose to stay home, in Hong Kong, and to house all our visitors in our flat. Freed from the frenzy of holiday planning and once-in-a-lifetime-experience administration, we took each day as it came, filling the hours with whatever activity struck our fancy, whatever favourable weather conditions rendered propitious. This allowed us to explore, for the first time, relatively far-flung tourist destinations such as the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Hai Gardens in Diamond Hill and to discover new attractions such as the majestic Xiqu Theatre in West Kowloon. We ate ourselves into a stupor, Anna valiantly trying, but not succeeding, in breaking her record of 16 Shanghai pork dumplings consumed in one sitting. We watched good TV (the Mandalorian), tradition TV (the Red and White show, and “White Christmas”) and nostalgia TV (Karate Kid – the original with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita). We bought books. We tried to read. We bickered. We nagged. We rolled our eyes in frustration. We even got a little bored.

By the end of December, we were ready to sneak up on 2020 rather like a puppy inching its way closer and closer to an unfamiliar mound of freshly dug earth. Playfully curious, yet filled with equal parts of anticipation and dread.

Jump in, the New Year beckoned. The water’s warm in places, absolutely freezing in some parts, mostly calm – you hope! – but turbulent when you least expect it. Would you have it any other way?

May your New Year be filled with love, peace, hope and many, many stories.

With love,
Maureen, Anna & Ben

Brown by Håkon Øvreås & illustrated by Øyvind Torseter

By Ben Parsons and Maureen Tai, 12 October 2019

“Rusty tiptoed out into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. There he was: Brown the Superhero. His heart hammered under his brown disguise. He was no longer Rusty. He was Brown.”

IMG_6436Only twice before have I cried while reading to the kids : at the close of Charlotte’s Web (by E. B. White) and when a character meets a tragic end in Wolf Hollow (by Lauren Volk). Brown, a middle grade illustrated novel, brings the count to three. Translated from its original Norwegian, Brown tells the story of how a boy, still grieving from the death of his grandfather, finds a unique way of meting out retributive justice on a gang of bullies. The author’s poetic sensibilities are evident in the gentle yet effective text and the story’s perfect balance of childlike excitement and sombre realism. Here are Ben’s thoughts about this lovely book. Continue reading

Nicholas and the Gang by René Goscinny & Jean-Jacques Sempé, translated by Anthea Bell

 By Ben and Maureen Tai, 7 June 2019

“I like it when it rains really hard, because then I don’t go to school and I can stay at home instead and play with my electric train set.” – Nicholas.

IMG_6350As a child, I adored the Asterix series, created by the French comics writer and editor, René Goscinny (1926-1977) . I would pore over the pages, chuckle at the antics of  the rotund Obelisk and coo with delight whenever the spunky little terrier, Dogmatix, made his appearance. I wasn’t aware of Goscinny’s other children’s books until recently, when conducting a literary reconnaissance at Anna and Ben’s fabulous school library. Nicholas and the Gang (or in the native French, Le petit Nicolas et les copains) is one of a series of early/young reader children’s books about growing up in an idyllic and relatively uneventful 1950’s France. The humorous vignettes in each book, narrated from the point of view of the sensitive and kind-hearted Nicholas, are charming and old-fashioned without being anachronistic. Kudos to the translator, Anthea Bell, for imbuing the English translation with the child-like wonder and clever sarcasm – directed at adults – that Goscinny had intended. Don’t just take it from me. This is what Ben has to say.

Continue reading

See You In The Cosmos by Jack Cheng

By Maureen Tai, 30 May 2019

“Do you have light brown skin like I do or smooth gray skin like a dolphin or spiky green skin like a cactus?” – Alex Petroski, posing a question to aliens.

img_5437.jpegAlex Petroski is eleven. He has a troubled mother, an absentee older brother and an adopted stray canine named after his hero, Carl Sagan. He is obsessed with rockets and he dreams of sending one into space. Inside the rocket, there will be an Ipod with his voice recordings about life on Earth, a gift to sentient beings outside of humankind’s own orbit. Alex himself is a gift. He is the infuriating yet loveable little brother you wished you had, and one of the most endearing, amusing and authentic voices in recent middle-grade realistic fiction. In See You in the Cosmos, Alex uncovers the heartbreaking truth about his past and his present, yet finds the courage, optimism and humour to face it all.  Continue reading

