Double Review: Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper & illustrated by Rory Lucey; Smaller Sister by Maggie Edkins Willis

By Ben & Maureen Tai, 15 August 2022

During our annual summer visit to Toronto – our first in three years – my kids and I stopped by Little Island Comics, our favourite independent bookshop in the city for children’s comics and graphic novels. Coming from book-starved Hong Kong, we were giddy with excitement and hardly able to restrain ourselves from carrying armfuls of new finds to the cashier’s counter. As I added Smaller Sister (ages 10+), a graphic novel by Maggie Edkins Willis to my stack, I was heartened and pleasantly surprised to see an unfamiliar title, Bad Sister (ages 8+), tucked in among my tween son’s pile (yes, boys are NOT always put off by books about girls).

Both books are about the uniquely multi-layered and complicated relationship between siblings, one told from the point of view of Lucy, the well-meaning, hapless younger sister in Smaller Sister, and the other, from the point of view of Charise, the energetic, cat-loving and inexplicably mean older sister in Bad Sister. I chat with Ben to get his take on these two engrossing sisterly reads.

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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: The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor

By Maureen Tai, 10 April 2022

The Legend of Auntie Po (ages 11+) is a brilliantly imaginative, sweet and tenderly hopeful graphic novel about a 13-year-old cook and her coming-of-age in a Sierra Nevada logging camp. The year is 1885. Despite being born in America, Mei’s Chinese ancestry guarantees that she is doomed to be an outsider and to suffer the same hardships in life as her principled, hard-working and ancestor-worshipping father. At least, that’s what Mei herself believes until the day Auntie Po Pan Yin, the god of her made-up stories appears before her for real! Accompanied by Pei Pei, her trusty, adorable blue buffalo, Auntie Po is the infamous mother of all loggers, taller than the tallest trees in the forest, a gigantic god with her grey hair in a grandmotherly bun. As Mei grapples with fledgling romantic feelings for her best friend Bee, witnesses racist abuse meted out to her fellow countrymen, and endures a tragedy that befalls her logging crew, will Auntie Po and Pei Pei come to their rescue? This multi-layered and multi-faceted read marries myth with legend, historical fact with fiction, and acceptance with racism, showing that in the end, love always triumphs as do our gods whom we can’t always see. P.S. You don’t have to know about Paul Bunyan to appreciate this book. I didn’t, and still don’t.

Flash Review: Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt & illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

By Maureen, 20 December 2021

In Fanny Britt’s tender and poignant debut graphic novel, Jane, the fox & me (ages 9+), a Quebecois schoolgirl called Hélène is silently buckling under the merciless taunting of classmates who were once her friends. Made to feel fat and unwanted, outcasted Hélène buries herself in the pages of Jane Eyre, and in reading, finds solace and comfort. But will Charlotte Brontë’s wise, slender and resilient heroine be enough to save Hélène from a four-night school camp in the forest and a chance encounter with a fox? The unadorned, poetic and honest text is complemented by Isabelle Arsenault’s gorgeously rendered illustrations of mostly moody greys and smudgy shadows. A thought-provoking and emotional, yet ultimately satisfying read that will prompt important discussions about self-confidence, body image and bullying.