Flash Review: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

By Maureen Tai, 7 February 2021

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is a unique graphic collection of profound, bite-sized meditations on friendship and kindness by illustrator, artist and author Charlie Mackesy. Framed as heart-to-heart conversations between the four titular friends, their friendship deepens with each page of Mackesy’s exquisite ink-and-pen illustrations, composed of masterfully executed undulating lines, bold flourishes and dreamy curlicues, sometimes with splashes of brooding watercolour, always with gorgeously handwritten text. The unnumbered pages are arranged so that readers of all ages can dip in, wherever they choose, alone or in company, and find solace, inspiration, wisdom and breath-taking beauty.
For ages 5 and up. (100 words)

Flash Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

By Maureen Tai, 31 January 2021

Stargazing is Jen Wang’s sweet, engaging and heart-warming graphic novel about friendship, fitting in and forgiveness. Christine finds herself blossoming, thanks to her friendship with the gregarious, fun-loving and artistic Moon, even as Moon struggles to meet the expectations of their tightly knit Asian American community. When Moon becomes more popular at school however, their friendship is put to the test. After tragedy strikes, Christine must decide if she can rise above her guilt and insecurities and become the friend that Moon needs. Wang’s gorgeous illustrations, beautifully colored by Lark Pien, make Stargazing a visual treat even for younger readers (100 words).

Dog Man: Grime and Punishment by Dav Pilkey

By Maureen Tai and Ben, 31 December 2020

It’s YOUR story, kid. You can color it any way you want.

Petey, the Bad Guy who turns good

Chastened and changed: what a fitting way to end what has been a sobering, eye-opening and challenging year. I’d always assumed that the wildly popular Dog Man books were commercially successful yet held scant literary value, a bit like mass produced fast food which gave you a satisfied tummy for an afternoon, but zero long term nourishment. In one of the long hours of being a housebound, responsible, non-Covid spreading citizen, I begrudgingly read and, to my surprise, enjoyed Dog Man: Grime and Punishment, the latest Dog Man adventure that I had gotten Ben for Christmas (at his insistence). It had all the hallmarks of an unforgettable read: clever and punchy dialogue, an outlandish yet compelling storyline, unusual yet loveable characters, bold and brightly coloured pictures, and most importantly (for me anyway), emotional depth and wisdom. I stood corrected, Ben was triumphant, and the last blog post for 2020 was decided.

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The Garden of Inside-Outside by Chiara Mezzalama & illustrated by Régis Lejonc, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

By Maureen Tai, 2 November 2020

Inside-outside, inside-outside … These words were going round and round inside my head, until they gave me a headache.

Chiara Mezzalama

It is the end of 1980. Iraq is under the power of Saddam Hussein and a bitter enemy of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme Leader. A war breaks out between the two nations that will end, unresolved, eight years later.

It is during this time of turmoil that Chiara, her younger brother, and her parents move to Tehran. Chiara’s father is the Italian ambassador to Iran, and the family take up residence in an opulent house surrounded by a vast, verdant and glorious garden, bordered by a wall that keeps the “city-monster” of war at bay. Or does it?

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