Katie and the Starry Night by James Mayhew

By Maureen Tai, 13 May 2019

IMG_5351A visit to a multi-sensory exhibition of Van Gogh’s works prompted a fond recollection. My oldest child, then 5 or 6, had spotted a print of The Starry Night at a shop and exclaimed excitedly that it looked just like the picture in our Katie book. Upon returning home, she insisted that we read Katie and the Starry Night again – for the umpteenth time. On a re-visit of the picture book today after several years’ hiatus, I am struck anew by the artistry of the illustrations and the marvellously imaginative story of Katie, an adventurous little girl in a red coat, bright red ribbons in her hair. Katie has an unusual and dare I say, enviable, way of interacting with the artwork she encounters …  Continue reading

BE STILL, life by Ohara Hale

By Maureen Tai, 4 May 2019

Be still, life, be still
Like fruit in a bowl.
And you might hear the hum
Of a crisp summer’s apple,
Or a pear joining in with a
     Pear kind of babble!
– Ohara Hale


BE STILL, life 
is a jolt of joyful exuberance.  Seemingly random text, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not. Alphabets of different sizes, sometimes block, sometimes cursive. What unifies the playful and carefree words and the bold and whimsical drawings is the celebration of the simple pleasures of life. Isn’t it fun to look around, to really listen, to really feel, and to just be? Why, now that you mention it, it is!
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enormous SMALLNESS – A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess & illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

By Maureen Tai, 28 April 2019

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places                             – e.e. cummings


American poet Edward Estlin (e.e.) Cumming’s (1894 – 1962) life art was in seeing and creating wonderful world-words from the ordinary and small everyday. This inspired and beautifully illustrated non-fiction picture book tells his story in an engaging and relatable way while introducing e.e.’s unconventional, distinctive and refreshingly modernist style of poetry to younger readers. A word of warning: you might be compelled to drop your upper case letters after this encounter. Continue reading

My Milk Toof – The Adventures of ickle and Lardee by Inhae Lee

By Maureen Tai, 25 April 2019

“Milk Toof: n. One of two adventurous little baby teeth belonging to the author, named ickle and Lardee.”

IMG_1966My Milk Toof is not a traditional, or even contemporary, children’s picture book. It’s not really a novelty book either, because it isn’t cheesy or offensive or twee, neither does it pop out or unfold in an unusual way.

What it is, is a brilliantly conceived, adorably charming and ingeniously funny, photographic journal of the adventures of two milk teef who return to their owner’s home to stay.   Continue reading

Justin Case – School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail & illustrated by Matthew Cordell

By Ben, 21 April 2019

IMG_4236Ben and I have just finished reading the first book in the Justin Case series, and we think it’s pretty good. Don’t just take my word for it.

B: Ugh, another book review?
M:  But you like this book!
B: OK, yeah, I do.
M: What is the book about?
B: It’s about Justin Case and what problems he has at school. Mostly school, but sometimes there are disasters at home. Continue reading

The Best Man by Richard Peck

By Maureen Tai, 18 April 2019

That’s the end of school for you. You wait and wait. Then it’s over before you’re ready.” – Archer Magill

IMG_4201The Best Man is an unapologetically American middle-grade novel set in Chicago, Illinois. It begins with a wedding and ends with a wedding, and in between are six years of Archer Magill’s young life, narrated by the big-hearted and endearingly clueless schoolboy. His story has some highs, some lows, and some in-betweens, but what makes it memorable is how deeply he and his family – his grandparents, parents and uncle, in particular – care for each other. Not in a saccharine, idealised, Leave it to Beaver* sort of way, but in the way families love each other in real life. Some goods, some bads, and some in-betweens. But always, a whole lotta love. Even same-sex love. But I get ahead of myself.

