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.

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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 anyone else 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

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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

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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!” 

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‘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.”

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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

Illegal by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

By Maureen Tai, 5 September 2018

“It feels like a door has opened. And that I need to step through before it closes”  – Ebo

IMG_7714Illegal charts the harrowing journey that two orphaned brothers make from a poor village in Ghana to promise-laden Italy.  The boys cross lands that offer no sanctuary and encounter exploitative grown-ups who offer no mercy.

Illegal is, by far, one of the hardest graphic novels I’ve read with my children, but in an increasingly fractured and unkind world, it tells a powerful story too urgent to ignore, too important to be forgotten.  It demands to be read. It has to be read.   Continue reading

A Family is a family is a family by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Qin Leng

By Maureen Tai, 3 September 2018

img_7540.jpgThe first spread is a classroom scene. The thirteen desks and chairs are arranged in a circle, which is one of the first things Anna and Ben notice when we read this picture book together (the second thing is how few children there are in the class). A kindly, tea-drinking teacher poses a question to the bright-eyed and attentive students.

“The teacher asked us what we thought made our family special.”

What a good question. What does make a family special?

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The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius

By Maureen Tai, 1 September 2018

IMG_7673“Human beings have two names, a first name and a surname, but I’m a gorilla and I just have the one name – Sally Jones.” – The narrator, an anthropoid ape.

The beauty of this book is what strikes me first. It has a bright turquoise framed cover, gorgeous maps as endpapers, detailed black and white illustrations throughout the almost 600 pages of uncoated paper, and pleasing fonts.

Then I get stuck into Sally Jones’ story – an old-fashioned murder-mystery that is chock-full of fabulous characters, sea travel to exotic locations and suspenseful moments – and I am captivated. Continue reading

Katy by Jacqueline Wilson

By Anna, 30 August 2018

“It was a wonderful feeling, soaring and swinging, as free as a bird. I remembered Mum pushing me on the swings at the park when I was very little.” – Katy

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Katy is the oldest, so she gets to boss her siblings around. She is great at inventing imaginary games for her to play with her brothers and sisters. Katy loves swinging as high as she can go on swings, skateboarding and tree climbing. But when a tragedy occurs, she wonders if she will ever feel like flying again. Continue reading

What Happens Next? by Shinsuke Yoshitake

By Maureen Tai, 28 August 2018

“The notebook was full of Grandpa’s thoughts and sketches and answers to questions such as, ‘When I die, who will I become and what do I want to happen?'”

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This quirky but remarkably endearing picture book is about a dead grandfather and his notebook and his grandson.  The little boy discovers the notebook not long after the grandfather’s demise, and its pages are bursting with amusing, detailed doodles and light-hearted, anticipatory musings about the afterlife.

So death has come, as it does. Kono ato dou shichaou? What happens next indeed?   Continue reading

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

By Maureen Tai, 24 August 2018

“She turned the guitar upside down and played it backwards. It was kind of like brushing your teeth with your foot. Or tying a shoe with one hand. Nobody else played that way, but it was the way that felt right to Libba.”

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This picture book has a sound track.  Search for “libba cotten freight train” in Google and you’ll likely pull up a 3 minute YouTube video of a youthful looking elderly lady in a pintuck white blouse, her greying hair tied back, her face composed, a slight smile on her lips. She is in what I assume is her living room, and she’s playing a guitar with slender, agile fingers.  Continue reading

Akissi, Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin

By Maureen Tai, 20 August 2018

“With that square head, you look just like a gecko.”  – Akissi

IMG_7519It is hard to miss the copy of Akissi, laid out on the table at Daunt, a bookshop in London. The cover is a startling yellow and has a picture of a little girl the colour of warm cocoa, with an oversized head, large oval eyes and wide toothy grin.  She lives with her mum and dad, older siblings Victorine and Fofana in a square, yellow brick house with blue shuttered windows in the Ivory Coast.

Akissi is full of life, full of ideas and full of mischief – that trait which endears certain book characters to the youngest of readers (think Pippi Longstocking, Matilda, Peter Rabbit and Tom Gates to name a few). Akissi is irresistible. Continue reading

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

By Maureen Tai, 17 August 2018

“I shake my head. 
I say, This America is hard work.”  – KekHome of the Brave

Kek is a Sudanese boy adrift in the world. He witnesses the murder of his father and brother. His mother’s whereabouts are unknown. A bewildering stint at a refugee camp is followed by an even more unsettling relocation by “flying boat” to America. Burdened by his losses, Kek learns to keep his hope alive as he adjusts to life in America.

