What I Read in 2016: Picture Books

I value my picture book collection the way that Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler values her files: deeply, though you wouldn’t know it by my lack of an ordered cataloging or shelving system. Here are some of the books published in 2016 that made it onto my shelves this year.

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Panda Pants  is a dialogue between a young panda and his father. The little Panda is set on a pair of pants. The father is unconvinced. The silliness is tempered by a dead-pan delivery and a touch of philosophy. Like Zen Shorts, if conceived by the Comedy Network.

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My Friend Maggie is another fantastic offering from Hannah E. Harrison. All of her books have the emotional realism of Kevin Henkes’ work and her illustrations GLOW. This book isn’t just kid-friendly, it strikes a deep, deep chord. I’m not a crier, but this book makes me tear up every darn time.

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Miss Moon lives in a beautiful, well-mannered world of dogs and dresses and boating parties that I would also love to live in. In Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess, Janet Hill’s collection of life lessons are accompanied by her distinctive oil-paintings and would be a great gift for dog lovers, graduates, or people with a taste for whimsy.

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Sara O’Leary is grand master of the list poem. In A Family is a Family is a Family she lists a wide range of families, accompanied by Qin Leng’s delicate illustrations of the small pleasures of domestic life.

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Jo Ellen Bogart’s quietly magnificent The White Cat and the Monk is an ode to work, peace, and stillness. Even non-cat lovers will admit that there is something delightful in a monk comparing his daily routine to that of his cat’s. Illustrator Sydney Smith does a great job getting into the head of a cat and demonstrates why his work keeps turning up on award lists.

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Lion Lessons is begging to be turned into a piece of theatre. A boy studies to be a lion with an actual lion. Simple, funny, genius. Jon Agee’s books are on my auto-buy list.

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Just when you thought there were no new ways to tell a first day of school story, Adam Rex comes along with the perspective of a new school building in School’s First Day of School. Christian Robinson’s bright, retro art helps make this brand new book feel like an old favourite.

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My favourite debut of the year is Ooko, by author-illustrator Esme Shapiro. Foxes abound in children’s books, but never has a fox been so sweetly delusional before. A quirky friendship story with a twist. Bonus human leg hair!

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Julia Sarda’s colour palette of rich jewel-tones and Goth-meets-Art Deco sensibility is an unexpected but brilliant pairing with Kyo Maclear’s fable about a list-making family. Maclear tends to be paired with airier, more whimsical illustrators, but The Liszts is proof that her canny text works just as well with a darker, earthier art style.

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In Scribble, child-whisperer Ruth Ohi imbues simple shapes (circle, square, and triangle) with matching personalities who are thrown for a loop (shape pun!) when scribble arrives. The book works on two levels, as both a story about learning to accept other’s differences and also as an ode to imagination.

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There will always be a desire for counting books and Lucy Ruth Cummin’s A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals adds an element of mystery and dark humour to this tried and true formula. In a post-Klassen/hat eat hat world you may think you know the twist…but DO you?

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Thanks to Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick I have always been drawn to topiaries (yes, even after The Shining). The Night Gardener features some pretty fantastic creations and captures a sense of wonder and possibility in a spare text accompanied by old-timey, sepia-toned illustrations.

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Kids’ Books Recommendations- Classical 96.3 FM

BookBday

This week is my book birthday and boy am I spoiled girl! Check out the incredible cake made by colleague Barb, senior manager of advertising and design at Penguin Random House Canada. It was just as delicious as it was beautiful and certainly made this author feel loved.

On Thursday I dropped by the Classical 96.3 FM studios to chat about my book, If I Had a Gryphon, as well as some of my fave new books from PRH Canada. A version of this segment will air tonight, Friday February 12th, around 7:30. If you’re not in the GTA you can check it out online here.

Over-scheduled Andrew by Ashley Spires

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How do I love Ashely Spires‘ latest book? Let me count the ways. Humour? Check. Adorable characters? Check. Timely and relatable scenario? Check. Bagpipes? French film club? Musical Theatre? Check, check, check. This story about an over-scheduled chickadee will feel familiar to busy families. A good book is the start of a conversation, and Over-scheduled Andrew encourages families to talk about the pleasures of slowing down and being “free to be distracted.”