Continue reading

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

By Maureen Tai, 7 April 2019

“He saw the garden at many times of its day, and at different seasons – its favourite season was summer, with perfect weather.” 


With just two upturned dinner chairs and a few blankets, my kids can create a cosy hideout, away from prying adult eyes, in which to hold secret readings and from which to execute dastardly plans. This desire for a lair is universal. So it is with Tom Long, the pajamaed hero in Tom’s Midnight Garden, who longs for company and a place to play.  In this classic fantasy tale, Tom finds not only an garden hideout and an exciting new playmate, but an intriguing and secret existence in a parallel past-universe. Continue reading

big Nate: Thunka, Thunka, Thunka by Lincoln Peirce

By Ben, 24 March 2019

IMG_2999“Oh, yeah! I was shocked! Stunned! Flabbergasted! Hornwoggled! Gobsmacked!” – Nate Wright.

Sunday afternoons are for loafing around and reading comics.  At least that’s my idea of the perfect Sunday.

Ben’s recommendation for the lazy weekend is a volume from the extensive Big Nate series of comic strip compilations. Ben and I discuss why Big Nate is such a hit with him, as well as with boys and girls in Grades 3 and 4. Continue reading

Grandma and the Things that Stay the Same by Eve Aw & illustrated by Yunroo

By Maureen Tai, 18 March 2019

“… you can count on some things like love, family and tradition to stay the same.” – Mum

IMG_2598Most picture books about the Lunar New Year focus on explaining the cultural traditions and practices of the biggest celebration in the Chinese calendar – the red lai see packets, the new year’s eve family reunion dinner, the auspicious dishes, the exploding firecrackers and the deafening lion dances. Grandma and the Things that Stay the Same chooses instead to focus on what is central not only the Chinese during the Lunar New Year, but to people all over the world during their major festivals.

And that core is Family.   Continue reading

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson & illustrated by E. B. Lewis

By Maureen Tai, 3 March 2019

“Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.” – Ms. Albert



Each Kindness is a thoughtful and nuanced picture book about a trait that seems to be in short supply these days. The story is told in the first person, unusually from the point of view of a protagonist who is complicit in the unkindness shown to a new girl at school. However, the “heroine” (if we can call her that) is uncharitable yet not unthinking. In fact, she is relatable.  What she sees in her reflection in the pond is an uncomfortable truth that resonates with all of us. We’ve all been her at some point in our lives.

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The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart & illustrated by Sydney Smith

By Maureen Tai, 18 February 2019

“So it goes. To each his own.” – from Pangur Bán by Anonymous.


A solitary white cat approaches a brick building. All is shrouded in darkness. But the cat knows its way, as it sure-footedly climbs through an open window, then gently pads along a corridor with vaulted ceilings. Soft moonlight illuminates the interior of the monastery. The columns are strong and solemn, the floors well-swept, the wooden barrels in neat rows. The animal makes its way purposefully to a closed door from under which leaks a golden light. A feline paw reaches into the room, and the door opens.



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Keeper of Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

By Anna, 16 February 2019

Keeper of Lost CitiesSophie Foster has never fit in with her classmates and family. One day, she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who tells her that the reason she never felt at home was because she has never been at her real home. Fitz reveals the shocking truth to Sophie: she’s not actually human.  Continue reading

Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

By Maureen Tai, 14 February 2019

“It all started when Mom said it was time for a bath.”

IMG_1843Some picture books are little doses of “pick-me-up,” enchantment and whimsy in less than 1000 words, skilfully packaged within 32 pages of illustrations.  Still Stuck is such a book.

An endearing, yet mildly infuriating little boy is commanded to the bath by his no-nonsense mother.  You can just tell she means business by the way she stands with arms akimbo, her clenched fists on her hips. Mom pulls her child’s t-shirt over his head, literally lifting the little boy off the ground. His short legs thrash furiously as she struggles to get the garment off.

