Flash Review: My Beijing – Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun, translated by Edward Gauvin

By Maureen Tai, 11 September 2021

As I turn the pages of Nie Jun’s whimsical graphic novel, My Beijing (ages 7+), it feels as if I’m slipping under the covers of a warm and comfy bed. The gorgeous, pastel-coloured illustrations have a nostalgic, old-world feel about them, and the charming, delightful characters are like childhood friends who’ve come to visit. Yu’er is a gentle and bright-eyed disabled girl who lives in a Beijing courtyard house with her lovable and kindly grandfather. Their close, easy relationship with each other, as well as with their friends and neighbours, is clear to see from the four heart-warming, slice-of-life stories, each of which has an unexpected, magical twist that will make you smile. Small but significant details of Chinese life embellish the pages: the decorative figures lined up at the tips of tiled roofs, the wu lou (gourds) hanging from green vines, the swinging bamboo birdcages, the tiffin carrier on the bedside table, the gauzy mosquito net that encircles Yu’er’s and her grandfather’s beds. Cartoonist Nie Jun has created an irresistible world that you’ll want to return to, time and again.

Flash Review: Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau

By Maureen Tai, 30 August 2021

The opening page of Turtle in Paradise, the graphic novel (ages 8 +) sets the scene. It’s June 1935. Eleven-year-old Turtle and her cat Smokey, arrive in Key West to live with relatives whom she’s never met. Her mother’s employer can’t stand having children around, and being a live-in housekeeper, Turtle’s mother has no choice but to send Turtle away. Despite her young age, Turtle is a tough cookie. She quickly discovers that her Aunt Minnie, her ragtag gang of boy cousins and their friends, and the rest of her extended family are no shrinking violets either. There’s Beans and Pork Chop, who head up an unorthodox babysitting service called “The Diaper Gang.” There’s Kermit, with the weak heart, and Buddy, who’s always pantless. There’s Nana Philly, who’s mean to kids, and Slow Poke, who always lives up to his name. Middle-graders will love the bright, candy coloured graphics, snappy dialogue, memorable characters and engaging storyline. Based on a Newbery Honor chapter book of the same title and by the same author – which we also read and would highly recommend – this pictorial ode to a time that no longer exists, and to a way of life that is timeless, will make you laugh and warm your heart. Promise.

Flash Review: Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer

By Maureen Tai, 4 July 2021

Looking for an engaging, middle grade graphic novel about two unlikely friends, mother-daughter relationships and solving neighbourhood mysteries? Shirley & Jamila save their summer (ages 8+) is just the ticket, with likeable, multi-dimensional characters, smart, snappy dialogue, bursts of good-natured humour and an absorbing plot. Torontonians will also appreciate the visual references to the city peppered among the pages: the CN Tower’s silhouette in the skyline, the “U of T” emblazoned on the older brother’s t-shirt, the “We [heart] the CBC” sign stuck into a grassy lawn, and the thoughtful detailing of houses and streets in the Annex, a Toronto neighbourhood that I myself frequented as a university student. Be ready for some fun sleuthing!

Flash Review: Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

By Maureen Tai, 20 June 2021

Witches of Brooklyn (ages 8+) is the delightful debut graphic novel by French illustrator Sophie Escabasse. Newly orphaned Effie is unceremoniously dumped at the beautiful three-storey house belonging to her aunts, Selimene and Carlota. If living with relatives she barely knew existed wasn’t bad enough, Effie has to deal with a new school and grapple with a terrifying new reality – that like her aunts, she too is a witch! Effie’s latent magical powers and inner strength are slowly revealed in this enjoyable story, packed with a host of memorable characters who each harbour their own little secrets. The gorgeously coloured illustrations are masterfully executed, each page full of movement, interesting details and thoughtful character depictions; from little Effie’s Asian features and updated anime bun style hairdo to Aunt Selimene’s pugnacious nose and jutting chin and Aunt Carlota’s teeny tiny pince-nez and softly plump figure. A lovely read that will appeal especially to little girls (and their mums) who secretly wish for magical powers!