Miss Moon: Wise Words From a Dog Governess by Janet Hill

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It’s hard to come up with an age range for this beauty of a book because it truly is for everyone. The pairing of Stratford-based artist Janet Hill‘s lush oil paintings of sophisticated Miss Moon and her dog charges romping around their estate on an island off the coast of France with pithy life lessons will hit the spot for so many people: children, dog-lovers, art collectors, recent graduates. True story: while prepping for this interview I spent alot of time drooling over Janet Hill’s etsy shop and purchased myself this print, which is how I’d like to think I look when reading *my* Nancy Drews:

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For older readers, I chose two books on a theme that feels especially pertinent in these long winter months: survival.

The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence

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Canadian writers have defined the survival narrative. Iain Lawrence‘s latest is a contemporary addition to the literary canon of Man. vs. Nature, pitting Chris and Frank against the wild when they are stranded off the Alaskan coast after a boating accident. The book is gritty and tense, with welcome moments of comedic relief in the form of antics from a raven named Thursday. A wonderful companion for the millions of Hatchet (Gary Paulsen) fans out there.

The Rule of Three: Will to Survive by Eric Walters

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Child-whisperer, Order of Canada recipient and best-selling author Eric Walters is at his best with this “it could happen to you” survival story of a suburban neighbourhood dealing with a drastic lifestyle change after all power (computers, phones, automotive, etc) is cut and shows no sign of ever coming back. The dangers here come from people, not environmental or weather-related factors of The Skeleton Tree. The first book in this series, The Rule of Three, earned Eric the 2015 Red Maple award and readers have been impatiently waiting this concluding installment.

Thanks for having me, Classic 96.3 FM!

IF I HAD A GRYPHON: EVENTS!

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What’s in the bag? Do you know any young pet detectives who could help me solve a magical mystery?

I’ve been gathering props and breaking out the vocal exercises all in preparation for events and storytimes across Ontario for IF I HAD A GRYPHON. Come join me (and maybe a magical creature or two) on the following dates for stories & activities:

Tuesday, Feb 9th, 10:30am, Chapters Brampton, Storytime & Signing 

Saturday, Feb 13th, 11am, Chapters Ajax, Storytime & Signing 

Sunday, Feb 14th, 11am, Indigo Yonge & Eglinton, Storytime & Signing 

Saturday, Feb 20th, 2-3:30pm, TPL Lillian H Smith Branch, Book Launch  Storytime

Saturday, Feb 27th, 11am, Chapters Guelph, Storytime & Signing 

Sunday, Feb 28th, 2pm, Cardboard Castles, Creemore, ON, Storytime & Signing

Monday, Feb 29th, 6pm, Thornton Public Library, Storytime & Signing

Saturday, March 5th, 11am Chapters Milton, Storytime & Signing

Saturday, March 12th, 10:30-noon, Woodstock Public Library, Storytime & Signing

Giveaway: If I Had a Gryphon

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We are a month away from the release of my first picture book, If I Had a Gryphon (Tundra Books, February 9/16). In this primer on magical pet care, Sam deliberates the pros and cons of raising a series of fantastic beasts, including unicorns, gryphons, krakens, hippogriffs and many more!

Here are what people are saying about the book, illustrated by fellow Canuck Cale Atkinson (To The Sea):

Vikki VanSickle’s first picture book is an outstanding success. The humorous storyline, the strong rhyming scheme, and the bold illustrations by Cale Atkinson make If I Had a Gryphon a marvellous addition to the picture book genre. Sure to be a favourite among fantasy fans and those contemplating what their perfect pet might be—mythical or otherwise! ” CM Magazine 

VanSickle delivers lean, bouncy verse and an impressive array of offbeat creatures, while Atkinson’s illustrations are bold and hint at dynamic motion. . .brisk and bright. “ Kirkus Reviews

VanSickle’s rhymes are unflaggingly exuberant as the girl puts up with noisy harpies, biting chupacabras, and mischievous fairies, and Atkinson fills the pages with visual comedy. ” Publisher’s Weekly Review

Needless to say, I’m as happy as a hippogriff in a dog park! You can enter to win a free copy over at Goodreads.  Contest open to Canada & USA. Follow the links below to enter. While you’re there, why not add it to your To-Read shelf?