Uh oh. He’s stuck. Continue reading

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

By Maureen Tai, 27 January 2019

“All that suffering, all that death, for nothing. I will never understand, as long as I live, how a country could change overnight from only a line drawn.” – Nisha

img_0103The year Nisha turns 12 is the year that newly independent India is rent in two.  A line is hastily drawn by the governing British, separating mostly Hindu India from mostly Muslim Pakistan, formally partitioning a country that had lived as one for centuries before. Nisha is a keen observer and the diarist in The Night Diary.  Writing only after the sun has set each day, Nisha records her impressions and thoughts, hopes and fears.  Hers is a compelling yet fragile and bewildered voice during the defining and possibly most devastating event in the history of the Indian subcontinent. This is not only Nisha’s story, but the true story of so many millions of others affected by Partition.  Continue reading

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

By Ben, 20 January 2019

“Only once a year, on his birthday, did Charlie Bucket ever get to taste a bit of chocolate.”

img_0269M: Do you like chocolate?
B: Yes, I love chocolate. Why do you ask?
M: Because I think it’s important to like the main food in a book if you’re reading about it.
B: But you’re not a big fan of chocolate?
M: That’s true. But I think I’d like to visit Mr Wonka’s chocolate factory even though I’m not a big chocolate fan. Wouldn’t you?
B: Yeah, I would love to.

Continue reading

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

By Maureen Tai, 16 January 2019

img_0250There are some graphic novels that take your breath away not only because they are so exquisite to look at, but because you’ve always dreamed of being able to draw like the illustrator. The Prince and the Dressmaker is such a book, telling the charming story of the unlikely friendship (and ultimate romance) between a dress-wearing Crown Prince and his talented personal seamstress. And the fashion?  To die for. Continue reading

Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven by Brandon Easton and illustrated by Denis Medri

By Maureen Tai, 13 January 2019

“Pro wrestling is theater. People are hungry for a story. Every match, no matter how poorly constructed, tells a story.” – Andre “the Giant” Roussimoff

img_0137I remember coming across a pro-wrestling match on TV when I was an anxious high schooler in Canada. I watched oil-slicked, beefy men-monsters grapple, headlock, punch, kick and throw each other around under glaring lights, egged on by cheering crowds that included, to my incredulity, children.  I didn’t understand the entertainment, and I must confess that I still don’t. But a slim non-fiction graphic novel, Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven has opened my eyes, and my heart, to one of pro-wrestling’s great heroes.  Underneath that hulking mass of flesh, there was a man with a soul, a mind, doubts and feelings like any one of us. This is his story. Continue reading

Anne of Green Gables adapted by Mariah Marsden & illustrated by Brenna Thummler

By Maureen Tai, 31 December 2018

“I do wish I could imagine away this red hair. I can do that with my freckles and scrawniness and rotten green eyes – even my boring old name, “Anne” – but not this hair. It is my lifelong sorrow.” – Anne Shirley


On a day traditionally spent in wistful retrospection and excited anticipation of new beginnings, it seems fitting to revisit a much-loved classic that has been retold anew in graphic novel form.  Anne (with an “e”, she’ll have you mind) is the spirited, wildly imaginative and irrepressible protagonist of one of my childhood favourites, Anne of Green Gables by the prolific Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874 – 1942). I think Ms. Montgomery would have found the beautifully illustrated graphic novel adaptation very much to her liking.
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The Christmas Truce: The Place Where Peace Was Found by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey

By Maureen Tai, 20 December 2018

“These are the bells that started to chime
When friends were made at Christmas time,
When enemy soldiers held out a hand,
A sign of peace in No Man’s Land,”

IMG_1039.jpegSome years ago, I chanced upon a Sainsbury’s TV advert that turned me into a blubbering mess (you can see it here once you’ve armed yourself with a box of tissues). It told the almost unbelievable true story story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when soldiers on either side of an unoccupied piece of land lay down their arms on Christmas Eve. Continue reading

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

By Maureen Tai, 19 December 2018

IMG_7542How does the loss of a beloved family pet tie in with the story of a cosmic rock that has been in existence since the world began?  You will have to savour Aaron Becker’s stunning wordless picture book, A Stone for Sascha, to find out, and I promise, you will be all the richer for it. Continue reading

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

By Maureen Tai, 18 December 2018

“Unk gladdenboot!” “Iz unk gladdenboot!”