Home of the Brave is Kek’s story.  Continue reading

small things by Mel Tregonning

By Maureen Tai, 30 July 2018

IMG_6731How does one review a wordless picture book, when the illustrator has already decided that words are insufficient, and ineffective in the storytelling?  Do I say that in small thingsthe illustrations are achingly exquisite and hauntingly beautiful? Or that I felt, understood – to the core – and found familiar, the sadness, loneliness and depression experienced by the small boy in the story? Or that this is probably one of the most profound, and important, picture books on childhood anxiety that I have had the good fortune to discover? All true words, but strangely insufficient, and ineffective.  To truly appreciate this wonderful picture book, you need to hold it in your hands and absorb every frame as you turn the pages.  Continue reading

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams

By Ben, 27 July 2018

IMG_6358B: Are you going to write about The Boy in the Dress on the blog?
M: Do you think it’s bloggable?
B: Yeah, it’s good.
M: Ok then. It was fun reading this together, wasn’t it? Actually, I read this with your sister four years ago, and it was pretty good then too.
B: So you’ve read this two times now? You must really like it.
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Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

By Anna, 23 July 2018

Maybe the others would have believed me. Maybe not. But I wasn’t going to tell them. This was just for me.  – Vera

Every summer, all of Vera’s friends go off to camp. She never has. Now she is.IMG_6364 2

Vera is Russian, and as much as she tries to fit in with her American friends, she still feels like the odd one out. After a bit of a disaster with her birthday sleepover, Vera hears about a Russian camp called O.R.R.A. from a girl at her church, and she is determined to go there. She thinks that she won’t be that left out, because everyone else would be Russian, like her. She isn’t prepared for the camp ahead of her.

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Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

By Maureen Tai, 6 July 2018

img_5678.jpg“There is always something to miss, no matter where you are.” – Sarah

Anna and Caleb live in a lonesome house in the prairies back in the days before electricity and piped water and telephones. They pine for their Mama, who died a day after Caleb was born, and their Papa silently longs for a wife. So Anna and Caleb’s father, Mr. Jacob Witting, decides to put an advertisement in the newspapers for such a companion. And Ms. Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton responds.

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A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

By Maureen Tai, 2 July 2018

“To the pond and back – to the pond and back – nearly a full day of walking altogether. This was Nya’s daily routine seven months of the year. Daily. Every single day.”

img_4151In A Long Walk to Water, not one, but two Sudanese children fearfully and desperately endure the worse conditions conspired by humans and nature.  Nya lives where water is scarce and seasonal, and access to this life-giving elixir is dictated by the vagaries of an ancient tribal war.  Twenty years earlier when Salva was Nya’s age, he fights for survival in his war-racked country.  Sudanese of one faith are aggressors, using violence to oppress, extinguish even, the lives of the non-believers and the less powerful.

Based on true events, these are stories that attest to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. These are stories about our common humanity.   Continue reading

Where The Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

By Maureen Tai, 26 June 2018

“It was planting season, which was especially gruelling. The mud stuck to their feet like glue and each seedling had to be painstaking planted by hand.  When the hot sun burned overhead, Minli’s knees shook from weariness.” 

IMG_5384Minli lives a hand-to-mouth existence in a dusty brown village, nestled in the shadows of the aptly named Fruitless Mountain. The little girl is barely nourished by the grains of rice that her parents coax from the poor land.  However, her spirit is sustained by the stories that her father regales her with each evening.  These stories have been handed down like precious family heirlooms from so many generations before that they sparkle with magic and the fantastical, and surely, must be ancient figments of an overactive imagination.

Or perhaps not.

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Giants Beware! By Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre

By Maureen Tai, 18 June 2018

“Violence is not just efficient, it feels good too.” – Claudette

Ah, such words of wisdom from Claudette, the ferocious, intrepid and sassy ginger-haired heroine of Giants Beware! She may be pint-sized – like her pet pug Valiant – but she has bucketloads of chutzpah (one of my favourite Yiddish words that loosely translates into “ballsy attitude”).  Moreover, she’s intent on slaying the baby-feet eating giant that is holding her village psychologically hostage.

Hold on to your hats, folks! We’re in for a rip-roaring ride.

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Mr McGee and the Biting Flea by Pamela Allen

By Maureen Tai, 15 June 2018

“Mr McGee went out to play, down to the beach one windy day.”  

