Flash Review: The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg

By Maureen Tai, 10 October 2021

In Chris Van Allsburg’s charming picture book, The Widow’s Broom (ages 6+), an old, tired, and seemingly powerless witches’ broom is abandoned by its witch owner in Widow Shaw’s home. To the old lady’s surprise, she discovers the broom has life in it yet. So do the neighbouring child-bullies who get a well-deserved thrashing from the broom when they try to attack it. Widow Shaw must now protect her new friend from her ignorant neighbours who see the broom as a threat. Will she succeed? This whimsical fairytale about second chances, friendship, and courage is accompanied by Van Allsburg’s hauntingly beautiful, black-and-white charcoal illustrations.      

Flash Review: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter & illustrated by Qin Leng

By Maureen Tai, 5 September 2021

I discovered Piper Green and the Fairy Tree (ages 7+), a delightful chapter book for younger children, during a recent browse in the public library. The titular Piper lives with her parents and younger brother Leo on a tiny island called Peek-a-Boo Island. Eight other kids live on the island, and they all go to a school on another island by lobster boat. Piper is missing her older brother Erik, though she won’t say so out loud. Instead, she decides to wear the monkey earmuffs Erik gave her to school even though they don’t really go with her new t-shirt and shorts. Imagine Piper’s shock when she discovers her new teacher doesn’t approve of her unusual accessory either. Suddenly, second grade is looking grim. What does our headstrong heroine do? Well, you’ll need to read this charming book to find out! This series, packed with memorable and funny characters masterfully brought to life in Qin Leng’s black and white ink illustrations, will entice even the most reluctant of readers.

Flash Review: Claude in the City by Alex T. Smith

By Maureen Tai, 1 August 2021

Claude is a small, plump, beret-wearing canine who has a knighted, striped bobbly sock as a sidekick. Every day, after his owners Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes, have gone to work, Claude embarks on a new adventure. In the slender Claude in the City (ages 6+), one of 10 books in the series, the energetic little pooch and Sir Bobblysock head into the city of London for the first time. There, they discover … Skyscrapers! Honking cars! Pigeons! Restaurants that serve fancy drinks! … before ending up at an art gallery where Claude inadvertently foils the plans of a brazen art thief. Delightfully detailed and wacky illustrations make these early readers extremely appealing to emerging readers who will enjoy the rollicking, improbable yet endearing antics of dog and sock.

Flash Review: Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat & illustrated by Marc Simont

By Maureen Tai, 31 July 2021

Each slim book in the classic Nate the Great series of early readers (ages 6+) packs a punch. Nate is a detective. He loves pancakes, as does Sludge, the stray dog he adopted. Nate makes pancakes when he is in the middle of solving cases. Like when Annie lost the key to her house and couldn’t get in to throw a birthday party for her ferocious-looking pet dog, appropriately named Fang. Or when that pesky Oliver lost the weed that he had acquired from the cat-loving and slightly strange Rosamond. Nate writes notes – in shaky cursive – to his mother when he is out doing field work (ahhh, those pre-Internet days!). The sparse prose, delightful pictures and activity pages at the end add to the appeal of these charming and clever books, perfect for emerging readers who are looking for an interesting and fun “bridge” into the wondrous new realm of chapter books. The best part? There are around 30 books in the series, enough for a whole lot of rainy days and lazy afternoons.