IMG_0783Du Iz Tak? is the story of a small community of insects, the changing seasons and the vagaries of life, all told in the little known language of Bug. It is utterly charming and such fun to read aloud that you will be conversant in Bug in no time at all – and the amazing thing is, you will half understand what you’re saying just from having read this picture book …
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Home by Carson Ellis

By Maureen Tai, 16 December 2018

“Home is a house in the country.”

img_0781.jpegThe word “home” means the same thing for everyone – a place where one lives, more or less permanently – but how it looks is different for different people. Through her detailed, imaginative and beautiful watercolour pictures, Carson Ellis offers a visual exploration of the myriad homes that exist in the world (and beyond) whilst playfully inviting the reader to think about the inhabitants, who they are and how they might live. Continue reading

They didn’t teach THIS in worm school! by Simone Lia

By Ben, 14 December 2018

IMG_0757It’s about a worm called Marcus who meets a bird called Laurence, and Laurence wants to go to Kenya because he thinks he is a flamingo.  Laurence doesn’t know how to read a map but because Marcus wants to avoid getting eaten by Laurence, he lies and says he can read maps. If the worm didn’t say that, Laurence would think he was useless and might eat Marcus.   Continue reading

Coming Home by Greg Ruth

By Maureen Tai, 9 December 2018

“I missed you so much.”

IMG_0457With just 18 words and a restrained colour palette of burnt ochre, green and brown, this realistically illustrated picture book about an American solder’s homecoming packs a hefty emotional punch. Continue reading

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy and Ali Fadhil

By Maureen Tai, 3 December 2018

“You have to be patient in war. I learned that the last time, when we fought against Iran. It’s not only about battles and bombs. There’s a lot of just waiting.” – Ali

IMG_0697Ali is an eleven year old half-Kurdish middle grader who lives with his family in Basra, near the Iraq-Kuwait border. It is January 1991. A US-led United Nations coalition of 35 countries is about to launch an attack against Iraq for its invasion and annexation of neighbouring Kuwait.  Saddam Hussein is Iraq’s dictatorial president, a brutal, power-hungry tyrant in both the eyes of Ali’s family, and the world.  Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein is the story of Ali’s survival over the ensuing 43 days of Operation Desert Storm.    Continue reading

Homecoming by Michael Morpurgo

By Maureen Tai, 30 November 2018

“A lot would never have happened if I’d handed over a lemon sherbet that day.” – Michael.

img_0506.jpegWhen a place and a time are suffused with equal measures of gladness and sorrow, should one, when the opportunity arises, revisit it? Or leave the past well alone, buried in the hazy mists of memories?  In Homecoming, a middle-aged man struggles with this decision, only to be drawn back into his boyhood days from fifty years ago, to the village where he and his mother used to live, and where, by the edge of a wild and glorious marsh, he made an unlikely friend in Mrs. Pettigrew.  As he reminisces, he wistfully recounts the unusual but ultimately tragic story of lives irrevocably altered by that fearsome weapon of humankind known as Progress.

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School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

By Maureen Tai, 26 November 2018

“Soon the teachers will come, and then you’ll be filled with children.” – Janitor

IMG_0487Do you remember the muddled-up feelings that you experienced on your first day of school? A concoction of fear and joy, excitement and anxiety, freedom and homesickness? I do. And so does the newly built Frederick Douglass Elementary school, the unexpected narrator in the whimsical and clever School’s First Day of School. This is the perfect picture book to read with a pre-schooler whose first day is looming. What will School’s first day be like? Continue reading

Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack

By Maureen Tai, 24 November 2018

An exuberant rabbit invites his grumpy mouse friend to an outdoor picnic.  No sooner has the picnic basket been opened, the clouds take over the skies and it begins to pour.  Using just 5 words in the entire picture book, Good News Bad News tells the humorous and charming tale of what happens next to this engaging pair. Continue reading

