Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

By Maureen Tai, 19 September 2018

“Each Peach Pear Plum, I spy Tom Thumb…”

If your middle grade child can still remember the first few lines of a board book that she had read to her since before she could walk, it must be a bit of a gem. That is what Each Peach Pear Plum is, the perfect rhyming “I Spy” picture book for really little ones and their sleep-deprived care-givers.


The board book in my hand is over a decade old, its edges fraying, deep furrows along the spine.  The story itself is even older. Each Peach Pear Plum celebrated its 40th birthday in 2018 as the author, Allan Ahlberg celebrated his 80th.  Ahlberg is a maestro of rhyme, and a prolific children’s book writer, having written – at last count – over 150 books.  Continue reading

Brick – Who Found Herself in Architecture by Joshua David Stein, illustrated by Julia Rothman

By Maureen Tai, 14 September 2018

“Great things begin with small bricks” – Brick’s mother.

Brick is a small rectangular block the colour of a ripe persimmon. She’s a baby brick.

Cradled in the arms of her mother, she gazes up at towering skyscrapers. Brick is awed by what she sees, the possibilities of what she might one day become.  “Look around,” her mother gently coaxes, inviting not only Brick, but us readers as well, to cast our eyes on the structures that line the streets and the buildings that blend into the skyline.

Brick’s journey of self-discovery, and our journey to some of the most incredible architectural marvels in the world, are about to begin.

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A Family is a family is a family by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Qin Leng

By Maureen Tai, 3 September 2018

img_7540.jpgThe first spread is a classroom scene. The thirteen desks and chairs are arranged in a circle, which is one of the first things Anna and Ben notice when we read this picture book together (the second thing is how few children there are in the class). A kindly, tea-drinking teacher poses a question to the bright-eyed and attentive students.

“The teacher asked us what we thought made our family special.”

What a good question. What does make a family special?

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What Happens Next? by Shinsuke Yoshitake

By Maureen Tai, 28 August 2018

“The notebook was full of Grandpa’s thoughts and sketches and answers to questions such as, ‘When I die, who will I become and what do I want to happen?'”


This quirky but remarkably endearing picture book is about a dead grandfather and his notebook and his grandson.  The little boy discovers the notebook not long after the grandfather’s demise, and its pages are bursting with amusing, detailed doodles and light-hearted, anticipatory musings about the afterlife.

So death has come, as it does. Kono ato dou shichaou? What happens next indeed?   Continue reading

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

By Maureen Tai, 24 August 2018

“She turned the guitar upside down and played it backwards. It was kind of like brushing your teeth with your foot. Or tying a shoe with one hand. Nobody else played that way, but it was the way that felt right to Libba.”


This picture book has a sound track.  Search for “libba cotten freight train” in Google and you’ll likely pull up a 3 minute YouTube video of a youthful looking elderly lady in a pintuck white blouse, her greying hair tied back, her face composed, a slight smile on her lips. She is in what I assume is her living room, and she’s playing a guitar with slender, agile fingers.  Continue reading

small things by Mel Tregonning

By Maureen Tai, 30 July 2018

IMG_6731How does one review a wordless picture book, when the illustrator has already decided that words are insufficient, and ineffective in the storytelling?  Do I say that in small thingsthe illustrations are achingly exquisite and hauntingly beautiful? Or that I felt, understood – to the core – and found familiar, the sadness, loneliness and depression experienced by the small boy in the story? Or that this is probably one of the most profound, and important, picture books on childhood anxiety that I have had the good fortune to discover? All true words, but strangely insufficient, and ineffective.  To truly appreciate this wonderful picture book, you need to hold it in your hands and absorb every frame as you turn the pages.  Continue reading