Flash Review: Ariol by Emmanuel Guibert, illustrated by Marc Boutavant & translated by Joe Johnson

By Maureen Tai, 2 May 2022

Ariol is a small, bespectacled blue donkey who lives with his parents. He goes to school where he has a best friend (the irrepressible piglet, Ramono), a crush (the lovely heifer, Petula), a secret admirer (the long-suffering fly, Bizzbilla) and a class chock full of interesting characters (Pharmafluff, the hypochondriac lamb and Kwax, the music-loving duckling, to name just a couple). In short, Ariol is just an ordinary donkey, except that his suburban life with his family and friends is chronicled in the most delightful, charming and distinctly French style in this middle grade, graphic novel series named after its titular character. Young readers will love the funny, resonant stories and the brightly-coloured illustrations while older readers – including adults – will enjoy the off-beat humour and accurate depictions of the brutal honesty and staggering self-centredness of young children. The best thing? There are several books in the series, so extremely binge worthy!

For ages 8 and up.

Flash Review: Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, narrated & translated by David Jacobson, Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi & illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri

By Maureen Tai, 24 April 2022

Lost, but then found: the tender, luminous poetry of Misuzu Kaneko (1903 – 1929) and the story of her short, tragic life, unearthed through the obsessive, dogged determination of children’s writer, Setsuo Yazaki.

Are You An Echo? (ages 8+) is a beautifully rendered, picture book biography, the first English language publication of the Japanese poet’s works. Kaneko, the daughter of bookstore owners, stayed in school until her late teens, highly unusual for girls of that time. A reader and keen observer of every day life – from fish in the sea and pictures in a book to a flower seller and a pile of snow – Kaneko became a published writer of stories and poems for children by her early twenties, fading into obscurity after her premature death by her own hand. It would be many decades before Kaneko’s poems would be found by Yazaki (after a 16-year search!) and her voice rediscovered.

Kaneko’s poems, exquisite in their simplicity, sense of wonder and child-like playfulness, are now well-known and well-loved in Japan, in particular in the wake of the devastating 2011 tsunami. Despite her own dark troubles, Kaneko composed words of hope and joy that continue to touch and heal to this day, and this picture book – truly a labour of love – is a gentle, poignant and thought-provoking homage to the poet’s beautiful soul and her legacy. It is tempting to think that Kaneko herself would have heartily approved.

Flash Review: The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

By Maureen Tai, 3 April 2022

In the charming, semi-autobiographical, middle grade novel, The Year of the Dog (ages 8+), the Taiwanese American narrator has a whole year – the animal year she was born in – to find out who she is. Pacy starts the year lucky, making a new best friend at school and welcoming a new baby cousin to her loving, close-knit family. However, a series of disappointments leaves her questioning if her luck has finally run out … Pacy’s endearingly honest, first-person narrative is masterfully interspersed with stories recounted by Pacy’s mother of her own childhood in Taiwan and early immigrant experience in America. While the multi-generational and cross-continental setting, richly coloured with Chinese beliefs and traditions, will resonate with readers of Chinese descent, Lin’s metaphorical and often humorous prose (not to mention her cute line drawings) makes The Year of the Dog a universally appealing and timeless read.

Restart by Gordon Korman

By Ben, 27 March 2022

I first heard of Restart (ages 10+) a middle grade, realistic fiction novel about second chances, from my daughter while she was still in middle school and a keen participant for her school in the Battle of the Books competition. It was the only book she had willingly read several times, and enjoyed each time. So when I found a copy among the piles of donated books in our local secondhand bookshop for kids, Rebooked, I took that as a sign. I had to read it too.

And as usual, Ben came along for the ride.

Continue reading