Hilda and The Troll by Luke Pearson

By Maureen Tai, 12 November 2018

“Such is the life of an adventurer.” – Hilda

IMG_8541I am proud to say that I discovered Hilda in her original comic form a few years before she became a Netflix phenomenon. Was it her blue hair, blowing freely in the breeze or her wide round eyes that appealed to me? Or was it the quirky creatures of her world: the creature made of wood with its round bald head completely separated from its tree-stump-like body? the snowy white fox with tiny antlers? the gigantic stone troll with its gaping toothy maw? Or was it the feel of the comic book, its surprising lightness and pages reminiscent of construction paper?

Whatever the reason, we’re Hilda fans, and we’re positive she’ll become a favourite of anyone with a smidgen of adventure in them. Continue reading

Benno and the Night of Broken Glass by Meg Wiviott & illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

By Maureen Tai, 10 November 2018

“Rosentrasse was still a busy street, but the people were no longer friendly.” – Benno


The endpapers – the first and last two spreads of illustrations – in  Benno and the Night of Broken Glass convey the essence of the story.  In the first spread, an orange tabby cat pads along a street where only the pedestrians’ calves and colourful shoes are visible. The pace is leisurely, some feet stroll but most just stand, suggesting that people have stopped to chat, or to exchange some news. In the final endpapers, the tabby pads along the same street but the mood is palpably different. The menacing, clunky black boots of soldiers fill the pages and the other civilian feet hurry past. The cat’s face is expressionless but his tail is no longer happily upright. Instead, it is limp, and weighed down.

Something terrible has happened in Rosenstrasse.

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hidden by Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano & Greg Salsedo

By Ben & Maureen Tai, 7 November 2018

Sometimes we do things without thinking, too.” – Dounia Cohen

IMG_9532One of the most difficult historical events to explain to a young child is the abhorrent persecution of the Jewish people during World War II, culminating in the Holocaust. But I was determined to make my own children aware of these shameful episodes in history, and I was fortunate to discover hidden, an incredibly powerful graphic novel about a young Jewish girl’s turbulent and heartbreaking childhood in Germany-controlled Vichy, France. The text is simple enough for a young child to read, but the pictures are honest and raw, and pack a deliberate emotional punch that is not easily forgotten.

Ben and I discussed the book after reading it together for the umpteenth time.

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Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay & illustrated by Renné Benoit

By Maureen Tai, 4 November 2018

“A war is something you never forget.” – Poppa

IMG_9529The first Remembrance Day service I ever attended was when I was at university in Toronto. I hadn’t learnt much world history during my school days in Malaysia, and what I had been taught were distant and dusty facts, sparse and relevant only in order to pass exams.

I stood in a drizzly grey day, looking up at the names carved into the wall at Hart House. Surrounded by a crowd that included veterans in wheelchairs or leaning on walking sticks, I listened to the mournful bugle notes of “The Last Post” and realised for the first time in my life the enormity of the sacrifices during the World Wars. Even though I hadn’t lived through those devastating years myself, I cried.

And I cry, every time I read Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion, a beautifully crafted and gentle, yet hauntingly sad picture book about Remembrance Day and all that it stands for.   Continue reading

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

By Maureen Tai, 22 October 2018

“But the girl wasn’t just a girl.  She was a witch!” 


‘Tis the witching season and what better than to curl up under a blanket with a flashlight, a pile of spooky storybooks and a plate of chocolate chip cookies (mind the crumbs).  For the youngest of little ones with faint hearts and short attention spans, Ghosts in the House! is the perfect Halloween read.  Boldly illustrated and sparsely written (155 words in all), it is delightful.

And there are lots and lots of ghosts …

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Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

By Ben, 8 October 2018

IMG_8491“Hector, Terrence, and Dee have always wondered about their school lunch lady. What does she do when she isn’t dishing out the daily special? Where does she live? Does she have a lot of cats at home?” – Narrator.