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle

If I Had a Gryphon

by Vikki VanSickle

Giveaway ends February 09, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

The Art of Noticing: Sidewalk Flowers Review

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As a kid I used to pick Dandelions, purple clover and Queen Anne’s Lace and bring them home to be put in a vase and displayed on the kitchen table. I did not understand the difference between a weed and a flower. It’s all a matter of perspective; one person’s weed is another person’s flower. Perspective and the art of noticing are beautifully explored in this new wordless picture book from Canadians JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith.

Sidewalk Flowers follows a little girl as she walks through the city with her father. While he spends most of his time on his phone, she collects sidewalk flowers and then gives them out to people and animals she meets along the way. In the beginning, only the girl is in colour- wearing a vivid red cloak- along with the flowers she spots in a black and white city full of black and white people. But as she notices things- a patterned dress, a vase, a bird- they too become brightly coloured and by the end of the book the whole world is vivid. Very simple concept, very effectively executed. My heart just about stopped when I saw the image of the flowers left as a memorial for a dead bird.

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You can’t throw a stone without hitting a wordless picture book these days. Wordless picture books invite contemplation in a way that other picture books don’t. That isn’t to say the experience is better, but different. How the story is shared becomes a truly personal experience. Do you make a story up as you go through the book with a child? Is it the same or different each time? Do you give the book to a child (or adult) and have her sit silently and experience the book in her own head? There is more room- or at least more space- for imagination.

Some picture books are kinetic and invite laughter and action (The Book With No Pictures, Pete the Cat, The Day The Crayons Quit, Goodnight Already), but this is the perfect example of the opposite kind of book, inviting meditation and encouraging mindfulness. The experience of reading Sidewalk Flowers mirrors the experience of the little girl in the book- taking time to notice things, becoming aware, and delighting in the world around her. Children are better equipped for this sort of awareness,  perhaps why it keeps turning up in picture books, not only Sidewalk Flowers but also in Kathy Stinson’s award-winning The Man with the Violin.

Fans of The Farmer and the Clown, Journey, The Gardener, On My Walk, and The Man with the Violin will perhaps best appreciate this lovely tale of a transformative walk. I cannot wait until I can go on my own city walk and marvel at the tenacity of spring and it’s new growth, which with any luck, will be in a few weeks time.

Sidewalk Flowers is available now from Groundwood Books.

The Best Moments in Children’s Books, 2014

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There were some shining moments in the children’s book world in 2014. This year we encouraged children to practice their reading with cats, celebrated graphic novels, established a new YA award in Canada, and took a stand on diversity.

Mac Barnett’s TED talk

Barnett’s books are funny, clever, and sophisticated, but never at the expense of child appeal. It comes as no surprise that the author himself is an engaging ambassador for children’s literature. In his TED talk “Why a good book is a secret door,” he discusses the human aptitude for imagination and gives plenty of real-life examples from his days as a camp counselor to his work at the inventive writing & tutoring organization 826LA, and his own writing.

 

Berks ARL Book Buddies Program 

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I mean come on. Look at this picture! So cute I had to post it twice. This story of the Animal Rescue League of Berks County Book Buddies program went viral in February, due largely to this image of a little boy reading to a shelter cat posted on Reddit. Encouraging children to read AND comforting cats? I am in.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

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This grassroots organization of diversity crusaders has come a long way. After BookCon announced an all-white, largely male line-up this spring, authors and readers took to the internet to make it known that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. To their credit, the organizers responded, and a panel entitled “The World Agrees: We Need Diverse Books” was added to the programming. Months later, after significant media coverage and successful crowd-funding campaigns,  WNDB is a full-fledged organization. Featuring grants, book lists, tips for bringing diversity into the classroom and an upcoming festival, it is safe to say that #WeNeedDiverseBooks is transitioning from a moment to a movement.

 

THIS ONE SUMMER wins the Governor General’s Award for Illustration

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In an insightful piece in The National Post this fall, Anna Fitzpatrick discusses the potential impact of Jillian Tamaki‘s GG win on the perception of comic arts. With the ever-growing popularity of graphic novels and memoirs for children (El Deafo, Sisters, Through the Woods and the upcoming Roller Girl), the ever-growing attendance at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and a TCAF pop-up shop at the Toronto Public Library this month, it is hard to deny that graphic art in all it’s permutations is commanding more respect. This is fantastic news. Just think of the amazing crossover and genre-bending books there are to come!

