Flash Review: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pēna & illustrated by Christian Robinson

By Maureen Tai, 17 January 2021

He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.

CJ muses in Last Stop on Market Street

Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street is a beautifully written picture book about appreciating diversity, finding happiness and helping those in need. On one of their weekly bus rides to the soup kitchen, CJ asks his nana questions about what he sees around him. His patient grandmother’s wise, kind responses help CJ come to appreciate differences and see joy and beauty in the everyday. De la Peña’s lyrical prose is a delight to read aloud, and Christian Robinson’s bold and bright collage-like illustrations will make younger readers itch to create drawings of their own lives and families. (100 words)

Flash Review: The Last Garden by Rachel Ip & illustrated by Anneli Bray

By Maureen Tai, 10 January 2021

Is it possible to write a book review in 100 words or less? Absolutely!

For 2021, we’re challenging ourselves to publish every week, bite-sized reviews of big, heartfelt stories that stay with us and that we hope will stay with you too. Kicking off with The Last Garden, a charming debut picture book for both its author and illustrator.

The Last Garden is local author, Rachel Ip’s gently thought-provoking picture book about wartime gardens and the enduring power of nature. Younger readers will be charmed by Anneli Bray’s sumptuous illustrations and the story of a city’s last garden, lovingly tended to by a little girl even as blackened buildings and smoke-filled skies surround it. As the fighting intensifies, the city’s residents are forced to flee, and the garden is abandoned. When peace, and the girl, finally return to the garden, a delightful surprise awaits! This poignant, yet hopeful story will spark discussions about courage and resilience during challenging times. (100 words)

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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Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

By Maureen Tai, 8 September 2020

James opened his eyes to the world and saw things that moved and things that were still. … For him the world would always be silent.

I had the good fortune to hear the publisher Arthur A. Levine speak as a panellist on a Zoom video conference recently and he talked about how he was always on the hunt for “beautiful books.” That term stuck with me, and it was almost serendipitous to see Arthur’s name on the inside front flap of the achingly beautiful and hauntingly melancholic picture book, Silent Days, Silent Dreams. I am a big fan of the Japanese-American author and illustrator, Allen Say (see my earlier review of his autobiographical picture book, Grandfather’s Journey) and I am glad to have had his – and Arthur’s – guiding hands in my quest to seek out picture books about lesser known artists. James Castle was one such artist.

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