When I was a child back in the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I always wondered about the lunch uncles and aunties at my school. And about the janitor, and the gardener, and of course, those mysterious and terrifying figures of wisdom and authority – the Teachers. So I simply had to read Lunch Lady, a comic book series that is bright sunshine in colour and, despite the cafeteria uniform- wearing, kitchen utensil-wielding, older-lady main character, equally appealing to little girls and little boys.

Don’t just take my word for it. See what 8 year old Ben thinks.

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Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole

By Maureen Tai, 5 October 2018

IMG_8571Princess Smartypants is beautiful, rich, fearless, clever, strong willed and living la vida loca.*  She’s a Smug Unmarried, and wishes to remain so.  But her Mother has other ideas. “Stop messing about with those animals and find yourself a husband,” commands Mother.

Will our fun-loving royal bend to the wishes of her parents? Find out in this quirky and fun picture book by the late English author and illustrator, Babette Cole.

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The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch & illustrated by Michael Martchenko

By Maureen Tai, 2 October 2018

“You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.” – Elizabeth

IMG_8439Sometimes, world events spur us to read books.  There are books that can help us make sense of complicated or stressful situations, and books that will just make us feel better.  This week, I needed to feel better, so I reached for The Paper Bag Princess.  In this classic picture book by the legendary Canadian author, Robert Munsch (who shares my birthday, I just discovered), a strong female protagonist – despite all the terrible things that happen to her – keeps her wits about her and makes decisions about her life, and ultimately, her own happiness. Continue reading

My wobbly tooth must not ever NEVER fall out by Lauren Child

By Anna & Maureen Tai, 30 September 2018

IMG_8297Our thin paperback copy of My wobbly tooth must not ever NEVER fall out is battered and bruised, like the banana that Ben brought home from school the other day.  Most of the pages have been cello-taped back together, the spine has rubbed off and the majority of the free stickers are on the underside of my mum’s coffee table in Malaysia.

We acquired our Charlie and Lola books over a decade ago, before we discovered the TV series, and read them to Anna on an almost daily basis – sometimes twice daily – for much of her toddler years. I wonder if Anna still remembers them … Continue reading

Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc

By Maureen Tai, 26 September 2018

“Today is just like every other Sunday. Except a touch sunnier.”


Up the Mountain is a charming, gentle and deeply evocative picture book about a chance friendship, the simple wonders of nature, the inevitable passage of time and the healing power of kindness.  The unlikely pair of friends are an older, wiser badger and a younger, curious kitten, and their relationship is reminiscent of that of a grandparent and a grandchild.


Fans of The Lion and the Bird, written and illustrated by the same author – the talented Canadian Marianne Dubuc – will fall in love with this beautifully told tale.  Continue reading

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

By Maureen Tai, 21 September 2018

“The war began. Every day bad things started happening around us and soon there was nothing but chaos.”

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The 21st of September has been designated the International Day of Peace. It is befitting that we read The Journeya visually breathtaking picture book about the escape of a widow and her two young children from their war-torn home.

As they cross border after border, they don’t really know where they are going. All they know is that they are seeking peace. All they have are stories to keep them alive. Continue reading

Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead

by Maureen Tai, 20 August 2019

“… standing on top of the dictionary is a small zombie wearing a chicken suit. He’s rubbing his eyes, a Lego pirate clutched in one green hand. When his eyes adjust to the light, he uses them to look me up and down.” – Livy (Olivia)

IMG_3643I’ve read somewhere about studies that show that children under the age of seven are unable to create lasting memories of actual experienced events. This is heart-breaking for any parent of young children. However, it still doesn’t go all the way to explain why Livy can’t remember anything of her previous visit to her gran’s house when she was five years old.

The cows, the toy elephant, the chess pieces, the dolls, the stairs, none of it is familiar. Not even the strange chicken suit-wearing creature that Livy discovers living in the closet in her mother’s childhood bedroom. Who, and what, is this green being – who goes by the name of Bob – and where does it belong? In this unusual, gentle and clever middle-grade fantasy story, we follow Livy, now a grown-up almost-eleven year old, as she returns to her childhood. She is determined to solve the mystery of Bob and to reclaim her missing memories. Continue reading