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Reading aloud to, and with, my children must be one of the best perks of being a parent.  Rhyming picture books are the most fun to read aloud, bar none. And Mr McGee and the Biting Flea has male frontal nudity to boot.

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Real Friends by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Phamo

By Anna, 11 June 2018

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“Once upon a time there was a girl with red hair who believed her destiny was to ride alone. But an old evil was rising in the north lands. At the final moment, when all seemed to be lost, she cried out for help. The many friends she had made on her journey heard her call. And they came running. After all, no one’s destiny is to ride alone.” – Shannon

In kindergarten, Shannon meets Adrienne and they become best friends. Shannon thinks that she and Adrienne will be friends forever.

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The King of the Copper Mountains by Paul Biegel

By Maureen Tai, 8 June 2018

 “King Mansolain had a beard that spread about his feet like a rug, and on it slept a hare, the only creature that still cared for him now that King Mansolain was almost forgotten.”

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My beloved copy of The King of the Copper Mountains bears teeth marks made by my first ever pet dog.  Patches was a Shih-Tzu with one blue and one brown eye. She had the unsavoury habit of tracking down cockroaches and stifling the blighters by rolling over them.  If she could have talked (and as a child, I fervently wished that she could have), I suspect she’d have had many engaging stories to tell.  Like the animals in Paul Biegel’s classic tale who come to the copper castle to keep King Mansolain alive.

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Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell

By Maureen Tai, 4 June 2018

IMG_3875“Ottoline had two collections that were all her own. One was her Odd Shoe collection, of which she was very proud.  Whenever Ottoline bought a pair of shoes, she would wear one and put the other in her collection.”

Ottoline is too young to accompany her remarkably prescient absentee parents on their world wanderings.  But she is not too young to spend her days by herself in an artifact-filled apartment in the company of a hairy Norwegian bog person called Mr. Munroe.  As outlandish as it sounds, Ottoline is an extremely relatable character.  Continue reading

Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

By Maureen Tai, 2 June 2018

“Mr Tiger was bored with always being so proper.”

IMG_3950All the inhabitants in Mr Tiger’s world are animals who have snooty expressions on their faces and who stand upright.  All of them – including deer, brown bear, fox, buffalo, monkey, hedgehog, horse and ibex – are dressed to the nines in top hats and bonnets, suits and bow ties, solemn skirts and long sleeved blouses.  They walk sedately from place to place, or if they must, ride stiffly on penny farthings and normal bicycles. Everything is calm, quiet and so very proper. Everyone has a stiff upper (and lower) lip.

Except Mr Tiger.

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Do not lick this book* (it’s full of germs) by Idan Ben-Barak & illustrated by Julian Frost

By Maureen Tai, 31 May 2018

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If you are a parent of young children like I am, you will have, at one point or another, yelled at them to stop eating their nose poos or licking elevator buttons because “FOR HEAVENS SAKE, THOSE THINGS ARE FULL OF GERMS!” And your progeny would not have given a monkey’s because, well, let’s face it, no one can see germs can they?

Do not lick this book* (it’s full of germs) attempts to remedy this situation by magnifying some common microbes (by some hundreds of thousands of times), giving them faces, limbs, attractive hues, cute names and quirky personalities, and inviting readers to whisk them off on adventures. Sounds fun? It is! Continue reading

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

By Maureen Tai, 28 May 2018

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“It was all built by one man, a mysterious Tuskegee airman named Joe.  He made every mountain you see, laying one chunk of sand at a time. He stacked every brick in Ghostopolis so that ghosts would have a place to live.”

An unscripted poke-about in an indie comics store in Toronto last summer led me serendipitously to what is now one of my favourite graphic novels, Ghostopolis. If you’re looking for a riveting, action-packed story that combines realistic fiction with elements of fantasy and the macabre, features compelling characters and concludes with multiple satisfactory endings, then this book is for you. Continue reading

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

By Maureen Tai, 25 May 2018

“In a kingdom of warriors, the smallest warrior was Princess Pinecone.”

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We all know someone like Princess Pinecone. Heck, we’ve all BEEN someone like Princess Pinecone. You know the feeling? When you’re seven years old, and convinced that you’re small, uncool, and insignificant while everyone else is smarter, stronger, and so much more accomplished.  On top of that, you never, ever get the specific thing that you ask for. EVER. Especially from your parents (and in particular at Christmastime). Do I sound bitter?

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