 

The Amy Mathers Teen Book Award is Established

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Book-lover and CanLit advocate Amy Mathers began her marathon of books, reading her way across Canada one YA book at a time, in January 2014 hoping to raise enough money to fund a much-needed award for Canadian YA. At the TD Children’s Literature Award Gala in November it was announced that her dream would become a reality. The first Amy Mathers Teen Book Award will be awarded in 2015. This is great news for the vibrant and diverse range of YA books published by Canadians.  Follow Amy’s journey and peruse her book reviews on her website or connect with her on twitter.

Now doesn’t that make you feel good? Here’s to a great 2015! Happy holidays, friends!

What to Read This Summer- Picture Books

I have a soft spot for (and two entire bookshelves dedicated to) picture books. This summer reading list was probably the most fun to prepare. Whether you like mermaids, food, Jill Barber, cats, dinosaurs or meta-fiction, there is definitely a picture book out there for you and the wee ones in your life. Here are a few of my recent favourites:

The Mermaid and the Shoe

The Mermaid and the Shoe

Just about everything in this gorgeous book makes my heart explode. I love the sheer quirkiness of a mermaid (who, like all mermaids, has no feet) falling in love with a shoe. Poor Minnow seems to be the least talented of her 50 sisters, until an unusual object sends her on a quest and it turns out her talent is being an adventurer. There are echoes of the traditional Little Mermaid story, but K.G. Campbell‘s story has a much lighter and modern touch. IE: no one dies, no one gives up her voice for a man, King Triton is a real stand-up guy. If you’re a fan of fairytales, you’re going to love this subtle and lovely treat.

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Puss Jekyll Cat Hyde

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This hilarious book was pointed out to me by a dear friend and colleague who found it funny even though she claims to “not be a cat person”. Puss is loving, gentle and sweet. Cat is moody, prone to hunting, and destructive. Anyone who has lived with a cat will appreciate the humour in this story, which describes the duality of the internet’s favourite pet. The Puss/Cat dichotomy also presents some fun opportunities for read- alouds, ie someone reads Puss, someone else reads Cat, hilarity ensues!

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If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur

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Canadian treasure Linda Bailey is a skilled and funny writer of picture books. Colin Jack is up to the challenge of illustrating this very funny list of the various household uses of a dinosaur. This book belongs to that category of picture books where the reader is encouraged to think outside the box. Reading it brought to mind a favourite camp game of mine, “This is not a pencil, this is…” in which the group goes about re-imagining the pencil and its endless uses. This one will spark a lot of fun and multiple readings.

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Music is for Everyone

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I love Jill Barber’s music so it follows that I would love her picture books as well. But what makes this exploration of the breadth of music special are the illustrations by Sydney Smith (most recently of the Sheree Fitch picture book re-issues from Nimbus). He captures a folksy, 1970s vibe that seems appropriate for the spirit of the book- think School House Rock, but with a wider colour palette.

Julia, Child

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Oh what a difference punctuation makes! If the combination of Canadian gems Julie Morstad and Kyo Maclear doesn’t fill your heart with joy I don’t know what will. As she did in Virginia Wolf and Mr. Flux, Maclear takes a real life figure (in this case, Julia Child) and imagines a whimsical moment in her life. This book will instill a love of food and kitchen play as readers join a young Julia and her amazingly hip friend Simca on various food adventures. As a side note, I would wear every single one of Simca’s outfits IRL. Every. Single. One.

Open This Little Book

Open This Book

No picture book list is complete without at least one title from Chronicle Books.  They are the Anthropologie of publishers, offering crafty, unique books as art titles that somehow bear the Chronicle stamp despite being vastly different. At first glance I thought, ‘Here we go, another book about books, how many of these do we need?” I should have paid more attention to the fact that the innovative Suzy Lee was at the visual helm. Open This Little Book consists of a a series of books that introduce colours while getting successively smaller. It goes beyond the story within a story motif and will be treasured by adults and children alike. Check out the trailer below to get a sense of the magic:

 

Happy reading!